There are just a few points I would like to make on behalf of the UK Environment Agency regarding Ossie Goring’s letter (IWP&DC February 2000, p11).
Firstly, regarding our insistence on considering individual small hydro power sites, I would reiterate that every site is different and has to be appraised individually. Should a firm proposal to combine say two sites be submitted, we would appraise that submission as a whole but we cannot give some sort of outline approval for 14 sites covering many different locations.
Secondly, Goring says that many of the Agency’s concerns do not apply to run-of-river mill sites. If this is true, proposals for such sites should progress relatively easily. This would certainly be the case for sites with existing adequate head and flow. Sites with the need to create or restore the head clearly have a greater impact and may thus prove more difficult.
Finally, a comment on river gradients. There is a move in the UK, as there is in Europe and elsewhere, towards more natural management of river systems. This includes less hard engineering and less control of rivers/streams and a return to allowing natural processes to take place. I believe this is where some of the difficulties arise when re-engineering of the river (such as the restoration of an old mill site) is required to facilitate small hydro schemes. The fact that the river may have been formerly engineered this way does not always make it acceptable to return to that arrangement today. Every site does, however, have to be considered individually.
In response to Ossie Goring’s letter I would like to point out that Energy 21 does not intend to spend £500,000 on a 50kW hydro power plant. This estimate includes money to buy a large area of land and make it into a nature reserve, as well as providing educational facilities to enable children and adults to learn about wildlife in the river corridor. The benefits of installing a small hydro power scheme and how this can help both people and other species will also be identified.
We at Energy 21 think one of the most important aspects of a demonstration hydro power scheme is to show how this type of power generation can be built and operate in harmony with the environment. The River Frome acts as a corridor along which the otter travels up to the five valleys which meet at Stroud. So without an otter friendly stretch the opportunity for this lovely animal to extend back into the upper valleys will be lost. Many other animals and plants also depend on the river.
We also think that building the physical reality of a hydro power plant is vitally important. Most people in the Stroud Valleys in the UK, including most councillors, have never seen a hydro power installation and so do not understand what Ossie Goring means when he speaks so strongly in terms of building many installations along the valleys. Goring has his own plant and has built many more besides. Although he has had ‘open days’ for the local councillors and the Environment Agency, few have visited his site as there is no access for the general public. We believe the most important aspect of building a demonstration plant is in building one in a public place. We think this is far more important than other issues such as trying to combine adjacent mill sites.
So far on the Ebley Mill project we have had many interesting discussions and arguments about how deep the river will be for various scenarios of gradient and with various heights of tiltgate, based on the usual formulae and mathematical models. Everyone is fascinated to see how the water will behave when we actually construct the project. Although the power estimates are based on a conservative scenario, we all hope that Goring is right and that cleaning out the river will lead to an even better result than we allowed for.