An innovative bid to harness the Water of Leith has moved a significant step further after city planners backed the proposals.
Plans to revive the use of the hydroelectric power station at the Harlaw Reservoir dam for the benefit of the local community are set to be approved later this week.
The defunct structure was once part of a network which powered mills across the region, and residents from a Balerno community group are now bidding to return the device to its previous use.
Comprising a skilled set of homeowners, including designers and engineers, the Balerno Village Trust has drawn up plans for the 65-kilowatt device – which has been defunct since the Second World War – at minimal cost.
It would be connected to the National Grid, which would in turn pay the community for the power generated. They would also receive feed-in tariffs from the government for generating green energy.
After ten months of planning, officials at the city council have recommended councillors back the bid, which they will formally vote on next week.
Ian Hynd, a director of the project and industrial designer, said costs originally stood at £300,000 but have already dropped to around £200,000-£250,000 because dam engineers are to carry out scheduled works.
He said: “Everything has gone really well. We have now formed a community co-operative, effectively a company, so we can sell shares and generate funds towards the project.
“We have calculated that if we can raise around half of the budget from the community, we can secure the remaining amount from other sources.
“The original costs have come down because Edinburgh City Council, who took over the dam from Scottish Water several years ago, already has relatively extensive works planned.
“The planning process has been frustratingly slow, especially when you consider we had no objections at all, but all going well we should be under way soon.”
The Balerno Village Trust said residents have already expressed an interest in investing in the scheme, for which shares are expected to be sold from February. Other sources could include a commercial backer although Mr Hynd said they were keen to maintain community ownership.
If funding comes through early next year, the trust hopes to have the small station up and running by spring 2014.
It has received the backing of residents and politicians including Alistair Darling MP, Gordon MacDonald MSP and local councillors Ricky Henderson and Bill Henderson.
The trust would be paid 3p-5p for every kilowatt hour generated but 17p-20p on top of that in feed-in tariffs for generating renewable power.
Although initial estimates vary, and it is likely to have bank loan repayments to fulfil, the trust believes the plant could generate funds in the region of £55,000 per year.
Martin Petty, director of the Balerno Village Trust, said he hoped to use any cash generated for community projects.
He said: “We would expect to give the money to organisations like the Scouts and we also hope to turn the old walled garden on the Ravenrig Estate into allotments.
“In its heyday the Water of Leith was the source of power in west Edinburgh, with 70 waterwheels driving industry. Although on a smaller scale, we think to believe we are reviving some of what was once here.”
GO WITH FLOW
THE first successful public hydroelectricity scheme in Scotland was constructed in 1890 to power the Benedictine Abbey in Fort Augustus, at the west end of Loch Ness, and supply 800 village homes.
Hydroelectricity is produced using the power of running water to turn turbines in power stations. The technology dates to the late 19th century when private hydro stations were built to smelt aluminium. It was another 40 years before the first large-scale scheme came in 1930 at Rannoch and Tummel Bridge in Perthshire.
Scottish Hydro Electric, then the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board and now part of the Scottish and Southern Energy Group (SSE), was established by an Act of Parliament in 1943.
SSE is now the UK’s largest hydro generator, with 1450 megawatts of capacity including 300MW of pumped storage, or more than 65 per cent of UK capacity. SSE recently built the 100MW Glendoe station at Loch Ness – the first large hydro station built in 50 years.