Ambergate Hydro Dream Dies

In a newsletter to supporters the Ambergate Hydro Project Team have finally admitted there is no possibility of realising the dream of generating hydro-electric power at the Ambergate Wire Works on the River Derwent while this Government remains in power.

The project team made a decision at the beginning of 2018 to have one last go at gaining Ofgem accreditation and a guaranteed Feed in Tariff for the life of the project before the closure of the FiT support scheme in March 2019.

It was a challenging prospect as any changes or barriers raised by any of the key stakeholders in the project compared to the 2015 feasibility study could jeopardise the project. ADVyCE (Amber and Derwent Valley Community Energy) were asked to resubmit an abstraction licence pre-application to the Environment Agency. This is required to enable water to be diverted from the river to turn the turbine before being put back in the river. In their response they have changed their conditions and requirements, compared to 2013, to such a degree that the project cannot progress. There is now a requirement for a fish pass to be designed, approved and included in the project, plus additional survey’s and studies.

ADVyCE claim that “Despite the project being a ‘no brainer’ in terms of reinstating a small turbine into an existing industrial site with existing infrastructure and a supportive landowner, several government departments are making progress impossible. Until there is an understanding of the need to act on the mitigation of Climate Change across all departments of the government and an understanding of the Renewable Energy resources currently available it is unlikely any new Hydro Power projects will be developed anywhere in Britain.”

The project team were particularly encouraged during 2013 and 2014 as the Coalition government developed and produced the Community Energy strategy, helping to overcome some of the barriers such as working with Network Distributors and for Hydro Power projects, the Environment Agency. ADVyCE gained funding to complete feasibility studies and pre-applications with the Environment Agency early in 2015.

With a change in government in May 2015 there was an immediate change in government policy on both Community Energy and Renewable Energy, leading to 6 months of continuous consultations and 14 changes, largely driven by HM Treasury and all negative, to Community Energy project developers.

A combination of BEIS dramatically reducing and then removing Renewable Energy FiT support from next March, and with DEFRA’s Environment Agency having the power to apply unreasonable conditions and requirements and prioritising the Water Framework Directive above all other issues, including Climate Change, and finally with the ridiculous situation of MHCLG potentially charging business rates on the scheme based on a theoretical income (calculated using the 2015 figures including FiT rates double current rates) means the project cannot progress.

The newsletter accuses several government departments of being responsible for the current negative attitude towards community energy, the environment and climate change including the Prime Minister, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government

A lot of work has been completed by the project team to enable Ambergate Hydro at some point in the future and there is strong local support for the project so a change in policy and regulation by any future government (of any political persuasion) could restart the project.

Many people and organisations are also working hard across the country to find new ways of developing Community Owned renewable energy projects with new developments such as battery storage, community power purchase agreements, Energy Local supplies, EV car charging or Hydrogen generation. These models are being developed with a range of Renewable technologies, but it still seems that Hydro Power projects will continue to struggle under the currently regulatory climate.

David George

Former Editor of Derby's CAMRA Magazine Community Affiliations: Belper Goes Green Founder, Transition Belper

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