Sunday, 17 April 2011

Hydroelectric proposals for the River Kennet could threaten paddling playspots

The idea of hydroelectric generation on the Kennet is nothing new, but renewed proposals to develop sites along the river could threaten the already limited number of playspots available to paddlers along the length of this waterway.

At Padworth Mill the head of impounded water has long been recognised as a source of renewable energy, and sadly, an old turbine house currently sits derelict alongside the main river course.  As the architecture of the weir on this channel of the River Kennet does not lend itself to either shooting the drop or convenient portage (currently impractical because of private property restriction), it might now be time to redevelop the site on environmentally and economically beneficial hydroelectric principals . 

The former turbine house at Padworth Mill sits abandoned next to the main channel as it rushes over the sluiced weir.

Whilst no consideration was given to canoeists when the adjacent fish pass was constructed, the alternative channel of the Padworth Stream provides a potential waterborne detour (with a small portage - see here).

Further upstream at Chamberhouse Mill, near Thatcham, Southern Hydropower Ltd. have already carried out survey and evaluation for micro-hydro potential at the site, determining that it is "well suited to Archimedian screw technology."  Such an installation should have no impact on canoeing or kayaking here as there is currently no facility to permit downstream passage or portage, so access to the river below the weir is only available by means of an upstream paddle (see here).

If the images on their website home page are anything to go by, Southern Hydropower Ltd have also looked at the potential of the weir at Brimpton Mill for micro-hydro generation, whilst their listed development projects also include consideration of the sluice hatches at the Town Mill site in Marlborough.

The weir at Brimpton Mill.  The section of the River Kennet below Chamberhouse Mill is accessible via such as Aldershot Water, but there are issues with access beyond this point, particularly through the Wasing Estate from Kings Bridge to Woolhampton .

The upper reaches of the River Kennet through Marlborough is not a location noted for any serious paddling potential, but the sluice hatches at the Town Mill housing redevelopment offer small scale electrical power potential if a consistent flow regime could be established.

Of more serious concern is the renewed consideration of harnessing Victoria Sluices in Newbury for its hydro electric potential.  This location was evaluated by West Berkshire Council in 2008 for possible contribution to its carbon reduction plan, but the 16 year return on investment of a £200,000 capital outlay shelved the plan at that time.  Now that the Government's Feed In Tariff scheme is set to guarantee payment for low carbon micro-generation, Newbury Town Council is looking at possible sites again.   

Victoria Sluices provide an irregular opportunity for paddlers to play on the wave created during periods of higher flow, and, whilst this feature is by no means a major attraction, it does represent on of the few chances to experience white water on the River Kennet.

It is to be hoped that the installation design of any hydroelectric feature at this location would incorporate an outflow that would maintain or even improve the feature for paddlers.