Community owned hydro scheme is saved just in time

thisisoxfordshire: ALL SYSTEMS GO: From left, Ruth Finar, Saskya Huggins and Barbara Hammond with a model of the hydro-electric turbine Buy this photo » ALL SYSTEMS GO: From left, Ruth Finar, Saskya Huggins and Barbara Hammond with a model of the hydro-electric turbine

A WEST Oxford group has won a race against time to save its community hydro scheme.

In just ten days the group managed to raise £320,000 by selling shares in a power generating scheme at Osney Lock.

Osney Lock Hydro, formed by residents, faced raising the money in just three weeks.

It was given a tight deadline by the Environment Agency because the hydro work needed to coincide with major weir improvements at the site.

The group says it raised the money after being “overwhelmed” by the response of local residents wanting to invest in the first community-owned hydro-power turbine to be installed on the Thames.

The group was preparing to take out a £350,000 loan for the project, capable of generating enough energy to power 50 homes. Still needing at least £250,000, shares were issued.

Dr Barbara Hammond, of OLH, said: “We’ve been planning the project for 12 years but had to move fast when it got the green light from the Environment Agency. The deadline they gave us for raising the cash was May 7.

“The Environment Agency has been supportive of the project and has encouraged us every step of the way. But because of planned work to the buck gates on the site, they had no choice but to give us a what seemed like an impossibly tight deadline.”

Once the buck gates were in place, it would have been more costly and too risky to put in a micro-hydro.

Work on the Osney Lock hydro is now expected to begin on May 13, with it coming into operation by next February.

Residents belonging to West Oxford Community Renewables formed Osney Lock Hydro Limited and will manage the hydro.

Saskya Huggins, a volunteer with OLH, said: “The response has been phenomenal – and we have been particularly thrilled by the support shown locally. Seventy-five per cent of the investment to date has come from within the city of Oxford, and half of all investment is from people living within a mile of the site.”

Profits from the scheme will contribute to a fund to be reinvested in low carbon projects, to reduce the carbon footprint of the community. It is hoped the fund will total £2m over a 40-year period.

Investor Quentin Sattentau, an Osney Island resident, said: “It’s a fantastic community initiative, and sends out wonderful message about sustainable living in the 21st century.”

Stephen Naylor, of the Environment Agency, said: “It’s a great opportunity to generate renewable energy from the Thames and put something back into the community. We were very pleased to be able to support this venture and we wish OLH every success as they prepare to construct the hydro power scheme.”

West Oxford’s Low Carbon group was formed in the aftermath of the 2007 floods by residents concerned about climate change.

With its spin-off group West Oxford Community Renewables (WOCR) it has been involved in local schemes including solar panels on industrial and retail estates and small wind turbines on Cumnor Hill.

It installed the largest solar panel at a UK school at Matthew Arnold School. Panels have also been installed at the King’s Centre in Osney Mead and the Aldi supermarket in Botley Road.

The hydro project would generate 165,500kwh of electricity a year, equivalent to that needed to power more than 50 houses.

The hydro turbine draws on the early Greek invention the Archimedean screw used for pushing water uphill. Electricity is generated by reversing the process, so weight of water turns the screw.

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