HYDRO PROGRESS autumn 2014

Our efforts to put in place an electricity generating waterwheel are progressing steadily. We intend to position the new free-standing wheel so that it may be seen by people as they approach the Mill from the village and cross the packhorse bridge which spans the Whillan Beck. The Mill’s integral waterwheels are not visible from the road, so the location of the new wheel should serve to increase visual interest for potential visitors. It will also add educational value as a demonstration of the power of water, one of Cumbria’s greatest natural resources, taking part of the flow from the existing millrace via a new wooden launder.

The energy produced from this renewable source will reduce our carbon footprint and, what is more, earn us income to keep the Mill and Trust going. We need around £3,000 each year for insurance and maintenance costs alone.

With the support of Eskdale Parish Council, we have made good progress in obtaining firstly the necessary planning permission from the Lake District National Park Authority, and secondly agreement to installation of the generator from the electrical network authority, Electricity North West. We are currently waiting to hear about our third necessary application from Ofgem, the authority which controls access to the Feed-in Tariff system for renewable energy providers. If that is successful, we are then in the position of being able to make final arrangements with the wheel’s manufacturer, who has already installed a similar waterwheel generator in Langdale.

The one major problem still confronting us is that so far we have secured less than half of the funds required, about £50,000. Fundraising is made more difficult because organisations benefitting from Feed-in Tariff payments are ineligible for grant aid for the project cost from ‘public bodies’, for example Lottery Funds, local government agencies or any organisation funded by national taxation. We cannot therefore approach many of the most likely sources of funding, and are limited to appealing for help to trusts, companies and individuals.

The wheel’s design should enable it to generate up to 4 kilowatts of power from the water flow we normally experience. If that power is maintained for 75% of the year at 60% efficiency, then we could produce annually about 16,000 kilowatt hours of energy, which would currently earn £3,800 from the FIT scheme. That would cover the Trust’s insurance costs and routine maintenance and repairs to the Mill and cottage.

There are limits on for how long the various permissions remain valid. We must build, install and commission the generator within the next twelve months, or we would have to re-apply to at least one authority. We therefore need to reach our funding target quite soon. So, although we have made really encouraging progress with the regulatory regime, and the manufacturer is ready to start work, we are still at a critical phase in the project.

Len Watson