Constable mill painted as site for power station: National Trust warden puts forward plan to install discreet turbine driven by the Stour

FLATFORD MILL, immortalised on canvas by John Constable, may become a power station.

It would be a very small, discreet hydroelectric power station, with transmission wires and transformers concealed from view. The Suffolk mill's owner, the National Trust, would not dream of allowing anything intrusive at the 18th century mill, which was owned by the painter's father.

But its warden, Edward Jackson, believes there is the chance to extract useful energy from the old mill race on the river Stour. He plans a feasibility study this year into the installation of a turbine.

The old wooden water wheels were removed after the mill, a field studies centre for the past 45 years, ground its last load of corn at the turn of the century.

The scheme will be dependent on approval from planning authorities and the National Trust, which owns the property and leases it to the Field Studies Council. The mill, built in 1730, is within the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The pollution-free power generated could either be used directly in the centre, where thousands of children and adults attend courses each year, or sold to Eastern Electricity.

The output is likely to be fairly low because there is only a 5ft change in water levels at the mill and the river flow is modest. But it could provide enough electricity for several dozen homes.

'The project could become a showpiece,' said Mr Jackson, who emphasised that the idea was still in its early stages. The National Trust has hydroelectric power at other properties and is keen to promote environmentally-friendly alternatives.

Partial funding has been obtained for a feasibility study, but if extra money becomes available it will be broadened into a full audit of energy used in the mill and other buildings which form the field centre.

Tenders are now being invited from consultants. 'We use a lot of energy here including oil, electricity, solid fuel and propane gas, and we would be interested to learn of ways we could reduce running costs,' Mr Jackson said.

'By looking at our whole energy situation and the possibility of generating electricity we would be complementing the environmental role of Flatford Mill as a field study centre.'

(Photographs omitted)