The first use of water power to generate electricity at Eskdale corn mill was in the 1930’s. The winnowing machine, formerly part of the oat milling machinery, was replaced by a dynamo, which only supplied sufficient power for DC electric light in the cottage.

In 2008, after the Trust took over, it was thought that a turbine could be installed in the watercourse to generate renewable energy. However, in those early days of the Trust’s existence, the acceptability of hydro power in sensitive areas was not clear. In 2012, in view of government initiatives for encouraging alternative means of generation, the Trust returned to the possibility of producing electricity. Visitors would see that water can not only do mechanical work for milling corn, but also convert mechanical work into electricity, a far easier way to transfer energy to where it is needed.

Another attractive reason for generating was that the revenue earned would provide financial support for maintenance of the site. The Feed-in Tariff is a government incentive for supplying clean, renewable energy to the national grid. A waterwheel was eventually preferred over a modern concealed turbine, both for its historical continuity, and its visual attraction of visitors to the mill, even though the power it delivered would be much less than by a turbine.

The construction phase is essentially complete, and testing of the waterwheel’s generating capacity has shown that it is capable of producing at least 3kW. We have been given approval to operate by Ofgem, and have signed a contract with British Gas, who provide electricity to the cottage, as our Feed-in Tariff licensee.

David Moore, joiner of Gosforth, and his team have built a new launder to carry water from the mill race to the top of the wheel, assisted in all aspects of the project by exceptional efforts from volunteers. The control panel has been installed in the hayloft, above the stable. Final adjustments have been made to its electronics, to make start-up simpler, and to prevent the waterwheel turning too quickly if there is a local failure of the electricity supply.

Fencing has been erected around the area near the sides of the wheel, and covers have been made to protect the bearings, motor and gearbox from the weather. Additional soundproofing of the generator will be tested over the next few weeks. When that is judged to be satisfactory, the waterwheel will begin to supply renewable energy to the grid and earn 25.4 pence per kilowatt-hour generated.

All cabling is in place and CCTV cameras are working to check on safe operation. It should be possible to monitor the system via the internet, using a camera which shows the control panel.

Len Watson

Editor’s note This report refers in passing to the exceptional efforts of volunteers, but does not do justice to the hundreds of hours of skilled work put into the project by Len Watson and Rod Chilton, assisted by Richard Eastman and Cliff Carter.