North Yorkshire community hydro electric schemes face ‘significant barriers’

Bainbridge's hydro-electric scheme. Photo: Anthony Harrison.

An investigation into harnessing the energy of North Yorkshire’s rivers to meet the electricity needs of rural and remote areas has found there are “still significant barriers” to communities launching hydro electric schemes.

The investigation is one of many that North Yorkshire County Council has launched since its Rural Commission announced a series of recommendations in July to bring about the levelling up of rural communities.

The commission found rural areas of the county were suffering from a weak electrical infrastructure and stated the Government needed to invest in an electricity system that does not overlook rural and remote areas.

While reviewing the commission’s recommendations the council’s transport, economy and environment scrutiny committee found the potential role of small scale hydro-electric power plants in rural communities had not been
actively considered.

A report into the council’s investigation has been published just weeks before a decision is due on a bid by the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership to the government’s Community Renewal Fund to identify opportunities for the feasibility of hydro-electric power schemes at community-based sites.

The report highlights how several small scale hydro-electric community energy schemes have been launched locally, including Howsham Mill Hydropower, Bainbridge River Basin Hydro and Whitby Esk.

It states: “North Yorkshire has a large number of rivers and tributaries that could be used for the generation of small scale hydro-electric power.

“The rivers that would be best suited to this are the Wharfe, Nidd and Ure.”

The report concludes there are “clear opportunities” for the use of small scale hydro-electric plants in the county.

However, the report outlines major hurdles that communities would need to overcome before securing their own energy supply, such as complicated and protracted negotiations to secure the necessary permissions from landowners and agencies.

It states although a small turbine scheme generating enough electricity for about four houses would cost £30,000, schemes using multiple Archimedes screws to supply an agricultural site could cost up to £5 million.

“Investment in and funding for hydro-electric schemes is limited”, the report states.

“Depending upon the scale and nature of the scheme, the financial burden can be significant. It is often the case that schemes that are feasible do not progress due to lack of funding.

“Those schemes that progress tend to be those taken forward by large, private landowners.”

It said as water levels drop over summer and hydro-electric turbines do not work during flooding, communities would need to find alternative power sources for about four months a year.

The report concludes: “Hydro-electric power, as part of a basket of renewable energy, could provide the majority of electrical power for some communities, businesses and community facilities, helping with progress to carbon neutrality.”

The council’s executive member for climate change, Councillor Greg White said it was possible there might be scope for more community hydro-electric schemes in the county.

He said: “As we haven’t got large rivers, like Scotland has, and the distance that the water is falling is not great, it will inevitably be always a niche part of power production in North Yorkshire.

“However, all the renewable energy schemes add together and that’s what we have to do.

“There is potential, but I don’t see it as a panacea for all the problems of carbon reduction.”