New era as National Trust opens its first hydro power plant in Snowdonia


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The Independent Online

The National Trust will kick off a new era today by switching on the first of 44 large-scale renewable power plants that will transform the charity into a major energy supplier within five years.

The hydro-turbine plant at the trust’s Hafod y Llan farm in Snowdownia will generate enough electricity for about 445 homes, which will be sold to customers of Good Energy, the renewable power supplier.

It paves the way for a £35 million programme that will see the National Trust build sizeable solar, wind, biomass and water-powered generators across its grounds by 2020. The Trust will use some of the energy it generates and sell the remainder to the grid - effectively reducing its power bill by about £4 million a year, money which can be invested in the charity’s conservation work.

It has set up a separate trading company to sell the energy because its charitable status prevents it from doing so.

“We want our sites to be both beautiful and useful. We’ve got beautiful coming out of our ears but we need to get better at being useful. This programme aims to do this,” said Patrick Begg, the National Trust’s rural enterprises director.

The Hafod y Llan Farm hydro-power project lies on the south flanks of the Snowdon, Lliwedd and Aran mountains among an extensive network of copper mines.

“The turbine is a contemporary industrial intervention that is in tune with the natural environment around it,” said Mr Begg. “Now with this new trading company we can harness some of the power generated by nature to help fund our conservation work.”

The planned power plants are part of a programme to cut the trust’s energy use by a fifth, halve its fossil fuel consumption and generate half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Many of the proposed projects will see National Trust generating heat in giant biomass boilers that could burn a wide range of organic matter, such as wood, grass and rubbish as well as methane from waste. Most of the heat generated will be used by the National Trust’s estate of 300 historic houses, offices, visitor centres and 360 holiday cottages. This will reduce its reliance on old, oil-fired, polluting burners which are vulnerable to the volatile oil price.

By contrast, most of the electricity generated will be sold to the grid because many of power plants are likely to be based in remote locations meaning they cannot be hooked up to National Trust properties.

Mr Begg said the programme to build 44 renewable power plants was contingent on five pilot energy projects hitting their targets, adding he was confident they will do so.

Most of the remaining sites have yet to be finalised because the trust is still analysing which are the most suitable.

“We can’t be certain yet which ones will fly, but it’s fair to say that Snowdonia and the Lake District will dominate our hydro-power because they are suited to steep hillsides, fast rivers and rain. Meanwhile, the biomass plants are likely to be spread all over England, Wales and Northern Ireland,” he said.

The National Trust looks after about 250,000 hectares of countryside and 742 miles of coastline. Its pilot projects include two hydro installations, at the Craflwyn estate in Snowdownia (near to but separate from the Haford y Llan farm generator) and at at Stickle Ghyll beck in the Lake District.

The others are a “marine source” heat pump at the Plas Newydd country house in Gwynedd in Wales and biomass boilers at Croft Castle in Herefordshire and Ickworth country house in Suffolk.