Bringing power to the people
Posted on: 8 September 2015
Whether it is rising energy costs or a growing social awareness of renewable energy, the fact is that more and more towns and villages in Devon are becoming interested in community funded projects to generate their own power.
Towns and villages like Peter Tavy, Totnes, South Brent and others, are all now looking to renewable sources of energy, setting up groups to research and develop plans to give their communities local sources of energy; whether solar, wind or hydro-generated power.
It’s a steep learning curve for residents, like those in Peter Tavy, but support from Devon County Council and Regen SW is making the process a lot easier.
For centuries the Colly Brook provided power for Peter Tavy through the mill pond and leats to the waterwheels of three mills.
The river is still naturally well suited as a source for hydropower, with the potential to generate up to 100kW, enough energy to supply about 100 homes.
Tony Pope, chairman of Peter Tavy Community Hydropower (PTCH) committee said:
“Peter Tavy relies on funds raised within the village for important projects, including the upkeep and improvement of the Church, Parish Hall and Methodist Hall, which are essential venues for a wide variety of community activities.
“I don’t want to pre-empt all of the work we’ve yet to do, and that includes having agreement from the community, but funds to pay for these improvements are limited, and we believe that the Colly Brook may be part of the solution, helping to generate power as an ongoing source of community income.”
With some limited experience of hydro power generation, the committee has since November set about learning more.
Devon County Council gave the project a start-up grant to help them undertake a professional feasibility study, and to keep the local community informed and involved with their scheme.
A series of full day workshops with local power regeneration experts, consultancy support and free training, all courtesy of the Council and Regen SW, has helped project leaders take the scheme forward.
“Devon County Council has provided enormous support to the group by providing ‘start-up’ funds which have been used to develop the terms of reference to tender for feasibility study consultants, as well as to set up a Community Benefit Society membership and bank account, web site and produce leaflets to keep the community informed of the proposed scheme.
“Two of our committee have attended five training workshops which covered all critical aspects of delivering a community energy project.”
The Council has now also produced a legal toolkit packed with guidance to support local communities embarking on community funded regeneration schemes. The guidance helps steer groups through the legal process, helping communities avoid potential pitfalls and signposting the best way to deliver their project.
“The hydropower toolkit sets out a flow chart through the whole process with templates for each type of legal agreement that will be required along the way,” said Tony.
“This has provided great assurance to the Peter Tavy team as the legal aspects are the hardest to learn and the toolkit identifies the information that will be required at each stage.”
The new hydropower scheme for Peter Tavy will take a while to come on stream, and will be subject to the outcome of a feasibility study, an environmental impact study, local consultation with the community, and approvals and permits needed from the Environment Agency, as well as planning permission required from Dartmoor National Park, before getting into full flow.
However, given a green light, the Committee hopes that by raising capital through a local share offer, the hydropower scheme can be community owned and operated for a minimum of 20 years.
The sale of energy back to the national grid and income from government tariffs will generate revenue that will maintain the hydro turbine and infrastructure, pay back local investors in the scheme, and provide surplus for a community fund.
Undoubtedly it’s a long term plan for communities, and although a number of towns and villages in Devon are now on their way to having their own energy generation schemes, only two so far – a community wind turbine scheme in South Brent and a community solar scheme in Totnes – are up and running.
Devon County Council and Regen SW are continuing to make start up grants available, and have more workshops and training sessions planned this year.
Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member responsible for energy regeneration, Councillor Roger Croad, said:
“As a rural county we have an abundance of natural energies that communities are realising can be harnessed for their towns and villages.
“I’m sure it’s partly about rising energy costs, but it’s also about sustainability, and communities wanting to take matters into their own hands to create schemes that benefit them and their families for years to come.
“Of course it’s not just rural Devon where we’re seeing this interest. Within Exeter we’re working with a group interested in solar energy via rooftops in the city.
“Whichever source of renewable energy, the advice and the guidance that Devon County Council can provide will help communities take an idea through to implementation.”
Jodie Giles of Regen SW said:
“Regen are supporting Peter Tavy Hydro and other groups in Devon to participate in the community energy revolution, which is generating clean energy, local jobs and an income to pay for vital rural projects and services.
“Through our Community Energy Accelerator project with Devon County Council and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation we are running training and small grants for groups in Devon and are always keen to meet and support new community groups interested in sustainable energy.
“It has been a real inspiration working with Peter Tavy Hydro and other energy groups in Devon who put so much volunteer time and commitment into developing their projects for the benefit of their communities.”
Devon County Council’s legal toolkit is free for communities to use and is available online.
Posted in: Community | Environment