From its source high in the fells above the lovely Kentmere Valley in the south-east corner of the Lake District National Park, the River Kent flows less than 25 miles, falling over 700m before joining the sea. Said to be one of UK 's fastest flowing rivers, it once powered over 50 mills. Kentmere residents want to harness this resource again and have taken the initiative to make it happen.
Kentmere Hydro is a £1.6M community project that will generate clean, renewable hydro-electricity and help reduce carbon emissions . The river that flows through this small community of only 50 houses has the potential to generate sufficient electricity to power over 250 average homes. It is the community's prime objective to do this in a way that enables the profits to be recycled back to benefit the community and the wider public.
Progress to date:
In January 2008, the Kentmere Parish Meeting empowered a 13-member Steering Group to explore the possibilities. These unusually talented and well qualified valley residents with many years of combined professional experience in engineering, planning, architecture, finance, botany, information technology, and project management have moved the project forward . Their voluntary contributions, valued at approximately £100,000, have been augmented by £34,000 in feasibility grants generously provided by the Lake District National Park Authority and various initiatives within the Cumbria County Council. Preliminary hydrological, ecological and topographical surveys are completed, as are the outline civil and mechanical engineering designs. The type of turbine has been selected, allowing estimates of annual power generation income to be built into the outline business plan.
The Parish meeting in May 2009 recognised this progress and agreed to the formation of Kentmere Hydro Trust, a charitable company limited by guarantee, which is now a registered charity. To develop the project to the start of construction, a conditional grant of £123,000 (80% funding) from Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) has been offered. The remaining £31,000 (20%) of grant/loans has been promised from the community.
Following discussions with Lake District National Park (the Planning Authority); the Environment Agency and Natural England, the Trust received planning permission in July 2010.
The Project :
Our community project will convert Kentmere's abundant rainfall into about 1225MWh of hydro-electricity annually. The installation will take advantage of the 38m head with a weir/intake, diverting a portion of the river water into a 350m penstock, eventually dropping to a small stone-faced powerhouse containing a 360 kW turbine and generator system. The water will be returned to the river and the electricity sold to the national grid.
The Social Enterprise :
Kentmere Hydro Trust has formed a wholly owned subsidiary; Kentmere Hydro Community Interest Company, which will construct, own the assets, and manage the generating and sale of the electricity. The CIC will donate its profits to the Trust, for distribution according to charitable aims.
Grants from the Trust will contribute to the long-term sustainability of Kentmere's infrastructure, will promote reductions in the valley's energy consumption and will assist neighbouring communities along the River Kent and beyond with projects to further their own sustainability.
Money Matters :
We i ntend to finance the construction phase, as far as possible, with grants and contributions, in order to maximise the funds available for charitable distribution. Projections, based upon feed-in tariffs, suggest an annual income in excess of £170,000 . The profitability of the scheme is more than sufficient to service the debt, build up the necessary reserves to satisfy lenders and leave a viable surplus to donate to the Trust enabling charitable awards to be made at an early stage.
This approval will enable the Trust to complete the RDPE conditions required to finalise their offer to finance the development phase of the project. We are now seeking further funds to finance the implementation of the project.
The Kentmere Hydro scheme will be located along a sensitive stretch of the River Kent within an area designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The Trust is very conscious of the ecological and environmental responsibilities and has reflected these concerns in the design and construction methods. Great attention to these aspects has been given and included in the discussions with the appropriate authorities. It is hoped that this attention to detail will help make Kentmere Hydro a model project; a tribute to common sense, creativity, responsibility and co-operation.
The project will be generating both clean electricity and charitable funds for many decades to come.