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Green Power Systems: Community Renewal

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on April 26th, 2010

Source: The Ecologist

From Communities using hydro power to fund green renewal by Paul Miles.

A pioneering community-based hydroelectric energy project in the Brecon Beacons (Wales) is a blueprint for how green energy can provide more than just low-carbon power…

Howell and Llinos Williams are Welsh farmers who have kept sheep on the hills at Abercraf, in the Brecon Beacons National Park, for over 40 years. For at least three generations, Howell’s family has been farming.  ‘Back then, they also did some mining – for coal,’ says Howell. Today, the Williams extract another kind of energy source from the land – hydroelectric power. ‘The best thing is that, unlike coal mining, there’s not much work to do,’ says Howell. The Williams family is now earning more from selling energy than from their 200 sheep.

The Brecon Beacons National Park, covering over 500 square miles and home to some 32,000 people who live surrounded by flat-topped hills and green valleys, is an ideal landscape for hydroelectricity: abundant rainfall rushes in steep streams to the valley floors. ‘High head’ micro hydro schemes have been providing power for half a dozen or so enterprising hill farms for nearly a decade. ‘The farmers are growing electricity,’ says Gareth Ellis, biodiversity officer in the Brecon Beacons National Park.

As part of a new project initiated by Ellis and his colleague, Grenville Ham, the Williams’ farm’s carbon footprint is being monitored. The results show that the green electricity generated by the water turbine means that the farm is ‘carbon negative’ four times over.

Of course, harnessing the power of water is nothing new. The valleys are full of the remains of old water mills, all of which became redundant once the area was connected to the national grid. It was the potential to return to those days of green power for everyone in the park that led Ellis and Ham to help set up a Community Interest Company (a legal structure for social enterprises developed by the government in 2005) called The Green Valleys with the twin aims of reducing carbon emissions and improving the environment.

The Green Valleys is helping communities to develop community-owned micro hydro schemes by bringing together landowners and local residents and providing access to expertise, grants and loans. Sixty-three schemes are in the pipeline. ‘In three years’ time we’re aiming for 20 per cent of the region’s electricity to be from hydro and within 15 years we want all of Brecon Beacons to be carbon negative,’ says Ham.

Read the full article by Paul Miles.

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