The potential for a hydroelectric scheme on the Abhainn Ghreadain burn in Glenachulish was initially explored by a private hydropower company, Green Highland Renewables (GHR) who tested the business viability of a scheme. This established that the enterprise would be profitable. The hydro would use water from a fast flowing, mainly rocky based stretch of the burn.
GHR applied for planning permission to construct a run-of-river hydroelectric power generating station as part of the development. A detailed survey confirmed the location of the powerhouse and proposed the creation of a new intake structure and the installation of a pipeline to transport the water to the powerhouse. It included design drawings, an environmental report, indicative construction methods and a traffic management plan. Planning permission was granted with the standard conditions.
GHR was subsequently granted a ‘CAR’ extraction licence by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and secured an agreement with Scottish and Southern Electricity (SSE) for connection to the grid. The scheme was pre-accredited with Ofgem in March 2019 ensuring eligibility for feed in tariff so long as the scheme is operating in 2.5 years. Due to COVID-19 this has since been extended by 12 months to September 2022.
Early in 2019 however, GHR decided not to go forward with some of the schemes in their portfolio where the commercial return was not sufficient for their purposes: the Glenachulish Hydro was one of these. In addition, Ballachulish Community Company felt they did not have the capacity to commit to the project.
At this point Local Energy Scotland (LES) approached Lochaber Environmental Group (LEG), to see if they would be interested in taking it on as a means for securing their financial sustainability and also to promote community involvement. LES offered grant support and subsequently a loan to enable LEG to review the feasibility of the scheme, pay for the package of permissions secured by GHR and complete the development tasks, including raising the necessary finance.
Green Cat Renewables (GCR) were appointed by LEG as technical consultants for the project and subsequently delivered a Feasibility Study and Technical Review in August 2019, and a Construction Environment Management Plan in September 2019. The feasibility study assessed all documents and permissions that related to the project and an independent energy yield assessment was conducted and compared to previous works. GCR confirmed the feasibility of the scheme and in August 2019 LEG decided to pick up responsibility for its development.
CARES finance enabled LEG to move to the next stage of the project including its final design, a Community Asset Transfer (CAT) for lease of the site from Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS), the purchase and novation of all the existing permissions and licenses for the Scheme from GHR and to take the project to the procurement stage.
Two experienced project managers were recruited to support this process, to finalise the business model and to raise the necessary capital funds through a mix of community shares and loans.
With advice from Co-operative and Mutual Solutions, funded by Community Shares Scotland (CSS), LEG created a Community Benefit Society, LEG Power Lochaber Limited. Its purpose is to develop the scheme, to raise capital, (primarily through a community shares issue and loans), construct, commission, and manage the hydro scheme on behalf of its membership. Surplus profits will be passed to LEG for community benefit with a small grant being set aside for the Ballachulish community where the Hydro is situated.