By Simon Brammer, Ashden UK Programme Manager
Driving through the Snowdonia National Park last week with National Trust energy champions Keith Jones and Paul Southall was an experience – not just because of the spectacular views of the mountains on a rare sunny day – but also because their knowledge of the transformational potential of renewable energy is frankly astounding.
With Paul a self-confessed LED light bulb freak (we get on well) and Keith totally obsessed with hydro power, they make quite a team.
“The National Trust owns this valley, those mountains and these hillsides”, said Keith. Pointing to a mini hydro turbine, he went on: “There‘s one we put in there, oh and one over there, there’s potential for one there and there is a really old one over there from the 1930s that we are planning to bring back into commission – it used to run three farmhouses …..”
With its abundance of mountains and water, Paul and Keith know well that Wales is a perfect location for run-of river micro-hydro, which provides an efficient, reliable and environmentally friendly source of power for local communities as well as an income from the excess sold back to the grid.
We stopped to look at many of the projects this vast membership organisation has set up, from powering a community café through hydro to what Keith suspects is ‘the greenest visitors’ toilet in the UK’, replete with solar-powered lighting, solar thermal hot water heating (biomass in the winter) and a composting non-flushing process.
Paul and Keith also understand just how hydro power can transform communities. Something that particularly caught my attention was Abergwyngregyn, a community-managed hydro scheme. The income from government Feed-in-Tariffs and from selling hydro-generated electricity back to the grid will bring sorely needed funds to a community that has lost many amenities in recent years, including the local pub, post office and shop.
Set up by Keith, the project enables community members to work together to reduce their energy bills (and CO2 emissions) and use the resources to redesign their village and help others do the same.
The National Trust won this year’s Ashden UK Gold Award for achieving a massive 41% reduction in energy use in its Welsh properties over the last two years, and it’s fantastic to see how it is using the enormous amount of knowledge it has developed along the way to help local communities, many of whom live on its land.
Octavia Hill, one of the Founders of the National Trust once said: “The need of air, the sight of sky and all things growing seem human needs common to all”. She recognised that we need access to beauty, and the ability to get out into the countryside – it’s just as important as having a home.
But the Trust has changed over recent years under the leadership of Fiona Reynolds, who stands down later this year. From what I’ve seen, it is now clearly recognising that the countryside should not be simply ‘passively’ beautiful but also functional and productive for the often poor communities who live in it.
I’m looking forward to us working with it over the coming years to ensure that others can learn from their vast experience.
And watch out folks: Thanks to the dynamic duo of Keith and Paul, I can feel a whole new hydro obsession coming on. It’ll be a change from me banging on about light bulbs!