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River Frome to generate hydropower?

By local democracy reporter Daniel Mumby.

THE River Frome could be used to power homes and businesses as part of a strategy to combat climate change. Mendip District Council’s cabinet has agreed to explore whether stretches of the river could be used to generate hydroelectric power in the years ahead. 

The River Frome.

The proposal is one of several put forward by the council’s scrutiny climate and ecological emergency working group (SCEEG), with the goal being that the entire district becomes carbon-neutral by 2030. 

The cabinet agreed the principle of a hydroelectric power study at a virtual meeting on 10th January – though the funding for any feasibility study has not yet been agreed.

Councillor Janine Nash, who heads up SCEEG, said in her written report that the council’s officers would “evaluate any case studies previously carried out to determine if [hydropower is] practical in Mendip. 

“They will then engage with a consultant to obtain a price for a feasibility study. This will then be presented to the cabinet to evaluate.”

The other SCEEG proposals include the installation of solar panels in council-run car parks, promoting electric bicycles through public trial days, and launching a discount scheme to help home-owners retrofit their properties. 

Councillor Helen Kay, who has been working alongside SCEEG, welcomed the initiatives, but sounded a note of caution over the hydropower study. 

She said: “We [SCEEG] decided collectively that this was not going to produce a lot of energy for the amount of work involved – whereas putting lots of solar panels on people’s houses would.

“We can deliver training to small- and medium-sized enterprises to train them up to do retrofitting – that sounds like a marvellous project, and if we’ve only got a limited amount of time [before unitary], I would say go for that one rather than the hydropower.

“Hydropower doesn’t give you as much energy as other renewables.”

Councillor Tom Ronan, portfolio holder for strategic planning and climate change, responded, “These schemes do need to be prioritised in some way.

“It’s a moving feast – it will constantly evolve and change, and the monthly SCEEG meetings are where you can discuss that and fine-tune it.”

Councillor Barry O’Leary, portfolio holder for enterprise and finance, added, “There is already hydropower on the River Frome. It is not a binary choice.”

Hydroelectric power is currently generated on the River Frome at Tellisford Mill north of Rode, which produces around 250,000 KWh of energy per year. 

The owners of the Old Wallbridge Mill in Frome also use their privately-managed sluice on the river to generate power.

Any detailed proposed for a feasibility study into further hydroelectric sites will come back before the cabinet later in the year. 

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