What is a hydroelectricity project?

Wherever water falls a decent distance there’s an opportunity to generate power. In centuries past, waterwheels would turn machinery to mill flour. Nowadays Archimedes screws (and other technologies) have replaced waterwheels and electricity generators have replaced grindstone.

When did we start the project?

In 2013 different ideas for community energy projects were being kicked around Transition Town Reading’s Energy Group. In early 2014, after discussing these ideas among the Greater Reading Environment Network, they came together and the Reading Sustainability Centre was formed.

Who started the project?

The Reading Sustainability Centre was formed in early 2014 to develop a hydroelectric turbine on Caversham Weir and to develop a sustainable education centre next door on View Island. As the education centre project became  trickier and trickier, the Reading Sustainability Centre became Reading Hydro CBS in 2017.

What is a Community Benefit Society (CBS)?

Reading Hydro is a Community Benefit Society (CBS). This means that we’re a democratic co-operative that serves our community. Our profits go to the community as well. You can find out more about community benefit societies here and here.

Has this been tried before elsewhere?

 There are plenty of other community hydro schemes already powering communities across the UK. Upstream on the Thames there’s Osney Lock Hydro in Oxford and Sandford Hydro. Across the country there’s plenty to be inspired by: Whalley Hydro in Lancashire, Rumbling Bridge in Kinross, Callander Community Hydro near Loch Lomond and many more.

Who runs Reading Hydro?

Reading Hydro is a cooperative run democratically by our members.

Our members elect directors that take extra legal responsibility for the project and make sure it meets its aim. Currently our directors are Sophie Fenwick-Paul, Anne Wheldon, Sarah Rigby and Tony Cowling.

We’re currently looking for more members and more directors. See the get involved page for more information.

When did we get planning permission?

 We got planning permission for the plan to put a hydroelectric turbine on Caversham Weir on 17th May 2017. Details of the planning application are online here: http://planning.reading.gov.uk/fastweb_PL/detail.asp?AltRef=151715

Where’s the money coming from for the project?

We got a grant of £20 000 from the Department for Energy and Climate Change to carry out the work needed to get planning permission. But we still haven’t raised the money for the build.

We’re planning to fund the hydro turbine primarily by selling shares to the local community. We’ll also look for grants and loans from private companies, charities and technology suppliers.

The new fish pass we’ll be building on View Island will be funded separately. We’ll be looking for grants from government, the EU grants, companies and charities. Quite a bit of the work can be done by volunteers, which will save money too.

How can people invest in the project?

When we start selling shares, anyone able to invest over a certain minimum amount will be welcome to. We’ll give priority to local people and small investors.

We’re also looking at how people could contribute to buying gift shares for local schools or charities, for example, that would give them a long term income from the project.

What are the benefits of investing?

You’ll get a modest but decent return on investment and you’ll be supporting the generation of clean, sustainable electricity for our town. You’ll be contributing to a community asset that delivers long term benefits to the local area and you’ll become part of a friendly and interesting community project.

What are the potential risks of investing?

As with all investments, you’ll be putting your money at risk. We’ll be publishing detailed plans explaining how we’ll make sure things will work and keep working. You’ll need to read them and understand the risks before investing. If things go wrong, you could lose some or all of your money.

Other community hydro projects are doing well, generating stable returns for their investors. That’s no guide to how our’s will do, but it certainly shows what’s possible.

When will construction begin?

Summer 2019

How will construction take?

We’re still not sure. There’s lots of factors involved. Somewhere between 4 and 16 weeks.

When will the turbine start generating renewable electricity?

September 2019

How long will the hydro turbine last?

The project is designed to keep generating for 40 years.

What happens in a flood or a drought?

In a very high flood the river level is just as high on one side of the weir as the other, so the turbine wouldn’t generate much electricity. In a severe drought there might be days when is doesn’t generate much electricity either.

We’ve studied the river and we expect to generate electricity 300 days a year. Our plans take this into account.

Who has designed the hydro turbine?

The first plans have been drawn up by a local hydro engineer. The final design will be done by the chosen technology provider and by a civil engineering partner. We’ll put this out to tender.

How much power will it generate?

The turbine will generate 400 MWh a year, and up to 50 kW at any one time.

How will the project change how the weir looks?

The hydro scheme will be a small new feature of the large man-made construction that is Caversham Weir. Much of it will be underwater.

How will we protect wildlife during construction and operation?

A new, more natural-style fish pass will be create through View Island. This will help eels and other fish move up stream. At the moment they can only get up stream through the lock, so this new fish pass should improve things for them considerably.

Why is hydro a good way of generating electricity?

There’s no emission of greenhouse gases or other pollutants while the scheme generates electricity. The greenhouse gases emitted during manufacture and installation of the project will be quickly offset by the carbon saved by its operation. Research by Bangor University has indicated that this could take as little as 7 months!

Generation is fairly constant and predictable, just like the flow of the river.

Who else is involved in the project?

Reading Borough Council granted us planning permission and the Environment Agency have granted us licences to use the river. We’ve had strong links with the Reading Sustainability Centre from the start, as well as with Transition Town Reading and the Greater Reading Environment Network. We’ve had help from Low Carbon Hub and we’re a member of Community Energy England.

How will we make sure that everyone in Reading is involved?

In coming months, as our plans develop, we’ll do more to open the project up to everyone in Reading. We’re already planning presentation for other local groups and we’re hoping to be able to offer presentations to schools, local businesses and whoever else wants one. Our upcoming events are listed here.

We’ll be going door to door in the area immediately around the Weir to make sure our neighbours are properly in the loop, and we’ll host events for local residents to have their say and get involved.

We’re already active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and that will continue and grow.

Is it going to be noisy?

No! More information to follow.

Is it going to harm fish or newts?

We’re not a commercial developer looking simply for profit – we a group of local people committed to our community and to our environment. Because of that we’re taking extra care in how we design the project to protect wildlife.

The fish pass we’re creating will enhance biodiversity, allowing fish and eels to more easily travel upstream that they can right now.

Why local energy?

Local energy projects are great for a whole range of reasons. They harness free local natural resources to power our community and to help reduce our area’s carbon emissions and help combat climate change. 7% of electricity is wasted in transmission, and local generation helps avoid this. They also make our community more resilient to problems with our central energy system.

Local energy projects also inspire people by making renewable energy a local, tangible option – not distant or even offshore like other renewable energy projects. They’re also a fantastic educational tool, demonstrating sustainable power on our doorstep.