Please send me SCA's fortnightly briefing:

November 4, 2009

A River Runs Through It

The Water of Leith winds its way for 12 miles through Edinburgh from Balerno in the west side of the city all the way down to the Port of Leith. Although now used mainly for recreational purposes, there used to be more than 70 water-powered mills along the bank helping to establish a string of villages.  Five of these modern day riverside communities are now hatching a plan to harness the energy of the river once again

Mark McLaughlin

IT once powered dozens of mills stretching the length and breadth of Edinburgh.
Now the Water of Leith may be set to become a power generator once more with plans to site five turbines along the waterway.

Renewables group Community Energy Scotland has awarded more than £30,000 to the city council and four community groups to assess the feasibility of installing “micro-hydro” generators at five points on the waterway.

The aim is to install turbines similar to the hydro-dynamic screw, a coil-shaped turbine in River Dart Country Park in Devon, which produces enough energy to power 100 homes for a year and saves the park £40,000 in electricity costs.

None of the five locations – at Harperrig Reservoir in Kirknewton, Harlaw Reservoir in Balerno, Mossy Mill in Juniper Green, and two weirs at Dean Village and Redbraes in Leith – is thought to be big enough to sustain a turbine the size of the screw but the study will ascertain whether smaller turbines will be cost effective.

Community Energy Scotland has given each group £6000 from the Scottish Government’s Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES), which helps community and voluntary groups fit green energy in their buildings and investigate renewable energy development using local resources.

Eric Dodd, CARES manager, said: “This is an exciting project.

“The weirs on the Water of Leith were originally built to power mills. It seems fitting to try to bring these weirs back into use, providing potential income for local communities using clean renewable energy technology.

“Projects like this can transform communities and help Scotland achieve its world leading climate change targets.”

The work builds on a previous study commissioned by the city council sustainable development unit which highlighted the resource potential along several sections of the Water of Leith.

Go Balerno! – formerly the Balerno Village Conservation and Development Trust – will oversee the Harlaw Reservoir study.

Chair Simon Dormer said: “It’s not clear whether all five of these projects will come together, but we’ve been preparing for the Balerno turbine for quite some time now so I’m confident that our project will fly.”

Greener Leith will oversee the Redbraes Weir study. Chair Alastair Tibbitt said: “Obviously this turbine won’t be big enough to power every home in Leith but we hope to use it as a community education project to demonstrate what can be achieved by a community committed to renewable energy.”

The city council will take control of the Mossy Mill project.

Environment leader Robert Aldridge said: “One of our key priorities is for Edinburgh to become even more clean and green, and exploring the potential of sustainable micro energy sources, such as hydro power, will help us move towards this.”

Kirknewton Community Development Trust will oversee the Harperrig Reservoir study, while the Dean Weir study will be handled by the Dean Village Association.