National Park in fight to dam rise of water power

Conservation clash: Cash windfall for hydro-electricity behind threat to protected areas
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The Independent Online

Plans are being drawn up to build a hydro-electric power station in the shadow of Cnicht mountain, dubbed the Welsh Matterhorn, in spite of local objections and concern from the Snowdonia National Park.

Agents working for the Brandanw estate, whose creator, Clough Williams Ellis, built the village of Portmeirion, in Gwynedd, have been holding talks with the National Park about the project to tap the water of the river Croesor.

The increasing number of such approaches are causing concern. To date, more than 20 developers and landowners have inquired about setting up hydro-electric schemes on 35 rivers in the region.

The rush to develop has been sparked by government legislation. The electricity companies are forced to produce a percentage of their energy from non- fossil fuels. A premium is paid to those who supply it. Small hydro-electricity generating stations provide a minuscule source of power but generate a great deal of wealth for those involved.

Strict planning conditions are being imposed by the National Park authority anxious at the environmental damage that may be caused. But the proposal by the Brandanw estate may prove hard to resist.

Hydro-electricity has been generated here in the past. Before the First World War a dam was built above Croesor to form Llyn Cwm Y Foel and a hydro-electricity station ran a 30-horsepower locomotive and the lights and equipment at a slate quarry. The power station and quarry have gone but the lake remains, though the dam has been lowered.

Dr Rod Gritten, an ecologist working for the National Park who lives in the Croesor valley, said: "These schemes are damaging to an important habitat in a beautiful part of the world in order to produce a pittance of electricity and to make good money for private companies.

"Rather than keep dealing with a flood of individual applications we would rather the Government chose something else to spend its money on. These schemes are viable only because the Government wants to be seen to be being green."

He said the Brandanw estate, advised by a developer, had originally considered damming three rivers. "As a local I was very concerned because two of the rivers are very beautiful and are important for salmon and trout. However, assurances have been given that plans to develop on these two rivers have been dropped."

A villager in Croesor said many locals took a fatalistic view about the development. "If it happens, it happens," one farmer said. But he wanted the power project scrapped. "Having lived in the area for many years, all of a sudden somebody decides they want to make money. They don't live here and have no interest in the valley apart from their profits."

The National Park has published a policy requiring all pipelines to be buried with no damage to the landscape or water courses. But planning officers believe this latest proposal could have a chance of success.

Gareth Lloyd, a senior planning officer with the National Park, said one difficulty was the history of hydro-electric schemes in Snowdonia. Two large operations date back to the 1920s.

Mr Lloyd said the National Park had a policy of limiting power stations to under five megawatts with restrictions on making works as unobtrusive as possible. "It could well be the conditions will make the power station unviable," he said.

Nobody from the Brandanw estate's agents was available to comment yesterday.