On Wednesday 18th June members of Save the Conwy visited the RWE open day held as part of their public consultation held prior to planning application. There were display boards outlining the project along with members of Dulas and RWE available to answer questions. The majority of the details available from RWE can be seen in this document:
Below is an appraisal of the RWE document using answers we received to questions asked on the open day, our own research and the opinions of our Hydrologist and Ecologist:
“The £12million development would potentially have an installed capacity of up to 4.5 megawatts (MW), and could be capable of generating up to 13,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity each year – enough to supply the average annual domestic requirements of around 2,700 households”
It is important to note that these figures are averaged over the year, for 35% of the year the scheme will produce nothing. It is impossible for conventional power stations to respond and power down for the relatively small and infrequent amounts of power produced during periods of heavy rain. It is therefore unlikely any less fossil fuel will be burned as a result of the scheme.
“We propose a modest-sized run-of-river scheme (no dam would be required),”
A 1.5 m high weir will be built creating a 70m long impoundment of water. This is a dam. Weirs built for this purpose are referred to as “low head dams” in many countries.
“The abstraction regime is being designed to protect the inherent and sensitive environmental characteristics of the Afon Conwy, whilst providing sufficient water for an effective hydro-electric scheme, balanced with existing recreational interests on the river.”
The abstraction regime has not been finalised yet, what is certain is that flow rates will be reduced from the levels the current ecology of the gorge has evolved around and that recreational users have come to enjoy. You can see the effects on kayaking based a 5.8 CMS abrstraction detailed on this sight. When questioned RWE stated they didn’t know the full environmental effect of the scheme but this would be monitored over the first 3 yrs. Below are some comments from our Ecologist on the effect of the abstraction on the gorge:
The fairy Glen SSSI is such a unique and fragile environment in would be a shame to use it as a test ground to what will happen to the protected flora and fauna. Practically little is known about the requirements for the ferns and bryophytes that make the SSSI so special. There are perhaps only one or two tiny areas of land in North Wales with similar conditions including Coed Feli Rheid. What would happen if the scheme does show damage? Would water abstraction cease wasting the entire investment or would the damage be allowed to carry on?
“At the Conwy Falls and Fairy Glen the flows would be reduced by no more than about 35% during daylight hours, and water levels at Conwy Falls and Fairy Glen are predicted to be reduced by no more than around 10 % to 15%.”
RWE are conflicting flow rates with water levels here, this is particularly misleading especially as the location of the water level quoted is not given. RWE are also assuming on an average of around 2 CMS to be added by the Machno river after the abstraction point, however there is no available flow data for the Machno and as it rises and falls much quicker than the Conwy this will have a widely variable effect (notably less during low flow states when the percentage of flow abstracted from the Conwy is at its greatest).
“Conwy Falls could offer substantial opportunities to benefit the local area, economy and supply chain.”
The scheme is unlikely to create new employment following construction. Most schemes of this size are run remotely from central offices. By contrast outdoor activity tourism supports 8,243 jobs in Wales.
“In addition, we propose to make available £5000 per MW available every year throughout our 30 year lease period to fund local initiatives,”
Save the Conwy was told by on local resident that this smelt like a bribe. If it is a bribe it is a poor one. The scheme will use the FITs system of payments (as it is conveniently just below the 5MW maximum). Latest FIT payments are 3.32 pence per KWh production and 4.77 pence per KWh export.
If RWE make their 13,000 MWh estimate this works out at £1,051,700 a year. A £22,500 community fund (£5000 x 4.5MW) is therefore around 2% of revenue. The community fund is also only proposed for the 30yrs that RWE hold the lease following that the Foelas Estate may not feel so generous.
“• Creating a new access to the Conwy Falls area, connected to the existing footpath through the site, avoiding the need to walk on the A5”
This constitutes around 100m of new path. Save the Conwy has heard this has previously been considered by the NPA and would probably happen anyway.
“• Assist with the management of the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) to remove invasive species
• Regeneration / planting of native trees adjacent to the existing woodland”
Some comments from our Ecologist on this one:
Surrounding ancient woodlands where reported to have invasive species. To maintain the SSSI in favourable condition NWR should be working with and providing guidance and funding already to the land owner to remove such species as rhododendron ponticum. This is all not mitigation for the potential environmental damage for the scheme. While we would support the planting or natural regeneration of new woodland it is no substitute for loss of ancient woodland, this is irreplaceable habitat as is the gorge environment. We would also support more public access but it would be hoped the National Trust has policies for woodland creation and public access on its land already?
“• Facilitate safe exit from the river above the Conwy Falls for canoeists.”
This is not something that has been requested by local kayakers or Canoe Wales. The thought that a weir could be a safety feature is frankly bizarre. Weirs are considered one of the most dangerous river features.
One of Save the Conwy’s main concerns is the effect on the local community during the construction phase including disruption to traffic. RWE said that the tunnel section (which will require the removal of around 7000 cubic metres of rock by lorry) will be accessed from the A470 near the Fairy Glen Hotel with excavated materials being transported south along the A470 to Blaenau Festiniog. This will predominately affect the community at Dolwyddelan and tourists traveling to Betws y Coed from South Wales. The access to the intake will be opposite the Conwy Falls Café affecting the community of Penmachno and tourists travelling to Betws y Coed from England along the A5. This disruption will last between 18 months and 2years.