Forum 21 is charged with supporting a raft of sustainable activities in West Somerset. It has reported before on many of the support groups who are contributing to various initiative, including campaigns on bio fuels, energy efficiency, plastic bags, waste, deep ecology, food, transport, communications and others. A group of interested parties from Porlock, including several engineers and a district councillor took on the Renewable Energy section.
‘Porlock Power’ has recently formed from a group of individuals already committed to some sustainable activity with wider interests than just the brief of renewable energy. Their aim is to build a bank of know-how on a wide range of matters of sustainability and eventually offering it on a voluntary basis to local people interested in doing their own thing but wondering where to start. That work is ongoing and a number of studies have been carried out relating to projects in public and community buildings in and around Porlock, which it is hoped will lead to an exemplar project in due course.
As far as renewable energy is concerned, it was the realisation of the sheer volume of water tumbling down our steep coastal drops that led to the formation of ‘Porlock Power’. A large part of electrical power for Porlock used to be generated by the water mill up Hawkcombe and one near the High Street, so what is stopping us learning from history and gaining self-sufficiency and security of power supply for at least a significant part of our need? If we could achieve this, we could be insulated from some of the enormous price rises and power cuts that could be commonplace when the oil shortage becomes more acute. Not to mention the benefits to the local and global economy if others replicated the idea.
At a recent seminar on micro-hydro generation at the Somerset County Cricket Ground, run by the three counties, Somerset, Dorset and Devon, many local mill owners as well as council officers, suppliers and consultants to the industry and social bankers exchanged views and experiences. Some of the points arising are worth noting here.
The Somerset County target set in 2006 for electricity from renewable sources is 75MW, mostly from wind. The hydro target within this was only 0.2MW, which has already been exceeded by enthusiastic mill owners. So where are the incentives?
It seems essential for site owners to form groups in order to obtain significant grant funding support. South Somerset Micro-Hydro Group have been quite successful in this and Exmoor Renewable Energy Group and others are working with promise of success currently.
Micro-hydro is hardly rated as a carbon saver, yet it is the greenest and most efficient potential source of electricity as well as being the most available and reliable one. Electricity accounts for one third of all energy consumed in the UK, and as a nation we have managed to install just 1.5% renewable generation against the EU requirement of 15% by 2020, with only Luxemburg and Malta faring worse than us.
Major regulatory barriers have to be overcome, with planning and the Environment Authority among them. In a place like Porlock, where several large land owners are involved, extra permissions and bureaucracy are involved, so it is only the very most persistent, committed and hardy individuals who get anywhere. It is clear that, though there are some such people, the ‘bottom up’ pressure will never be enough to make a major impact and it depends on government to follow lip service with positive action and real support if this most eco-friendly and generous source of energy is to be tapped.
Finally, it is worth reflecting that wind power relies infinitesimally on refurbished windmills. So why not think also ‘outside the box’ on hydro-power and in addition to converted water mills, look at all the water spill from reservoirs all over the country or developing a modular set of standard low impact generator stations for suitable river locations not yet exploited?