When communities develop hydropower, many benefit

“Community hydro” is a phrase we’ve been seeing fairly regularly recently, and it generally refers to a hydroelectric project where development was driven by a community, for the benefit of an array of shareholders. The National Energy Foundation in the UK calls this type of development “community-led hydro.”

A recent example of this type of development work is the 123-kW Arrochar Community Hydro plant, which is being developed by the Arrochar Community Hydro Society. This society was set up to construct the project, near Arrochar in Argyll and Bute, Scotland.

The run-of-river Arrochar scheme was initially proposed by Luss Estates as a means to enable local Development Trusts to generate income to reinvest in their communities. The river and surrounding land on which the scheme will be developed will be “leased for a peppercorn rent” by Luss Estates to the society. The Arrochar and Tarbet and Luss and Arden Development Trusts are working alongside “community energy specialists” Energy4All, Local Energy Scotland and Luss Estates to develop this project.

Financing for this development comes from a share offer of £660,000 (US$846,500) that was closed July 7. Local people and members of the general public were invited to own a stake in this project, ranging from £250 to £100,000, and the full amount was raised. In addition, developers hope to benefit from a feed-in-tariff, with a deadline of March 18, 2018. To benefit from this offering, work on the site was due to begin in July 2017. The Helensburg Advertiser reported Aug. 22 that work on the scheme had begun, with construction work led by Highland Eco Design.

The electricity generated by the facility will be sold onto the National Grid. The society intends to distribute the profits from the project on an equal basis between the two development trusts, both of which have Community Action Plans compiled through local consultation and working with their local Community Councils. The trusts aim to improve the quality of life for residents, and a priority for both trusts is operating and maintaining community hall facilities.

“It’s great to see the hydro scheme is finally going ahead,” said Duncan MacLachlan, director of Arrochar and Tarbet Development Trust. “The Arrochar Hydro concept results from two communities working in partnership. The scheme was offered a CARES loan in March 2015 and planning consent granted in July 2015.”

Energy4All is a non-profit distributing social enterprise that promotes and facilitates community ownership of renewable energy in the UK. To date, Energy4All has promoted 23 projects.

Other recent examples of community hydro schemes include:

  • The 500-kW Rumbling Bridge project developed by the Rumbling Bridge Community Hydro Society in Cumbria. The society raised £2.9 million (US$3.5 million) in a community share offer to fund building of the project, on the River Devon near Rumbling Bridge village.
  • The 450-kW Callandar project developed by the Callandar Community Development Trust. The trust built the project at a cost of £1.65 million (US$2.1 million), in Stank Glen on Forestry Commission land.
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