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It took 14 years, over £700,000, and thousands of hours of volunteer time. In May 2015 the first community-owned hydro scheme on the River Thames started to generate green electricity.

The early years

The project started in 2001, when a survey of local residents undertaken by the Osney Sustainable Island Group (OSIG) showed strong support for local action to tackle climate change, and in particular for the idea of building a hydro scheme on the river in West Oxford.  

Over the following years OSIG, and later West Oxford Community Renewables, carried out technical studies to ascertain the best local site for a hydro, environmental studies to measure what impact the project might have on local ecology, initial designs and financial modelling to see if it was financially feasible to undertake; and noise and flooding impact investigations to satisfy ourselves and local residents that there wouldn’t be any unintended adverse local effects. Collaboration with the Environment Agency was a critical element of the project. 

2013 onwards

In February 2013 planning permission was granted, and at the beginning of March, Osney Lock Hydro Limited was registered with the Financial Services Authority as an Industrial & Provident Society for the Benefit of the Community. In April, the abstraction licence was granted, a share offer opened and a potential loan arranged, and sufficient funds were raised to enable construction to start in July.

In August, a Collaborative Agreement was signed with the Environment Agency for Osney Lock Hydro Ltd to project manage the building of Weir B and the hydro as a single civil engineering structure. Construction of the weir started that September and we rounded off the year with a topping-out ceremony for Osney Lock Hydro civils, which were completed on schedule.

Our progress in the first part of 2014 was not quite so rapid. We had hoped to have been generating by February 2014. Unfortunately, the wettest winter on record intervened – not just in terms of getting back on site after practical completion of the civils to build the turbine house, but also in terms of Environment Agency staff being up to their eyes in coping with the extra work the flooding imposed on them.

The situation was exacerbated by an unexpected problem in reaching agreement regarding the exact wording of an important clause of our lease of the land on which the hydro was being built. The Heads of Terms for this had been agreed in July 2013 before we started building, with the legal process expected to be:

  • July 2013: Sign-off Licence to Operate with appended Heads of Terms for lease
  • August 2013: Sign-off Agreement to Lease
  • Practical completion; Sign-off on Lease

This process was delayed as a result of illness in the Environment Agency legal team between August 2013 and mid-January 2014. When we re-started the process, it was found that the drafting of the Rent Review clause was causing some difficulty. It was eventually resolved, and the lease was signed on 31st October 2014.

With the lease signed we were back on site, building the powerhouse and installing the electrics and solar PV roof.  The project was commissioned in January, and given approval to operate by the Environment Agency in May 2015, following the completion of the fish pass, which had been delayed because of new design requirements. 

Fish-pass support
As part of the construction of the hydro, we have built a fish pass, enabling fish to move up river freely at this point for the first time in 200 years. We were delighted to have been awarded a grant towards the fish-pass brushes. We thank the Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment (TOE2) with funds from Grundon Waste Management, and matched funding from Low Carbon West Oxford for their support.

Public open space and interpretation project

As well as generating green energy and income for the west Oxford community, the hydro is a wonderful platform from which to tell the story of our river. We want local people visiting the site to learn about our community’s centuries-old relationship with the Thames, and be inspired by our vision for a more sustainable future.

Thanks to support from the University of Oxford Small Community Grants Scheme, Heritage Lottery Fund and Low Carbon Hub we have been able to work with the local community to further develop the site and produce educational materials.

The development process for Osney Lock Hydro has been demanding, busy and pressured. We are immensely proud that we have managed to build the hydro alongside the Environment Agency Weir B project, achieving a much better overall construction than if they had been built separately.  We would like to thank local residents once again for their forbearance during construction, and our local community for the wonderful support shown towards the project. With the opening of the site to the public, West Oxford has a new open space and resource the community can enjoy.

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