Not just a pretty view; a pretty damn good investment

By Charlotte Davis

We’re constantly reminded of the fact that one of the main barriers stopping people getting into low-carbon technologies is cold, hard cash. When you’re repeatedly reminded that there’s not so much of that around, it can be quite disheartening. 

But when you see around 100 people packed into a small Civic Hall in Saddleworth, Greater Manchester wanting to invest in a community hydro-electric scheme, your faith is well and truly warmed up again. 

At the end of last year this was indeed the scene for the launch of the Saddleworth Community hydro share offer. 

I was there supporting the project, which aims to generate 170,000kWh/year electricity, enough to power 45 homes. The project, on nearby Dovestone Reservoir will be England’s first ‘high head’ community-owned hydro, using water from the 90ft dam at the reservoir to turn the 51kW turbine that will be installed. 

The project has received £223,000 of Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) funding in the form of a grant from Defra’s Rural Carbon Challenge Fund. Defra has contracted the Energy Saving Trust to support and develop these projects. 

The thought behind this was that it doesn’t just take money to make a success of a project. Initially, we were there to help make sure applications to the fund were as good as they could be, working communities through the potential minefield of planning, grid connection and the grants claim process.

So, back to the beginning. The event was held in order to raise the £120,000 of match funding required to pay for the remainder of the project. It was a cold, wet night and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

My fear was that nobody would show up and we would be left with a mountain of mince pies left uneaten and share prospectuses left unread. If eight years of working with communities has taught me nothing else, I have been shown that it’s easier to get bums on seats if you can throw in a free light bulb or a mouse mat made from a recycled tyre. No such delights were on offer this evening. Instead the Saddleworth Community Hydro were asking for money, of all things! Shares in the hydro cost £1, with a minimum shareholding of £250. 

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. About 100 people showed up and the room was full to capacity. Lots of people had come with chequebooks in hand ready to invest. The project lead, Bill Edwards introduced the scheme and answered questions from the audience. 

“It’s long been an ambition to generate green electricity here in Saddleworth and the launch of the prospectus means that we’re one step closer” said Bill. 

North West MEP Chris Davies was there to officially launch the share offer. He said:

“It’s a very credible scheme and judging from the degree of people expressing interest, one [which] I think will go ahead.  Bill and his team deserve a lot of credit”.   

“This [scheme] could be a first and rolled out to every single reservoir in the area. There’s no pollution, no CO2 emissions and maintenance is minimal.”

 “Of course I’m going to buy a few shares, and I hope you will too!”

Questions from the audience ranged from “what happens if it goes bust”? to “what happens if we raise too much money”? Being Christmas time, many people were interested in purchasing shares for a gift. 

Steve Welsh of H2ope is an expert in setting up community-hydro schemes funded by share offer. H2ope will manage the share offer on behalf of Saddleworth Community Hydro. This event was Steve’s fifth share offer for community hydro. He told me that the attendance was the better than he’d ever seen it before. It’s clear people are seeing the benefits of getting together in the name of lower-carbon, more secure energy supplies.

All 100 share offer prospectuses that were printed for the launch were taken that night. Don’t worry though. You can download yours from www.h2ope.co.uk.   The share offer closes 16 April 2012.  

If you would like more information on the Rural Carbon Challenge fund and its supported projects, simply click here