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UK Community Energy Start-Up of the Year


view from Whalley footpath

This 100kW hydroelectric generating plant on the side of the River Calder at Whalley, Lancashire began generating in November 2014.

Whalley Community Hydro Limited (WCHL) is a community owned scheme that was conceived in 2010 and constructed in 2014. The total cost of £750,000 was raised from 310 shareholders, 70% of whom came from East Lancashire and 73% of whom subscribed £1000 or less. The project grew out of the Transition Towns movement which has the broad objectives of developing greater community resilience to cope with reduced future availability of fossil fuels and adapting to climate change. WCHL has been established as a community benefit society that pays limited interest to its shareholders and uses surplus income to fund other schemes that will improve energy security locally by investing in renewables and other schemes to reduce carbon emissions. This is done through our Community Benefit Fund. The link via the tab on the main menu provides guidelines for the consideration of new projects and details of schemes we have already funded.

The scheme uses a weir that has been in place for over 600 years and was originally built to supply water to Whalley Abbey. It employs a variable speed Archimedean screw, 3.6 metres in diameter which, at peak output of 100kW, passes six tonnes of water per second. This high flow rate compensates for a relatively low weir height of only 2.15 metres. The Calder is a ‘high base flow’ river and the plant is low down the catchment area (average annual rainfall across the area is 1100-1300mm), thus providing a dependable supply of water. The long term average river flows, taken from 40 years of Environment Agency records, equate to an electricity output of 345,000kWh per year.
For a link to the extent of the River Calder’s 316 sq. km catchment area see map.

The plant was constructed by Spaans Babcock Ltd of Heywood Lancashire, who already had a varied portfolio of existing sites. They were originally chosen by Whalley Community Hydro to do a feasibility study, followed by consulting and design of the project. This early working partnership culminated in Spaans Babcock being awarded the contract to provide a complete turnkey solution, embracing project management for all aspects of construction including Civil, Mechanical and Electrical engineering. A link to a photo diary showing the plant’s construction is here.

The electricity generated is fed into the national grid and sold to a company that buys 100% renewable energy. In addition to the income from electricity sales, we benefit from the government’s Feed-in Tariff, which is index-linked and guaranteed for 20 years from start-up.
Governance of WCHL is framed by its establishment as a Community Benefit Society (formerly an Industrial and Provident Society). Each shareholder member has a single vote irrespective of how many shares they have, and has a say in how the Society is managed at the Annual General Meeting. The business of the Society is governed by the Rules.

This short video was broadcast by BBC North West when we were aiming to reach our initial fund-raising target of £400,000 to enable the project to get started

The yellow dots are the cumulative monthly targets to achieve the predicted annual output of 345MWh in the average rainfall year. The theoretical output (blue line) is based on data from the Environment Agency’s gauging station downstream by the abbey. Those data are used to calculate river flows which are then checked against the designer’s figures to find the expected power output.

Hover the cursor over a line to see the exact data that was used for the data point.

The first tab shows output since the start of generation in November 2014. The second tab shows output for the current year. The third tab shows the raw data. All are updated frequently.

In the first few weeks of generation actual export was below theoretical output while settings were being adjusted. We have to keep output below 100kW so the initial settings were conservative. As the settings were adjusted output improved.

During the summer and early autumn of 2015 river levels were lower and output consequently was below winter levels. September and early October rainfall was below average in the NW of England and actual output fell below what would be expected for the 20 year average.

The flat red line in December 2015 was the result of the Boxing Day flood. This highest ever river level put the plant out of action for 12 days.