Thames hydro-power set to make a splash

First published in News Herald Series: Photograph of the Author by

A SERIES of hydro power schemes are in the pipeline across Oxfordshire to harness energy from the River Thames.

Plans for up to 15 of the electricity generating projects along the river have been drafted, including schemes at Benson, Day’s Lock at Little Wittenham, Culham, Sandford and Godstow, Oxford.

Work will start in Oxford next month on the first community-owned hydro-power turbine to be installed on the Thames, after a West Oxford group raised £320,000 in just 10 days by selling shares.

The Osney Lock Hydro will be the start of an intense period of “people power”, with micro-hydro projects proposed at almost every lock and weir in the county.

Among them is Abingdon Hydro – run by a not-for-profit company of residents who are hoping to start work on their project by Abingdon Lock next year.

Abingdon Town Council leader Sandy Lovatt said: “If we can provide energy from it at a local level that’s a good thing.

“It makes use of the weir and the energy coming down the river. And it will be attractive as well, something interesting to show.

“As I understand it they are raising the money and ironing out some details at the moment.”

Abingdon Hydro estimates the project will cost £1m and bring in an annual income of £120,000. Organisers will be offering community investment shares to help cover the costs. It is hoped construction work will start in 2014.

Eight other projects are at various stages of development, with community groups also planning schemes at Shifford and Radcot.

Private projects are also in the pipeline at Culham and Buscot, as well as the one taking place at Benson. The Osney Lock group, which had a deadline to ensure the scheme coincided with major weir improvements, said it had been “overwhelmed” by the response of local people wanting to invest in the project – which should be fully operational by next February.

A hydro-electricity scheme has been operating at Osney Mill for 15 months, as part of the redevelopment of the former riverside flour mill.

Dr Barbara Hammond, a key figure behind the Osney Lock scheme, said it had been a close call to hit the deadline. The group was preparing to take out a £350,000 loan for the project, capable of generating enough energy to power 50 homes. But with at least £250,000 still to find, it offered shares in the scheme.

Dr Hammond added: “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 agency has been supportive of the project and has encouraged us every step of the way.

“But because of planned work on the site they had no choice but to give us what seemed like an impossibly tight deadline.”

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