The population of three small communities in southwest Scotland (Keir, Penpont and Tynron in Dumfriesshire) has been diminishing for the last 50 years, and is now half what it was in 1971. Five years ago, a public meeting established that a large number of residents would be happy to co-operate in producing large-scale legacy projects to address rural depopulation in their three communities, making use of windfarm community benefit.
The “KPT Development Trust” was formed, and a community consultation established, as one aim, the generation of money for such projects by developing a local microhydropower scheme, utilising local landscape features and reducing carbon emissions. The scheme had been proposed to the landowner (Buccleuch Estates Limited – BEL) in 2008. While declining to progress it then, BEL supported the idea that it could be developed as a community scheme.
September 2018 was six months from the closing date (31 March 2019) of the government’s Feed-in Tariff (FiT), a subsidy that would approximately double the income from this 30kW scheme (from ~£6,000pa to ~£12,000pa). A small group of Trust members (“the hydro team”) decided to try to make that date.
Preliminary accreditation for the FiT needed three permissions: ecological approval from SEPA; planning permission from the local authority; and a grid connection offer from Scottish Power. Any of these could take three months from submitting an application. Before that, wildlife surveys had to be completed; details of the work had to be finalised and advertised, and construction tenders obtained.
By mid-December all these were in place and the applications submitted. In January, the hydro team applied for a grant offered by Scottish Power Energy Networks (SPEN) to cover most of the cost of the project: £181,259. All three permissions came through in mid-March: we had made the FiT deadline, and SPEN awarded us the full grant at the end of March.
It should have all been “Go!” at this point. But legal arrangements for the lease and purchase of land took the next eleven months to complete; and then Covid happened.
JB Hydro began construction in earnest in early June 2020: a team that lived as a bubble and worked outside. The farmers wanted the work in the fields finished by the end of July: this involved excavating the trench for laying a mile-long pipeline, welding and laying the pipe, and refilling the trench. The weather was kind, the ground was easy to excavate, and JB Hydro and local contractors Nithsdale Valley Construction completed this work, astonishingly, by mid-July. By mid-September they had also constructed two intake dams, built the turbine house, and installed the turbine, generator and controller in it. Finishing the work, trialling and snagging took another month, and the scheme was commissioned in early October.
The scheme should last 100 years. Payments (just now coming through) will fund the Trust’s planned and future projects to benefit the three communities: currently, these are an active travel path, avoiding the main road, to the nearest town; affordable housing, and a Trust-run café.
Supporting StatementThe KPT Development Trust selected this project because it was sustainable and income-generating, and for all the qualities indicated below:
Community Involvement, Benefit and Impact
The hydroscheme was entirely conceived and conducted throughout by a small number of local residents, supported by the KPT Development Trust and its associated Joint Community Benefit Fund, including elected representatives of the three communities involved. Over 1,500 volunteer hours contributing to the project have been recorded. Local contractors were involved in construction wherever possible.
The project addresses the needs and vision of the communities by being green and generating income for community projects that address rural depopulation.
Income is only now arriving, so has not yet been spent on community projects. However, many plaudits for the scheme have been expressed verbally, in the press, and on social media. Local colleges, schools and schoolchildren have shown interest (although Covid has prevented educational visits).
Build Design and Quality
Generation has been at a load factor of 76% since commissioning (estimated annual load factor: 43%), indicating an appropriate scale of scheme, and that the design of the scheme is functionally optimal. A computer communicates the generation rate and any problems to the manager. Minimal maintenance is required. The turbine house is finished with a sympathetic turf roof and larch cladding.
In terms of mitigating the climate crisis, the scheme is tiny; but hydropower is near-constant, and maximal in winter when electricity is most needed: thus, a better source of green energy than many. The scheme’s green credentials include:
• Local use of the scheme’s generated electricity, obviating the need for its transmission miles away from the site;
• Carbon savings: >66 tonnes annually;
• Concrete was used for dam construction and the foundation of the turbine house; but kept to a minimum, and mixed on the spot;
• The high-density polyethylene pipe means that there is minimal risk of leaks and malfunction and that the scheme could last a hundred years;
• Very little impact on the landscape and environment: the trench for the pipeline, in woodland and agricultural fields, is approximately a mile long but less than a metre wide. Few trees were felled.
Visual and aural disturbance by the project is minimal. The covered pipeline has been re-seeded and is now barely discernible. Passers-by say they can hardly hear the turbine above the sound of the watercourse; and they appreciate seeing the generation rate on the computer screen in the window of the turbine house.
Achievements of the Project
Challenges and solutions:
• The turbine house was originally planned to be situated lower on the watercourse, thus adding to the head of the scheme; this proved impossible, but by semi-burying the turbine house the same amount of power output was achieved, and the noise occasioned by generation was reduced.
• Covid-19 threatened to delay work, but the construction team, living as a bubble and working outside, were able to isolate effectively. With superb focus, they completed works during the dry summer months.