A hydro electric power station in Wensleydale has hit a major production milestone.
Community-owned River Bain Hydro Ltd has now exported more than a million kWh (units) to the Northern Powergrid distribution network.
The Bainbridge hydro plant, which received a start-up grant from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund, began generating environmentally sustainable electrical energy in June 2011.
It passed the one million kWh milestone – or one gigawatt hour – on 22 February 2023.
The Archimedes’ screw of the hydro plant can be seen turning from the road bridge over the River Bain in the village of Bainbridge.
River Bain Hydro is reliably generating an average of 224 kW per day over the course of a year. That equates to the annual energy requirements of 28 houses.
The scheme was financed by 190 company shareholders as well as a grant of £50,000 from the Sustainable Development Fund.
Currently there are 185 shareholders, with about 40 of them living locally.
A River Bain Hydro Ltd shareholder and project leader, Deborah Millward from Wensleydale, who is a former member of the national park authority, said: “To have generated a gigawatt of electricity is a welcome milestone. To have done so as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases its devastating report is a sobering thought.
“In 2011 when Bainbridge hydro was put in, it was a bit of a trend setter. It was never about making money; it was all about making green energy. There are now two further plants in the Raydale catchment.”
She added: “I am pleased to have been a part of what we now call net zero but I think we are all going to have to take much more responsibility for our own personal energy requirements.
“I have had solar panels for a decade and have just gone fossil fuel free at home but uptake is going to have to be much, much faster if we are to hand on a safe home and planet to tomorrow’s children.”
Tom Fairey, who is a director of River Bain Hydro and a retired electrical engineer said: “When I first became involved with River Bain Hydro about five years ago, the plant had unreliability problems, which meant the output was severely depressed.
“I found gaining an understanding of the problems both interesting and challenging and with the help of our partners, Durham-based hydro specialists ‘Bluenergy’, the unreliability problems have now been resolved and the generator operates with high reliability whenever water flow in the River Bain permits operation.
“During 2022 water flow in the river permitted operation during 196 days with 100% reliability. Clearly, like all forms of renewable electricity production, River Bain Hydro can never be the sole means of electricity supply to Bainbridge. The important point is that the energy produced makes a valuable contribution to the overall national renewable energy mix.
“In 2022 the plant generated 81,675 kWh which is a daily average of 224 kWh. If the average household uses 8 kWh per day, then that equates to supplying the annual energy requirements of 28 houses in Bainbridge.”
Mr Fairey explained why the hydro plant had fallen short of the original feasibility study, which expected there to be 290 days of operation to produce the annual energy requirements of 40 houses:
“Operational experience has shown water flow in the River Bain does not support anything like the feasibility study estimated energy production, especially with the dry summers experienced over recent years. However the plant is designed to have a service life of at least 25 years and should be able to be reliably operated, with appropriate maintenance, for many years into the future.”
The national park authority’s member champion for sustainable development, Richard Foster, who this month took over from Carl Lis in the role, said: “Despite a tricky first few years, and the increasing number of dry beck days, River Bain Hydro has proved a success.
“We are delighted that the Sustainable Development Fund helped get the project off the ground.
“The River Bain Hydro scheme shows us that there is scope for more community-owned renewable energy generation in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
He added: “The Sustainable Development Fund is proving to be a positive force for good – as the latest annual report illustrates. A total of £185,000 was awarded in SDF grants in 2022/3, bringing the total invested by the Authority over the SDF’s 20 years of operation to more than £3.4million.”