Charity Bank finance one of the largest community-owned hydro schemes in Europe

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Acting on this £3.2million hydro project was a labour of love for all involved.

We were retained by Charity Bank to act on their financing of the 440k/W Sandford Lock Hydro Scheme, on the iconic River Thames near Oxford, the largest community-owned hydro scheme in Europe at the time of operational start in 2018 and the Bank’s largest renewables financing.

The development was undertaken by Low Carbon Hub, one of the UK’s most experienced and passionate community energy developers, and involved the installation of three solid steel Archimedes screws (each weighing 22 tonnes). The journey to build the scheme was over 10 years in the making and is a great example of how ambitions can be made into reality with belief and dedication and everyone working together to achieve a common purpose.

The scheme had a number of challenges:

  • A lengthy construction process which was weather dependent – work would need to stop if the river rose beyond a certain level.

  • Access issues, thanks to a low bridge that needed to be temporarily moved to allow cranes on site to install the screws, as well as the construction of a temporary road to enable heavy loads to reach the river set down point during the construction phase.

  • Development of a new ‘fish pass’ system for the turbine, allowing fish to migrate upstream beyond the Lasher Weir for the first time in over 400 years.

  • A complex matrix of contracts with no single point responsibility EPC contract.

  • Transportation, including shipping from the Andritz factory in Hungary, barges on the Thames and floating pontoons from the Wharf at Sandford to the Weir.

  • Pressured installation deadlines to preserve the pre-accredited FiT rate, necessary to ensure the scheme remained financially viable.

The Bank really cared about the positive environmental and social outcomes of the scheme (as much as the financials) and wanted to make it happen, as did we, so there was no shortage of willingness to find solutions in the long hours.

The transaction involved us conducting due diligence, strengthening the contractual documentation and preparing and concluding all of the finance and security documentation.

Verderg develop first-of-kind run of the river hydro projects

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We have advised VerdErg on their first of kind, run of the river hydro projects. VerdErg developed the co-axial VETT technology (Venturi-enhanced Turbine Technology) which produces cost effective hydrodynamic power from low head (i.e. shallow water) projects in rivers and estuaries, by pressure amplification.

The nature of the technology is cost effective but with a low impact on the environment, particularly for fish. VerdErg’s mission recognises that “attempts to lower the carbon footprint go in vain if our solutions do not also work in conjunction with the environment”.

We first worked with VerdErg in 2015 on their Dalston project, a proposed 40kw scheme on the river Caldew, advising on commercial arrangements, including PPAs, development agreements and leasing documentation. We then advised on the Eaton Socon project, the first commercial deployment of a VETT installation on the Great Ouse River at an old mill pond. The scheme which was constructed through 2018 will provide electricity to the mill building which is now the River Mill pub and restaurant.

The VETT technology has great scope to be deployed in tidal flows as well as rivers in a manner which minimises impacts on flora and fauna, due to its ability to amplify a low head of water, rather than requiring a maximum tidal range. We look forward to seeing the roll out of this innovative technology.