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Settle harnesses people power to lead the green electricity revolution

[Monday 30 November 2009]

Many of us want to do something to help tackle climate change, whether it’s recycling, using our cars less or ensuring the house is insulated properly to stop heat escaping. But residents of one North Yorkshire town have taken it one step further and will be producing their own electricity in a matter of weeks.

The market town of Settle situated in the Craven District within the Yorkshire Dales, is tacking climate change in its own unique way - the Settle Hydro, a community owned hydro electric plant which can generate enough electricity to power 50 homes, saving 80 tonnes of carbon a year.

The new hydro electric station is located on the River Ribble at Bridge End Weir next to the original mill race and uses a 7.5 metre-long Archimedean screw which arrived in Settle two weeks ago. Power from the river water will turn the screw at around 28 revolutions per minute, and then the electricity made feeds into the National Grid.

What makes this project exceptional is that the community was behind it from the start. Yorkshire Forward’s Renaissance Market Town (RMT) programme, which aims to support sustainable rural towns in Yorkshire and Humber, set up a town team, Settle Area Regeneration Team (StART) to work closely with local stakeholders.

StART championed the concept for Settle to become a green or eco town, and this soon gathered pace before a hydro scheme was decided upon. They were approached by H2Ope Water Power Enterprises who was able to progress the scheme further.

H2Ope is a social enterprise community interest programme which aims to attract social investors who are ordinary people who want to see renewable energy in their community and who are motivated by knowing that the income stream from the sale of the electricity helps regenerate their local community.

Shares in Settle Hydro cost £1 each and the minimum investment was £250 and the maximum was £20,000 with the target to raise £135,000 by the end of December last year. This was achieved easily with 165 individual shareholders choosing to invest in this innovative project.

The remainder of the finance was generated through grants and a bank loan. Yorkshire Forward’s Future Energy Yorkshire, which secures economic opportunities arising from new and renewable energy technologies to deliver reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, invested £50,000 in the scheme.

Yorkshire Forward’s RMT programme invested £75,000 in the hydro scheme. As a Regional Development Agency we strive to secure a strong and diverse rural economy and achieve low carbon economy - so this project combines two of our objectives.

The profit from selling the electricity will be divided between the shareholders and the community. Investors can expect up to 7.5% return and excess profits are intended to fund other projects in the town through Settle Hydro Limited which has been set up as an Industrial and Provident Society (IPS).

StART created Settle Hydro Limited IPS to deliver and manage the hydro power project and undertake the ongoing management of the plant. It is also responsible for any community funds available after the project costs have been met. This will be used to fulfil the twin aims of regenerating the local economy and promoting the environmental sustainability of Settle District.

The scheme has also had educational interest and has received £45,000 from the Yorkshire Dales LEADER Programme which is a Yorkshire Forward funded initiative to assist rural communities, co-ordinated through the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust. This will be used to set up a webcam showing the screw in operation, an electronic display to show how much electricity is being generated, a fish counter to count the fish passing through the fish pass and information boards to explain how the scheme works and highlight the history of the site. All this has been complimented by improvements to the riverside area to improve accessibility and the connection between Settle and the River Ribble.

Settle is only the second town in the UK to have a community funded small scale hydro scheme. This project has the potential to have a leadership role as there has already been some interest from other towns. Settle Hydro demonstrates what can be achieved through collaborating and when those who are involved have the passion and drive to make a difference, not only to their communities, but also to the environment.

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