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Saddleworth Community Hydro

Saddleworth Community Hydro aspires to be the first community-owned high head – using the height of the water drop - hydro scheme in England. Based at Dove Stones reservoir in Saddleworth, the aim is to use existing outflow from the reservoir to generate electricity for approximately 45 houses.

The idea behind the scheme finds a new use for pre-existing technologies and assets. The reservoir, opened in 1967, not only provided flow for the river Tame but also for a local paper mill. This was done through a pipeline from the reservoir. The paper mill closed in 2001 but the pipeline and gravitational system remains with the potential to power a turbine and generate electricity. Additionally there is also a link from the site to the National Grid.

A fundamental element of the scheme is its social organisation as an Industrial and Provident Society whereby development is not primarily driven by a profit imperative. The aim of the scheme is not solely to produce green energy but to recirculate income generated from the sale of surplus energy into community projects.

The genesis of the initiative was as a local response and opposition to a proposed wind farm in 2008. The hydro scheme was one alternative proposed that generated a level of local support.  A group of local people developed the idea of the hydro scheme from 2008 onwards. These included three people - Tony Bywater, Andrew Thorne and Bill Edwards – who were founding members of a volunteer group promoting the scheme. Subsequently the scheme was registered with the FSA in July 2010 as Saddleworth Community Hydro Ltd.

The enthusiasm and local expertise of a group of volunteers are one part of a number of social interests who have come together to make the hydro scheme work. United Utilities own the reservoir and gave an agreement-in-principle to be involved in the scheme following an approach from the group in 2009/10.

The group have worked with Water Power Enterprises (‘h2ope’) to construct the scheme. H2ope are specialists in developing and supporting community hydro electric schemes and were set up in 2007 as a Community Interest Company. H2ope is itself funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Key Fund Yorkshire.

The Saddleworth scheme is promoted explicitly as a social investment rather than a commercial investment. Following a feasibility report, it was estimated that the total capital cost of the scheme was £343,000.

The scheme has received grants, including £223,000 from the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). As a consequence of this grant funding the scheme is ineligible for the Feed-in Tariff but is eligible for Renewable Obligations Certificates – which is crucial for the recirculation of funds element of the scheme. Income is estimated annually at £15,700 and running costs at £9,000.

Additionally this has meant devising a share offer, that closed in April 2012, to generate £120,000 of funding. There has been an explicit effort to construct investment as a social investment and as a legacy for future generations rather than as a commercial proposition. The expectation is for long-term ownership of share, with a minimum investment of 3 years with 180 days’ notice. Minimum shareholding is £250 with a maximum of £20,000. The principle of decision making is that regardless of investment, each member has one vote.


An Alternative?


Saddleworth Hydro seeks to bring back into use an existing technical and infrastructural asset. It recognizes the need to value this as a social investment and to organize accordingly.

The reservoir is owned by United Utilities. It is claimed that the uniqueness of the scheme is in the way that the controlled outflow from the reservoir (rather than river flow) and the height of the reservoir dam have been combined with a community group and a water company to produce green electricity.

The scheme has three particularly interesting elements:

First, the scheme is explicitly promoted as the first kind of high head hydro scheme in England. Given the number of reservoirs in Saddleworth, and also in the wider country, there are interesting lessons to be learned and shared from the successes and failures of the scheme.

Second, the scheme is predicated on finding new uses for existing systems. Specifically the existing reservoir and gravitational systems and also connections to the National Grid are being reconfigured from an industrial use to a community-based asset.

Third, the social organisation of this project is complex and is a mix of knowledgeable and driven local volunteers, a utility, a charity with community hydro expertise, national funders and also a range of investors.

Planning permission for the scheme was received in July 2013 with plans for an official public switch-on in spring 2014.



This article is published here as part of the Greater Manchester Local Interaction Platform’s aspiration to raise the visibility of different community innovations, grassroots projects and activities in the city-region.

It also draws on SURF's involvement in the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council grant, 'Retrofit 2050' and contributes to understanding of the Remaking of the Material Fabric of the City.

Find out here about the background, purpose and content of ‘The Alternative?’ series of articles.

N.B. Source material used to inform this article was accurate circa 2012.

Main image courtesy of Marek Isalski.