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Clean, Green Hydro Power

Knoydart is not connected to the national power grid and we are extremely proud of our independent green electricity supply serving all the properties in Inverie. Knoydart Renewables Ltd (a trading subsidiary of the Knoydart Foundation) is responsible for the hydro electric system fed by Loch Bhraomisaig on the slopes of Beinn Buidhe.

Brief History

In the 1950s, Inverie made the headlines when a village generator was put in, giving electricity to local houses (“Housewives are Thrilled” reads the headline!), by the then owners of the estate, the Crosthwaite-Eyres. This was followed in the late 1970s with the installation of the hydro electric scheme by Major Macdonald. This was a huge undertaking, given the location and access, and was completed with a huge amount of manual labour. The 80s and 90s saw turbulent times with the scheme as a succession of owners led to problems with maintenance, and disputes with the local community about access to supply. The community association raised money to purchase part of the line from the then owner, Knoydart Peninsula Limited.

When the community buyout took place in 1999, refurbishment of the scheme was a high priority. With the help of the Highland Council, feasibility work was undertaken and grant bids put in. In early 2001 the hydro scheme was too erratic so was stopped, with the village moving to the backup generator. Work on the refurbishment of the hydro finally started in August of that year and was completed nearly a year later. The refurbishment cost over £500,000 and was supported by funding from HIE, ERDF and the Knoydart Foundation. The process was assisted by the Highland Council.

The refurbishment covered the dam, pipeline and turbine and part of the distribution system, however it still left parts of the system requiring upgrading.

Present

The Knoydart Renewables board of directors is responsible for running the company and the hydro system. Current directors are:

Frank Atherley (chair)

Grant Holroyd

Stephanie Harris

Matt Humphrey

Steve Brook

CES have been contracted to oversee the operations of Knoydart Renewables to ensure they are fit for purpose and capable of generating electricity into the future.  They take over where our first Operations Manager, Kyle Smith, left off to complete his PhD and row across the Atlantic.  CES have big boots to fill!

The hydro is regularly checked and maintained by Jim Brown and Willie Dowlen, working closely with a team of independent professional engineers for any major works and repairs.  Their trusty four-legged companions, Dougal and Oliver, also play a vital role in sustaining morale during hydro work! Additional technical support is provided by Kevin, from Gilkes.  A team of trained volunteers are also on stand-by to assist when necessary.

Sustainable Fuel Source

We get our fair share of rain in Knoydart. This makes it possible for the hydro system to run continuously throught the year (as well as contributing to the breathtaking Knoydart scenery and providing our water supply).  Rain shortage is not normally an issue – however, for six weeks in the late spring of 2008 there was no rainfall, and Loch Bhraomisaig’s water level fell perilously low.  During the last couple of weeks of the ‘drought’, the hydro was switched off at night to conserve water levels in the loch. Water levels are now checked on a regular basis.

Backup

The current method of backup electricity supply is provided by the village diesel generator, which is used during the short fortnightly maintenance periods.  On rare occassions the hydro unexpectedly shuts down and the generator can temporarily provide power to Inverie village until the system is put back on.  Unplanned shutdowns can occur for a variety of reasons, including a sudden high demand for power during a high use period, a storm or intrepid eels finding their way into the system – to their unfortunate demise.

Running the System

When people hear that we run our own hydro electric scheme for the community, it’s not uncommon for them to ask whether everyone gets free electricity! If only! Everyone who connects to the system pays a unit rate of 14p. This income is used to pay for wages, maintenance, insurance and other running costs. Any surplus to date has been invested in upgrading the rest of the distribution system and the company are now paying back the investment that the Knoydart Foundation contributed.

Knoydart Renewables is run by a board of directors from the local community. Day to day running of the operations is undertaken by the Foundation office and the Renewables company employs two maintenance workers. A team of trained community volunteers also help keep the power running.  In the past we have had a lot of support from the Highland Council (up until 2006 our local councillor was an active board member) and Community Energy Scotland (previously the Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company) continue to give us a huge amount of support and advice.

Managing an electricity company is not just about keeping the supply going today – it is also about managing it in the future. Over the past two year we have seen a 30% increase in the number of buildings wanting a supply. Whilst this is good news for the community and for the company, we need to make sure we can continue to provide a supply into the future. For the past year we have had a meter installed which collects data on the amount of electricity used on a half-hourly basis. This information is downloaded on a monthly basis by one of the directors who then converts the information into a number of graphs so we can see patterns over the monthly period and compare them. Knoydart Renewables also now has equipment which allows us to monitor water levels in the dam and the amount of rainfall so that we can look at our ability to provide power in times of low water. This is crucial information for some of the long term development plans and we are grateful for the support of Fresh Futures and the Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company for helping us to make it happen.