It took 14 years, £700,000 and thousands of hours of volunteer time, but in May 2015 the first community-owned hydro scheme on the Thames started to generate green electricity.
The early years
The project started in 2001, when a survey of local residents showed strong support for local action to tackle climate change, and in particular for the idea of building a hydro scheme on the river.
Over the following years we carried out technical studies to ascertain the best local site for a hydro; environmental studies to measure what impact the project might have on local ecology; initial designs and financial modelling to see if it was financially feasible to undertake; and noise and flooding impact investigations to satisfy ourselves and local residents that there there wouldn’t been any unintended averse local effects.
In February 2013 planning permission was granted, and a month later, the abstraction Licence determined. By April the share offer opened, and sufficient funds raised to enable construction to start in July.
In August a Collaborative Agreement was signed with the Environment Agency to build Weir B and Osney Lock Hydro as a single civil engineering structure, Construction of the weir starting that September and we rounded off the year with a topping-out ceremony for Osney Lock Hydro civils, which were completed on schedule.
Our progress in the first part of 2014 was not quite so rapid. We had hoped to have been generating by February 2014. Unfortunately, the wettest winter on record intervened – not just in terms of getting back on site after practical completion of the civils to build the turbine house, but also in terms of Environment Agency staff being up to their eyes in coping with the extra work the flooding imposed on them.
The situation was exacerbated by an unexpected problem in reaching agreement regarding the exact wording of an important clause of our lease. The Heads of Terms for this were agreed in July 2013 before we started building, with the legal process expected to be:
This process was delayed as a result of illness in the Environment Agency team between August 2013 and mid-January 2014. When we re-started the process, it was found that the drafting of the Rent Review clause was causing some difficulty, which was eventually resolved, and the lease signed on 31st October 2014.
With the lease signed we were back on site, building the powerhouse and installing the electrics and solar PV roof. The project was commissioned in January, and given approval to operate by the Environment Agency in May 2015, following the completion of the fish pass.
Public open space and interpretation project
As well as generating green energy and income for our community, we’d love the hydro scheme to become a platform from which to tell the story of our river. We would like local people visiting the site to learn about our community’s centuries old relationship with the Thames, and be inspired by our vision for a more sustainable future. Ideas include a social history project, asking local residents to share their memories of growing up on Osney Island, and developing self-guided walks to enable people to explore the rich industrial heritage of the area.
We are thrilled to have been awarded a grant by the University of Oxford Small Community Grants Scheme to enable us to carry out audience research and create an interpretation plan to bring the information to life. The project is still in early stages of development and we’ll need lots of help to plan, fundraise and implement the project. If you would like to get involved, do please let us know.
Fish pass support
As part of the construction of the hydro, we have built a fish pass, enabling fish to freely move up river at this point for the first time in 200 years. We are delighted to have been awarded a grant towards the fish-pass brushes, thanks to support from the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment (TOE2) with funds from Grundon Waste Management, and matched funding from Low Carbon West Oxford.
The development process for Osney Lock Hydro has been both busy and pressured. We are immensely proud that we have managed to build the project alongside the Environment Agency Weir B project, achieving a much better overall construction than if both had been built separately. We would like to once again thank local residents for their forbearance during construction, and our local community for the wonderful support shown towards the project.
If you have a query relating to construction not answered on this site, please email your query via our contacts page.
For information relating to closures, restrictions and conditions on the River Thames please go to the Environment Agency’s website.
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