Turning water into light

Andrew Sawyer, Property Curator at Cragside, explains how they’re recreating history with the return of hydroelectricity:

Cragside Curator Andrew Sawyer

In 1878 a miracle was performed at Cragside in Northumberland when Lord Armstrong turned water into light to make it the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity.

He achieved this by lighting arc lamps, for his picture gallery, with power derived from a neighbouring brook.

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National Trust reaction to new fracking rules

The Government is announcing today a bidding process for licenses on fracking – new rules will exclude World Heritage Sites, National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) from the round of licenses except in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Forty per cent of the land owned by the National Trust is in the National Parks of England and Wales and the conservation charity owns large areas of land in AONBs. Here is the Trust’s reaction to the announcement from Richard Hebditch, Assistant Director, External Affairs:

“It’s right that the Government has recognised the concerns about fracking in special places like national parks and AONBs. We welcome the new planning guidance which will makes clear that applications should be refused in these areas other than in exceptional circumstances.

“But it’s not just national parks and AONBs that could be at risk but other special places too, which is why we’d like to see this approach extended to nature reserves and other wildlife sites like Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) as well.

“This is a significant change in approach from DECC. We hope it will reflect a much more cautious approach that recognises the risks of turning some of the most special places in the country over to industrial scale extraction of shale gas and oil.”

National Trust joins countryside groups to challenge fracking rules

Poorly regulated fracking risks harming threatened species and polluting our waterways, according to a report produced by the National Trust and other leading wildlife and countryside groups.

Morecambe Bay in Cumbria is one of many special places for nature that may be affected by the shale gas industry ©National Trust Images/David Noton

Morecambe Bay in Cumbria is one of many special places for nature that may be affected by the shale gas industry ©National Trust Images/David Noton

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Weekly Witter: Our green energy story

Since our energy strategy, “Grow your own” was published back in 2010, we’ve embarked on a journey of energy-awareness.  We set ourselves two big challenges, to reduce our energy by 20% and to generate 50% of that remainder through renewable and low-carbon energy resources.  We’ve committed to do this by 2020.

Some of this is nothing new for us.  We’re lucky enough to have access to some amazing natural resources – water, sun (well, sometimes sun) and woodlands.  Previous owners of our properties knew this – for example, at Cragside, Northumberland (where Lord Armstrong installed what was probably the first hydro-electric scheme in 1868).  Not to mention many historic milling sites, such as Patterson’s Spade Mill, Morden Hall Snuff Mill, Winchester City Mill, to name a few.  We’ve brought water-power back to Morden and we’re bringing it back to Cragside.

We’ve already done some great work at enthusiastic properties – from charging an electric mower through a small solar panel at Nymans Gardens to installing our first solar panels on a Grade-I listed castle at Dunster Castle (our latest listed building installation is at Lindisfarne Castle).  We also do less obvious work behind the scenes, by replacing our oil-fired boilers with wood-fired ones – for example, Uppark, Chirk Castle, Calke Abbey, and Castle Drogo.  Last year, we generated 6% of our energy needs through renewables.

Green energy at Snowdon

Green energy at Snowdon

Our biggest project to date is happening right now, in Snowdonia.  We’re installing a 600kW hydro-electric system on one of our farms. This scheme will generate the electricity equivalent of over 600 3-bedroom homes.   The project team there have just run a very successful open-day.  Despite the constant rain, over 200 very keen people were in attendance to see the site and ask questions.  We want to do more of this.

We’ve identified just over 40 sites (a mix of hydro-electric, wood-fired systems, and heat pumps) which will help us achieve our goal of 50% generation.  Recently, we announced a new partnership with Good Energy, an energy supplier.  For every new customer that signs up to their electricity and/or gas tariffs, a donation (£40 for dual-fuel) is made to the National Trust to support our energy strategy and investment in renewables.  We’re exploring other options too.

On the energy-saving front, which is arguably more important for us, we have seen lights and equipment being switched off, new heating controls, roof insulation and secondary glazing being put in – all the actions we’d do at home.  South Somerset properties went even further quite recently.  Their green team held a “green week” which featured a fuel-free Friday, local apple juice and use of thermal images (which shows heating leaks from buildings) – all good ways to encourage energy-saving and the use of local resources.

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Last year’s winter was so cold, that we did not quite meet our energy saving target.  However, actions like those of South Somerset’s team are just what we need to manage and take ownership of our energy use.  We know that whatever we save has a global impact, as well as local impact.  Whatever you believe about climate change, we’ve seen the very real impact that freakish weather patterns has on our properties – from flash-flooding affecting historic buildings and contents to storm damage of centuries-old landscapes and ancient woodlands.

  • Kirsty Rice has been the Energy Adviser for the National Trust since 2007.  She is responsible for devising national energy strategy and reduction targets, in addition to providing advice on energy efficiency and renewable or low-carbon technologies.  Her background is in project and financial management, working on environmental projects for the last ten years in public and private sectors.
  • The Weekly Witter is a regular mouthpiece for our many specialists to talk about what’s on their minds at the moment.

Local power in wind farm planning is step in the right direction

This week’s announcement by government that local people are to get a stronger voice over planning decisions on wind farms is an important step in the right direction.

We have long advocated the need for a robust planning system that values the opinions of local people and gives them a say on what type of developments they want and need for their own communities. And this move by government towards engaging and empowering communities in decisions around renewable technology is really important.

View along the Whitehaven coast, Cumbria towards wind turbines ©National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

View along the Whitehaven coast, Cumbria towards wind turbines ©National Trust Images/Joe Cornish

The National Trust believes in the need to grow cleaner, greener energy to tackle the damaging effects of fossil fuels on our environment and wellbeing. That is why we have pledged to generate 50 per cent of our energy from renewables, including biomass, solar and hydro technologies, by 2020 . It is also why it is important that this move does not signal a major backward step in the government’s commitment to expanding renewables. Fewer renewables to be replaced by any anticipated bonanza in fracked shale gas would be a serious blow to the Coalition’s low carbon credibility and do nothing to help us all tackle climate change.

We also believe there is a place for well-sited, well-designed wind technology as part of a mix of renewable energy schemes, but that this should not be at any cost.

So we welcome the communities and local government minister Eric Pickles’ statement this week, in which he says: “Meeting our energy goals should not be used to justify the wrong development in the wrong location.” And also his strong support for clear policies in local plans which will ensure that “impacts from wind farms developments, including cumulative landscape and visual impact, are addressed satisfactorily.”

As a leading conservation organisation, we have a duty to protect beautiful places for ever, for everyone and believe that great care needs to be taken in the siting of any renewable technology, wind included, to ensure that the special character of our most sensitive places and landscapes is not compromised.

Long overdue is a national debate and then clear plan – organised by regions – which aims to set out where large scale renewable technologies could be located. This would take so much of the understandable heat out of the current situation where scattergun and speculative approaches to, for example, wind farm development are creating incessant pressures on some local landscape and their communities. The best development proposals engage local people early and help them take part proactively in the what, where and how of any major interventions.

While this week’s announcement has prompted concerns that higher incentives from wind farm developers to communities might lead to distorted planning decisions – and it is important that the government ensures this does not happen – there is a need to recognise the benefits that can be gained from energy providers working with local people on developing models for sharing the dividends of local, community renewables.

We support the principle of local energy tariffs, where communities which host schemes can benefit from access to cleaner, less costly heat and power. Our new energy partner, Good Energy , is already a pioneer in this approach, and we are working with them in exploring how our new hydro schemes, for example at Hafod y Llan in Snowdonia , might embrace this concept of local, mutual advantage.

By Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director

Top environmental award won by the National Trust

One of the most prestigious environmental awards in the UK has been won by the National Trust for its pioneering and cutting edge energy work in Wales.

The recognition in the ‘energy’ category of the Guardian Sustainable Business Awards was announced at a special ceremony last night with the judges saying that the Trust “shows that heritage shouldn’t stop sustainability – their approach was challenging and broad ranging – very large energy savings, moving towards energy independence, while preserving national heritage.”

Keith Jones, National Trust Environmental Practice Adviser for Wales, said “Winning this award is a great honour and recognition for all of the hard work of staff and volunteers across Wales.

 “Our work in Wales is all about getting the balance right in terms of generating our own energy but perhaps more importantly about using less energy in the first place. It’s a mixture of the big ticket measures that can generate clean and green power as well as the simple measures that can reduce our energy footprint.”

NT logo flag at The National Trust Annual General Meeting, held at the Arena & Convention Centre Liverpool, on 1 November 2008In Wales the Trust manages sites as diverse as the beautiful medieval fortress at Chirk Castle and crofts on the magical Llŷn Peninsula. It encompasses visitor centres and bunkhouses, a Tudor merchant’s house and old coastguard cottages, along with the 19th century neo-Norman Penrhyn castle and Tredegar House in south-east Wales.

National Trust Wales has already reduced its energy use by 40 per cent in two years and is well on the way to generating all of its energy needs from renewable sources at its properties.

There has been a major investment in 190 separate projects across Wales using groundbreaking technology as varied as modern light bulbs to the UK’s first marine source heat pump. It has explored biomass boilers and solar energy.

 Photovoltaic panels and Hydro alone will supply more than half of the energy needs for the National Trust in Wales by the end of 2013.

 In the last year the National Trust has also been recognised for its environmental and energy work by winning the prestigious Ashden Gold Award 2012, UK Water Efficiency Awards 2012 and the Cooperative Community Energy Challenge 2012.

Charties and Coops urge MPs to support community energy

A coalition of civil society organisations with over 12 million members is urging all MPs to support community-owned and controlled renewable projects in today’s Energy Bill debate. They are concerned that the draft Energy Bill would stifle the growth of the burgeoning community energy sector if changes are not made.

The group which includes: The Co-operative; the National Trust; the National Federation of Women’s Institutes; Transition Towns; and Groundwork, have written to all MPs asking them to support a community approach to the UK’s future energy needs.

The group believes that community ownership of energy projects empowers communities to collectively decide upon and run their own energy projects in locally appropriate ways. It also benefits the local economy by keeping the profits generated within the community, often being spent on tackling fuel poverty or other social problems.

The MPs have been contacted as the Energy Bill is debated in Parliament today (December 19). The organisations are concerned that the legislation has been designed for large commercial developers and could exclude communities from participating in the new energy market.

In Germany, an estimated 15% of all renewable electricity generation is owned by local communities, with over 600 energy cooperatives. In the UK this is around 1% but there are hundreds of energy groups with plans to generate renewable power.

Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals at The Co-operative, said: “Communities across the UK stand ready to lead a community energy revolution but their opportunity to grow could be extinguished if the Energy Bill stays as it is. Community energy must be treated fairly in electricity market reform and allowed to flourish as it has elsewhere in Europe.

“Community ownership is proven to increase public support for local renewable energy projects, which is vital if the UK is to meet its energy and climate objectives. A recent opinion poll we commissioned found that opposition to projects, including wind turbines, drops from 22% to just 7% if the project belongs to the community.”

Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprise Director at the National Trust said “We know that when communities secure a stake in energy projects they are much more reassured that their own beautiful local landscapes and villages that they love can embrace the proposals. Community energy can help empower local people to take control of their own energy futures and in a style that maintains and even enhances what makes local places special and cherished. We want to work with the Government to support a big increase in community owned renewable energy and energy efficiency schemes.”