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Clean, green hydro-electric power is good for business in North Wales

Walis George, Dafydd Meurig, Mike Learmond, Tom Boome, Gareth Cemlyn and Ashley Rogers (Photo by Rick Matthews)

Company bosses in North Wales are being urged to investigate the potential of hydro-electric schemes to generate cheap and reliable green energy.

The call came from business leaders who went on a fact finding visit to the community energy organisation, Ynni Ogwen in Bethesda in Gwynedd.

The trip was organised by the Net Zero North Wales Network which was set up to help businesses in the region chart a path to a carbon free future.

The aim of the network is to share information and best practice to help other businesses and organisations as part of the campaign to help North Wales reach net zero status.

There will be an update about the success of Ynni Ogwen at the next meeting of the Net Zero Network at Venue Cymru, Llandudno on Wednesday, July 10.

Ynni Ogwen was formed in 2015 and its hydro scheme was financed by local people and organisations who invested over £450,000-worth of shares.

The 100 kilowatt turbine started harnessing the power of the River Ogwen two years later with the profit from selling the electricity to the National Grid being used for the benefit of the local community and saving around 1,300 tonnes of carbon in the process since then.

As a result, the organisation has launched the Heuldro programme to provide solar panels on community buildings and business premises with seven locations benefiting so far.

The most recent project was an array of 96 solar panels fixed within the last few weeks on the roof of Canolfan Cefnfaes, a disused former grammar school that’s now been repurposed.

The imposing granite building is managed by social enterprise Partneriaeth Ogwen and includes business units, maker spaces and co-working facilities for local businesses as well as being a community hub.

The community Electric Bus (Photo by Rick Matthews)

Proceeds from the hydro-electric scheme have also been used to buy a 16-seater minibus that’s now part of the all-electric community transport fleet that includes another minibus, a people carrier, a  carshare vehicle and a van available to be hired by local business.

Electricity generated by the solar panels during the day at Cefnfaes is stored in a battery and used to charge the vehicles overnight.

Ynni Ogwen has benefited from the expertise of its chair, Gareth Cemlyn Jones, a chartered engineer who’s worked on major hydro-electric projects around the world, as far afield as America, the Middle East and India.

His 40 years in the business included a massive scheme in the American state of Louisiana, producing 200 megawatts from eight turbines on a channel linking the mighty Mississippi and Red rivers.

While the hydro scheme on the River Ogwen is on a much smaller scale, the principles are exactly the same.

Gareth said: “It’s a very mature technology that’s tried and tested since the beginning of the last century

“The local slate quarry had a hydro-electric scheme to create compressed air to operate their equipment.

“We have lots of water and lots of rivers in Wales so the potential for more community schemes is huge. It doesn’t have to be a big project – what you need is to generate enough for your local community and that’s what we have here.

“We need to concentrate more on hydro because it’s clean – we only borrow the water, we don’t steal it because it goes back into the river.”

It was a message echoed by Walis George, Development Co-Manager at Ynni Ogwen which was developed by Partneriaeth Ogwen.

He said: “We have a history in Wales of local communities coming together to come up with local solutions, including community run pubs and shops and a growing number of community-based hydro schemes

“This scheme should pay for itself within 15 years and Ynni Ogwen has benefited from the fact that the wholesale price of electricity went through the roof over recent years.

“We are eager to engage with local business owners and tenants of commercial premises about the benefits of solar energy.

“Our Heuldro programme offers them access to an alternative, reliable source of affordable electricity and long-term price stability”.

According to Mike Learmond, North Wales Senior Development Manager of the Federation of Small Businesses, it was important to let companies know about the potential benefits of hydro-electric schemes.

He said: “I’ve been really impressed with the community focus of what Ynni Ogwen are doing and I would certainly recommend that businesses in the area have a look at hydro.

Afon Ogwen (Photo by Rick Matthews)

“Businesses like stability and certainty and that’s what schemes like this offer and because it really assists in planning for the future.

“Also, businesses like to help their local community but it’s not just about being altruistic – there are good, sound business reasons for going down the hydro and solar routes.

“It’s got to make business sense and this appears to work perfectly – you’ve got certainty and stability for businesses, you’ve got community support and carbon reduction, so what’s not to like.”

Tom Boome, Head of Technical Innovation  and Climate at the ClwydAlyn housing association, said he had learned a lot from the visit.

He said: “What’s happening here is right up my street because they are using natural, renewable resources in a way that benefits the community in a big way.

“We are working with Wrexham University to look at the potential for a wind-powered development similar to the hydro scheme here that, with battery storage, would enable our homes to be off-grid.”

The visit to Bethesda was organised by Ashley Rogers, the Chief Executive of the North Wales Business Council, which runs the Net Zero Network.

He said: “This particular net zero solution has been hiding in plain sight all along – what I like is the simplicity of the scheme in Bethesda, from hydro, moving to solar and providing electric minibuses for the community.

“Businesses can learn a lot from these projects to help reduce their own carbon footprints.

“The really big wins though would be for community energy to engage local businesses more in terms of direct involvement and funding.

“There is potential to replicate the approach here because Wales is full of natural resources and this is a best practice example of how we should best use them.”