New hydro in Ullswater continues tradition of using water power over the centuries

Published : 05 Dec 2017

Our hydro in the Ullswater Valley is continuing the tradition of harnessing water power and is good news for the environment.

Work started on the £1.2 million Hayeswater micro hydro in July 2015 and in the autumn of 2016 it was supplying electricity to the National Grid. Since then the hydro has generated over 1 million KWh of electricity, enough to meet the power needs of over 300 houses. 

Income from the sale of the electricity to the grid will provide us with funds to carry out our vital work in the valley as well as helping us to meet our commitment to tackle climate change. 

This scheme, along with another in the Langdale valley, is amongst seven operated by the Trust around the country as part of the National Trust Renewable Energy Investment Programme. They produce a combined output of over 1,200 kilowatts (1,600 horsepower), generating in excess of 4 million kilowatt hours of energy a year, saving the equivalent of 1,700 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted to the atmosphere. We have a target of producing 50% of our energy needs from renewables by 2020. 

Industrial Heritage

In the Ullswater valley, evidence of watercourses being used to power machinery date back to the 15th century - for fulling mills, corn mills and in 1870 supporting mining activity at Myers Head Lead Mine. In 1908 a dam was constructed to provide local drinking water for Penrith. In other words, hydropower is not a new thing. What is new is the development of modern and efficient ways of using natural water power to much higher and rigorous environmental standards.

Construction gains

The construction of the Hayeswater hydro-electric power scheme has brought other benefits to the valley explained Garry Sharples, National Trust Hydro Development Manager.

“We repaired a bridge, popular with walkers, which had been washed away, we improved a bridleway taking people up to Hayeswater Tarn and we removed a buried asbestos pipe, as well as the old reservoir pipe. Another opportunity to help out came six months into the build when Storm Desmond put a temporary halt to the project. Our contractors became community heroes and we found a use for the unwanted boulders brought down by the floods. They provided local material for pipe bedding and cladding for the walls of the powerhouse containing the generator and turbine” added Garry.

However one of the biggest gains is being able to work with the local community who initially objected to the scheme. Project manager Garry Sharples says he and his team have actively listened to concerns and addressed them onsite. He also says they have kept the community updated and involved in key issues about the construction of the intake and housing for the turbine and generator.

“Our schemes are called ‘run of the river’ which are far smaller in scale and impact” said Garry. 

“As technology develops alongside rigorous environmental safeguards it is possible to install this sort of scheme in landscapes as sensitive as those that we have in the Lakes. Albeit ones that have a long history of watercourses being used to provide power. It’s been important for us to show people how technical features like the ‘hands off flow’ maintain the waterfalls within the gill and protect any ecological interests. Also with the involvement of bodies like the Environment Agency, Natural England and Friends of the Lake District we ensured every aspect of the design met very high environmental standards. The communities’ initial concerns and thoughts on the scheme were addressed early on and their input has really helped to create a great project for the long term” added Garry.

“We look after special places, for ever, for everyone” said Garry. “To do that, we need to protect them from external threats. Right now the greatest threat to all of our places is climate change.  

A community project celebration is planned for the spring when locals will be invited to the powerhouse to see the scheme in operation.