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Melbreak steps closer to community hydro scheme

Melbreak Communities steering group meetng with Ewan Boyd from TEC Ltd and Dr Rhona Pringle from Cumbria Action for Sustainability

Hopes for a new hydro scheme in Allerdale have had a boost after a community of parishes secured funding to explore potential sites south of Cockermouth.

The Melbreak Communities, including the parishes of Blindbothel, Buttermere, Lorton and Loweswater, obtained funding from the Rural Community Energy Fund (RCEF) during the summer to carry out a feasibility study on three sites, to see if any of them would be suitable for a community hydro scheme.

Cumbria Action for Sustainability (CAfS) made the successful application for funding and will manage the contract for the feasibility study on behalf of the Melbreak Communities.

“The drive to have a hydro scheme in the area stems back to the Melbreak Communities Action Plan in 2010,” said Chris Poate, Chair of Lorton Parish Council. “One of our priorities in the plan was to develop local renewable energy projects owned by the community.”

Consultation since then showed that one hundred per cent of local respondents supported the idea of exploring community energy schemes and 88 per cent supported hydro specifically.

The Melbreak Communities project group started off with a desktop study, which identified 13 potential hydro sites. They were then able to narrow the list down to three with the best potential, in Buttermere, Loweswater and Lorton.

Teesdale Environmental Consulting Ltd has been appointed to carry out the feasibility study, after a competitive tendering process. The research will take about six months to complete and it will clarify whether any of the sites is suitable for a small-scale hydro scheme and how it can be delivered.

“Securing this RCEF funding and getting the study under way is a real testament to the determination and skills of the Melbreak project group,” said Rhona Pringle from CAfS, which has supported several other community energy schemes in Cumbria. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed that one of these sites is suitable, so that the Melbreak team can take the next steps towards installing a community hydro, with all the benefits it can offer their area.”

For communities in South Lakeland, CAfS is currently offering free guidance and a bursary scheme to help explore community energy, thanks to funding from the district council. Anyone who’d like to find out more can contact CAfS at [email protected] or 01768 210276.

RCEF is a £15 million programme, delivered by WRAP and jointly funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (DBEIS). It supports rural communities in England to develop renewable energy projects which provide economic and social benefits to the community. Following a review, Government is looking into future arrangements for the Rural Community Energy Fund. We are currently not accepting new applications.

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