The vision for this project was hatched from the green groups around Reading, including Green Drinks and Transition Town Reading, it was eventually launched under the wings of the Greater Reading Environmental Network (GREN) in January 2014. Seeing the river Thames flowing through our town, we thought it would be good to harness this for the purpose of energy supply. A site close to the town centre at Caversham Weir was identified as potentially suitable for the installation of a hydro turbine, the idea being that any energy generated could power a Sustainability Centre to be built nearby. Our steering group started meeting regulary in 2014 to discuss how these aims could be achieved, the minutes of these meetings are available on our website. Soon it became clear establishing such an ambitious project was a big task, for this reason various sub-groups emerged to focus on specific areas of our development (hydro, location, management & website). Thanks to a grant from The Earley Charity we were able to develop a website, whilst assistance from Communities First meant we could book monthly meeting rooms at Reading International Solidarity Centre (RISC) and start seriously plotting our next steps.
Many years ago in Reading, PV solar panels were installed by the Reading Climate Change Partnership (RCCP) with the idea that income generated could fund future sustainability projects, in due course this was channelled to us through GREN and enabled us to pay for our Environment Agency (EA) pre-application for hydro turbine installation on Caversham Weir. Natursave Trust provided further funds for project development that permitted us to investigate the technical and administrative challenges we would face along the way, we are especially glad of our engineering consultant at Ewaterpower for guidance in these stages. We have been engaging with local environmental groups and members of the local community who have, on the whole, been very supportive and our public meetings well attended by a broad spectrum of interested parties. There are audio and video snippets on our website as examples of our community outreach activities.
With the formation of The Reading Sustainability Centre (TRSC) as a Community Interest Company (CIC) we appointed a board of directors in the interests of good governanace, this was enabled by a substantial grant from the Urban Communities Energy Fund (UCEF). At a public meeting we were able to update on our activities, explain the engineering prinicples underpinning the hydro proposals, and present architects sketches of how a sustainability centre at various riverside locations might look. As the result of public feedback at these meetings, it became clear that some people are more drawn to the educational aspect of a sustainability centre, whereas others might be more interested in investing towards hydro power.
Hydro Grows Powerful
The hydro project has advanced to the stage where it needs a different legal structure from TRSC, and we are in process of establishing a Community Benefit Society (CBS). We’ve already secured approval from the Environment Agency to abstract water, the fish pass design has been approved, and an application for plannning permission submitted. The elected CBS directors are now working hard to respond to some planning queries. As well as continuing to work on technical matters, like details of electricity cable and connection, they are looking at how to raise the investment for the project, and options for selling the electricity. Visit their website here to see more information.
We have worked with a number of local and national groups and are grateful to see sponsors page
So this is our story so far, where it goes next is up to you.