Community hydros have been affected by flooding, but thanks to insurance, back-up from contractors and volunteer power, remain resilient.
England’s biggest community hydro, Halton Lune Hydro in North Lancashire, is out of action for two months after the River Lune rose to almost 1.5m higher than ever recorded on 6 December, covering the turbines and generators. It is insured for repairs and lost revenue and only has a relatively small excess to pay.
Board member Kevin Frea said: “We pumped out the water using a portable generator and then volunteers cleared out a lot of mud. So the building, now with mains power back on, is looking fine.”
Engineers from Hydrohrom, who installed the turbines, have been on site and the team has rotated the turbines with new oil in the bearings. The generators have gone off site to be dried and returned with a 12-month warranty.
“Our greatest problem is not actually the turbine house,” Mr Frea explained. “It’s the tons of stones and boulders that were brought in by the river and filled the fish screen bay, the fish pass and the outfall. All of this will be removed by heavy machinery and used to fill the holes created by the flood in the ground around the hydro building.
“The hydro will not be back in operation until the end of February. The good news is that our insurance will cover most of the costs, including the loss of income.”
Whalley Community Hydro, in the flood-stricken village of Whalley, Lancashire, was overwhelmed by the River Calder, which rose to record levels on Boxing Day.
Board member Chris Gathercole said: “There’s been a whole string of floods but the Boxing Day one was absolutely extraordinary here. The water got into the building and covered the level of the gearbox so we’re having the grease tested for water and grit contamination.
“A huge amount of debris has been deposited around the building. It’s scoured the riverbank. There are great mounds of silt. On the river inlet our screen and walkway is piled up with debris.”
Volunteers are clearing up and the generator should be back up and running by mid-January.
To improve resilience, contractors Spaans Babcock are raising the regen drive, which was sitting on the floor of the building. Mr Gathercole says: “We set the building to be above the 100-year flood height but obviously that was overwhelmed.
“I think the main lesson to learn is to build in resilience so we can get back functioning as quickly as possible after these kind of events. We can expect more extraordinary floods in future with climate change and strong El Nino coinciding. It seems to me that there’s every chance we’ll have even worse floods some time in the future. The last worst-ever flood was on 23 June 2012.
“It’s a setback, but if we can get generating again that will be just a couple of weeks of loss of earnings, and our issuance covers that.”
Whalley Hydro produced more energy than expected in its first year, generating 382,874 kWh up to the end of November 2015; enough electricity for 83 average sized homes.