Stories of Change: The past, present and future of energy

Energy Stories Library item 19 Aug 2017

Reimagining the water wheel

The first recorded use of a water mill on the River Lune in Halton, near Lancaster, was in the thirteenth century. At the height of the industrial revolution there were six water wheels and two electrical turbines generating power for the local textile mills. But by the end of the Second World War energy generation had declined to the point there were no turbines left operating on the river.

Around seven years ago, members of the local community were looking to extend the village hall and because of rising energy prices, wanted to install green energy solutions, such as a ground source heat pump and solar panels, to significantly reduce the cost of heating the building.

At the same time, there was also a renewed awareness of the history of energy generation from the river which led retired airline pilot and parish councillor Brian Jefferson, who had lived in the village for thirty years, along with a group of like-minded people, to begin exploring the possibilities of developing a cutting edge hydro-electric scheme on the river.

The rapid development of the project was helped by the happy coincidence that a professional electrical engineer, who had worked on energy projects around the world, and a civil engineer, experienced in developing large scale water schemes, also lived in the village. The first steps towards building what would become one of the largest community hydro schemes in the country had been taken.

European funding allowed feasibility studies to progress in 2010. There was support from the local community but a series of objections from anglers opposed to how the project could affect salmon stocks in the river. Following negotiations with the angling community and the Environment Agency and the lobbying of MPs and Ministers and with the agreed construction of a fish pass for the salmon, licences for the scheme were granted and work on building the two turbines and turbine house started in July 2013.

At that time, Halton Lune Hydro (HLH) announced a share capital offer and managed to raise the £1.4 million capital required. Half the amount was raised from the local community with the remainder coming from national investors.

Combined local expertise meant HLH could cut costs by project managing the scheme themselves. By December 2014 the turbines had begun to generate electricity in. They are now capable of producing the largest electricity output of any community scheme in England, generating enough energy to power 300 hundred homes. Plus a local, carbon neutral co-operative housing project built along the banks of the Lune has also benefitted from the scheme. All 34 houses energy supply comes directly from the electricity generated significantly reducing their energy bills.

Other initiatives included a community group called Halton Carbon Positive being formed to promote educational awareness of energy consumption. This also led to a marked increase in solar panels being installed on houses within the village. HLH have since provided advice to other hydro schemes and a charitable trust has been set up to re-invest profits in the community.

Profits have contributed towards a number of local projects including, the scouts, youth sports initiatives, a school allotment and a community play area.

Brian said: “The development of the hydro scheme and the housing and a community hall helped build community cohesion in the village. There is still work to do on energy consumption and the need for behavioural change to reduce the amount of energy people in Halton are using but we have come a long way from where the village was ten years ago.”

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