Over the weir – new crowdfunder!

The path to renewable energy does not always run smoothly, and Bristol Energy Co-op (BEC) is working to overcome a setback encountered in March this year, when an enterprising new hydro scheme met an unexpected setback.

The Netham Weir project is a modest, but very worthwhile, addition to renewable energy in the city, expected to generate 1.0 GWh a year, enough electricity for 250 homes. But despite planning permission, a hefty investment in design studies, and much preliminary work, the scheme just missed out on the Government’s Feed in Tariffs (FiTs). Not surprisingly, this affects the business plan, so the job now is to revise it to achieve what we hope all new renewables projects will soon offer – subsidy-free power at a cost that competes with existing suppliers.

Netham weir, with the sluice gates open

Out in East Bristol, the river Avon is still tidal as far as Netham Lock where boats can pass along the feeder canal into the floating harbour in the middle of town. The lock and adjoining weir date back 200 years, but this stretch of river is very suitable for a 21st century installation of a pair of turbines. The project would fit neatly into the industrial estate which has grown up in this part of old Bristol, and community consultation suggested plenty of local support for the scheme.

BEC was on target to submit the FiT application some months before the March deadline. However, hydro is a complex affair, requiring planning approvals, land agreements and, in particular, approval from the Environment Agency which on this occasion requested additional time to complete its assessments. This delayed the final FiT submission which, although still before the deadline date, was the wrong side of a ‘deployment cap’. The net result is the Netham Hydro scheme will not be receiving FiT subsidy. This was particularly galling as there was unused money in the FiT funds for hydro schemes of other sizes; also, there is good reason to believe some of the competing schemes applying for the same FiT fund are unlikely to be built. However, because Ofgem does not operate a waiting list this will not help the Netham scheme.

“We felt sorry for ourselves for a while, says BEC’s project lead Chris Speller, “however, from now on we need to build renewable energy projects without subsidy and the Netham scheme becomes a case study in how to do this.” 

With FiT subsidy now out of the equation the time pressure has eased, and BEC is exploring some new options. These include modifications to the actual scheme, for example adding an additional revenue stream through a water-based heat pump installation, and innovative financing approaches. BEC has, as part of a consortium, already submitted a large grant application to a fund supporting north west European hydro-electric development, and the British Hydropower Association is supportive of the project.

In parallel with these initiatives, BEC is launching a reward based Crowdfund for the remaining pre-construction development costs. This is the first time BEC has used this type of fund raising and it presents an opportunity for people wanting to see this scheme progress to lend their support and make it more likely to happen. The crowdfund goes live today and is an easy way for anyone to make their presence felt in the renewable energy revolution. Plenty more information will be found on the Crowdfunder page https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/netham-weir-community-hydro-electric

Author: Zero West