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H20 – The Power Is In Planning

There is one major take home lesson in the creation of a new micro hydro scheme, planning and preparation are key; now twelve months up and running Maesgwm Hydro Scheme is testimony to dogged determination and has exceeded performance targets.

On the Brondanw Estate, in North Wales the Maesgwm Hydro Scheme was more than five years in the planning. After this gruelling journey, construction commenced in late August 2016. The weather remained kind throughout the four months it took to run water past the turbine and into the power hungry finishing post.

The Scheme is within the boundaries of Snowdonia National Park Authority (SNPA) where, ironically, hydro on the Brondanw Estate has been harnessing energy since 1902, nearly half a century prior to the establishment of SNPA in 1951. 

Agent of the Brondanw Estate for more than four decades, Jonathan Lovegrove-Fielden, a partner at Balfours, takes up the story: “The Estates’ first 1902 hydro system is in the magical Croesor Valley, with a big reservoir in the hills and a turbine house at the bottom. When we re-built the Cwm Croesor hydro system in 1997, we quite literally put the new turbine in the corner of the old original turbine house.”

The Maesgwm Hydro Scheme passed planning in 2015, after five years scrutiny involving the planners, local communities, a variety of “ologists,” the technical team and of course the Trustees and tenant farmers on the ground  - who nurtured the whole project. Planning and expert adviser costs made up a not insignificant portion of the £800,000 to finance the project, which is forecast for payback within 10/11 years. Against which the turbine has a life expectancy of 20 to 25 years, the penstock piping a 60 to 80 year time-frame and the stone clad Turbine House - built like a shepherds hut - 200 years.

Design was driven by engineer Mike Woolcock of Kiem Water Limitedtogether with Renewables First of Stroud.  The main contractor was Alan Jones of GHJ Civil Engineering, Pwllheli and the turbine was supplied by Hydrolite of Swansea.  Jonathan explains: “The whole thing was brought together by Mike Woolcock who helped me project manage the construction and installation.”

The intake at 235m above sea level is the starting point, followed by 840 metres penstock piping, with a 128 metre drop to a Turgo 99kw capacity turbine within the turbine house. The energy created is then fed into the grid via £100,000 worth of cabling. The stone clad and well insulated shepherd’s hut not only fits in aesthetically but absorbs the significant  noise made by the turbine.

Jonathan continues: “We have reduced the amount of water we take out. This was predominantly due to protecting bryophytes – aquatic lichen. Bryophytes are most prominent in fast-flowing, soft-water streams draining upland catchments thriving in lots of spray and gushing water. Wales has an exceptional diversity of bryophytes. As a result restrictions also include limiting intake during seasonally reduced rainfall.”

Nevertheless the project remained viable with an anticipated output of 355,000kw per annum, powering some 125 Welsh homes. The energy generated is fed directly into the national grid, with the Estate receiving the Feed in Tariff and top up payment.

He adds: “The spirit of the Trustees work is as custodians of the landscape right down to the micro-level, and as such they remain true to Clough’s ethos. Small scale hydro achieves on all levels: High conversion efficiency of 70 to 90%, and far higher than other technologies; zero carbon footprint; as a well-designed project it is environmentally benign and can encourage ecology allowing, and in some cases enabling, fish and aquatic species movement. Finally sustainable income enables further investment in the estate and local community.”

Tenant farmers, Lewys Williams and son Rhys, who are second and third generation farmers on the Estate, and Richard Pearson have all been pivotal in their cooperation. “Richard farms the land on which we have installed the intake; he has been hugely helpful regarding the new installation. Already he assists with the timber contract for the Estate’s Renwable Heat Incentive (RHI) plant, heating the main house together with some half dozen houses and the Estate caffi.”

Jonathan continues: “The Williams’ have also embraced the Maesgwm project with the whole of the Penstock piping crossing the land they farm and culminating at the turbine house. “They have been enthusiastic and helpful throughout the planning process. As their farming regularly takes them past the turbine house Lewys and Rhys are now responsible for the maintenance contract for the turbine. It’s another string to their bow – their main farming enterprises are sheep and Stabiliser cattle. However this isn’t their first deviation into renewable income, with the family installing solar panels on land they own nearby – and outside the SNP.”

Jonathan concludes: “We commissioned the turbine January 2017 and by September it had exceeded expectation. We anticipated generating 355,000kw/annum – by September we achieved 320,000kw, which is amazing given the low rainfall.”  To discuss the project in more detail Jonathan Lovegrove-Fielden can be contacted at Balfours on 01743 241181.


Sir Clough Williams-Ellis was given control, by his father, of the Brondanw Estate in 1908, aged 25 years, at the time he wrote: "Nothing, just then, could possibly have been more ecstatically welcomed by me... The guardianship of a rambling old Carolean Plas set in a wildly romantic little estate among the Welsh mountains that had been held by my family for over four centuries was well calculated to inflame me."

It was indeed a fortuitous match, directly tapping into his professional prowess as a highly successful and well-known architect and so it was as a result of financial success that he galavanised his Estate and created the Portmerion Village. Five years prior to his death in 1972 to protect his property and ensure its conservation he created a Foundation, now known as the Clough Williams-Ellis Foundation. Today the Foundation is run by eight Trustees, four of whom are direct descendants, the balance being local people with specialist skills or knowledge, including the Vice-Chairman of the CLA Cymru David Wynne-Finch.”

The green ethos of Clough and his wife Amabel remains a corner stone of The Foundation and the Trustees interpretation of Clough’s vision, specifically to "Cherish the past, adorn the present and construct for the future."


Michael Woolcock - Engineer, David Wynne-Finch - Trustee, Christine Wallace – Wife of Julian Wallace, Iwan Huws - Trustee, Dafydd Iwan - Trustee, Menna Angharad - Trustee, Julian Wallace - Trustee

penstock piping installation


shepherds hut construction

the power house

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