Community spirit harnesses water power to save energy

‘Think local, act global’ river scheme will protect 55 homes

A community group in North Yorkshire will next week launch the latest green energy initiative – harnessing power from their local river. The project could serve as a blueprint for others, showing that while politicians bleat about "being in it together", plenty of people are actually doing something to help each other and improve the environment.

The group plans to install a hydro-electric turbine at Ruswarp Wier on the River Esk near Whitby to generate green electricity. If successful, the turbine will produce 190,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year. That's the electricity needs of around 55 houses, reducing carbon emissions by 80 tonnes each year.

And that could just be the start of it. The group, which comprises 10 like-minded folk who all live in or within 20 miles of the Esk Valley, has ambitious plans. With surplus money from their electricity-generating business, they hope to develop a grant system towards the installation of solar, wind and water energy generating systems in the Valley. They also plan to promote green energy educational programmes and apprenticeships.

But that all depends on the success of their first venture and being able raise £320,000 through a share issue being launched on Wednesday. The technology involved is relatively simple. Energy will be produced through an Archimedes screw – one of the oldest forms of water pumps (pictured top right) – which will drive an electric generator. The simplicity of the design means there is little maintenance and, unlike traditional water turbines, Archimedes screws are fish-friendly. In fact, installing one at the River Esk will improve the ability of salmon and sea trout to travel up-stream over the weir.

But this is far from an animal preservation project; it's a serious way to cut energy costs and reduce carbon emissions. "One of our sayings is 'Think global, act local!' and we believe this scheme offers a wonderful opportunity to protect the environment while generating a new source of sustainable green energy," says Colin Mather, chair of the project's steering group.

Colin is a retired civil engineer experienced in the management and construction of similar projects. It is his vision that led to the setting-up of the community project four years ago. Since then grants and loans of £240,000 have been secured from the National Park Authority Sustainable Development Fund and the North Yorkshire County Council Community Fund.

The next step is raising additional finance and, with technical advice and support from the Co-operative Enterprise Hub, the team has registered as a co-operative and launched a share issue to raise the £320,000 needed. To encourage wider involvement, the minimum investment has been set at £250 and maximum at £20,000.

"The scheme aims to pay a dividend by year three," explains Colin. "But we hope investors will see it as a social rather than an out-an-out financial investment." Money cannot be withdrawn for the first five years so investors need to be committed to the project and able to lock away their cash for some time.

But those that do invest will get a real involvement with the creation of green energy and the reduction of harmful emissions. The initial share offer will close on 18 September. As long as sufficient capital is raised, the equipment will be ordered and work completed by next April.

"This is yet another example of how co-operating can truly help to revitalise local communities and help to address some of the unprecedented challenges facing society and the economy," says Michael Fairclough, the Co-operative Group's head of community and campaigns.

For more details about the Whitby Esk Energy project go to www.whitbyeskenergy.org.uk

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