“There is the benefit to the environment, obviously. We are generating green, renewable energy. But the major benefit is that we have done it and so inspired dozens of other towns and villages to do the same.”
Richard Body, a local shareholder and a director at the Torrs Hydro New Mills Limited group is obviously proud of his community’s achievement and he has reason to be. On September 2008, New Mills, Derbyshire became the UK’s first community-funded hydro electric scheme.
The basic concept behind the project was to generate green electricity from water running down the local Torr weir (a low dam built across a river to divert/direct flow) on the Goyt river. The community-owned Archimedean Screw which rotates to generates electricity from water flowing downhill, produces an estimated 70Kw 45% of the time and will just turn off when river levels are low.
Using this calculation, approximately 260,000 Kilowatt hours of electricity will be generated annually through clean and sustainable means- that’s enough electricity to power 70 houses. Body’s response to objections that this isn’t making a big enough difference is that it isn’t all about what they are saving through generated electricity but also “what we’re showing people that can be done and what they will generate.”
The total cost of the project – around £300,000- was raised through various grants and also by selling shares to locals with a minimum shareholding of £250. Torrs Hydro New Mills Limited was set-up specifically to allow the local community to own the hydro electric scheme.
“We get approached by people who say that it’s really nice what you’ve done but it took a great deal of effort by a great deal of people…The project is unique in that we needed people’s money to build the site and they raised around £100,000. Without the money, it would never have happened.” says Mr Body.
All the four directors are dedicated locals and over 50% of the shareholders are from the New Mills area. Even better, the scheme will have paid for itself over the course of 12 years as the turbine has a lifespan of around 40years.
Locals who are not shareholder have also shown great interest in the scheme and are encouraged to visit the weir and help maintain the upkeep of the site through daily checks. Many, not normally involved in environmental issues, have also had the opportunity to learn about the motivation behind the scheme and become ‘part of the solution’.
The town is also hoping to take on similar ambitious projects to produce other sources of renewable energy and improve energy efficiency. Although Mr. Body commented that “before we do something again, we may need a little while to forget the amount of effort involved!”