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This site is for people interested in the management and ownership of land-based assets by communities in Scotland. A Scottish Community Land Network, you might say... As you know the internet is a big 'place' with everything about anything so we brought you relevant news and events, and provide opportunities to share ideas with other people interested in this subject. There are almost 1000 members, and more than 800 articles in our archive.


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Freezing cold water - friend or foe?

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Stepping into the knee high, sale treat freezing cold burn, case mind any potential benefits from a constant supply of running water were a long way from my mind.  As I swore not so quietly under my breath, see here fighting against the current and the rapid loss of sensation in my legs, my focus was entirely on staying upright and getting to the other side.   Which made it particularly ironic that I’d spent the previous day listening to the people of Knoydart extol the virtues of high river flows and the constant generating power of a tumbling burn.  And regardless of my stumbling and splashing in mid spate, there’s no denying that Knoydart does have an abundance of the wet stuff.  So it probably doesn’t come as a huge surprise to realise that the village of Inverie, on the south side of the peninsula, is powered by a hydro scheme.


Inside the Knoydart turbineWhat’s not widely known is that the hydro scheme was originally installed by the then landowner in the late 1970s, long before the community buy-out.  So the Knoydart Foundation didn’t start from scratch when they set out to secure a reliable power supply as part of their regeneration of the area.  In some ways, that might make it sound like an easier job.  But as Margaret Aldington, one of the directors of Knoydart Renewables put it, “it’s like someone asking for directions…if you want to get there, I wouldn’t start from here!”

It’s possible that installing a new scheme would have been more expensive than refurbishing the current one.  But with hindsight, it might also have been a lot simpler.  As it was, the Foundation inherited a system which had grown haphazardly over the years, with connections added in unexpected places and with varying levels of maintenance in place.  By 2001, electricity generation from the neglected scheme had become so erratic that the village was switched full-time to a back-up generator.

Refurbishing the hydro system was one of the main priorities for the Foundation, but rather than being able to set up a system that would deliver all their needs and more, they had to work out the best way to improve what they’d already got.  And that still doesn’t come cheap, with the refurbishment works costing over £500,000.

Helped by Highland Council, the Foundation prepared a specification for the works which went out to tender, with three different contractors winning the civil works, turbine refurbishment and distribution system improvement contracts.  Much of the civil engineering was sub-contracted by the main contractor, who then went bust shortly before the works were completed.  To their credit, the sub-contractors remained on site to finish the job and see the refurbished turbine commissioned in August 2002.

Since then, there’s been a programme of on-going improvements as well as a chance to look towards theWater bursting from the turbine future.  Both the future planning and the day to day management work are overseen by a board of directors, now operating as Knoydart Renewables Ltd.  They employ Jim the fix-it man, who works for 7.5 hours a week on maintenance tasks, plus additional hours when extra tasks crop up.  They’ve also benefited from volunteer input from a local physicist, who’s been able to get to grips with some of the more scientific aspects of monitoring a hydro scheme, such as figuring out the peaks and troughs in power output and demands.

At the moment, the system has the potential to put out around 300kw, but is currently supplying 90kw on average with 190KW at peak times.  Electricity is charged out at 12p a unit, with connection costs varying depending on the location and the work that’s required.  The money that’s brought in helps to offset the costs of maintaining the system and will eventually build up a contingency fund for the day when a new turbine is needed.

To someone who would soon be knee deep in a burn, the idea that freezing cold water (did I mention that already?!) was being put to such a good use seems remarkable.  But to my surprise, when I asked Angela Williams, the Knoydart Foundation development manager, what she thought was their greatest achievement with the hydro scheme, she didn’t point to the electric kettle boiling away behind me:  “It’s not just the power that comes out of it” she said, “it’s that we’ve been willing to learn.  We’ve worked out how to get procedures in place so that we can manage the hydro successfully.  Now, if the power goes off, I don’t have a succession of phone calls from folk wanting to know what’s happened.  They just wait, because they know we’ve got a system in place and that someone will be on their way to see what the problem is.  There’s an expectation that we’ll get it sorted, rather than a worry that the lights are off for good.  That’s not to say that we’ve nothing left to learn – every new incident raises new information for us”

Working on the turbineOver the years, the Foundation and the Knoydart Renewables directors have built up a wealth of knowledge about their hydro scheme, some of which you can benefit from by looking at their website.  And Margaret was keen to stress that knowledge, experience and time for research are just as important as money in getting a system like this one running effectively.

Which all goes to show, cold water really does have some positive points.  Although it took me several minutes of vigorous towel drying on the far bank of the burn before I could begin to concede that point………

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