Earth Notes: The River Thames Scheme and Potential Renewable GenerationUpdated 2023-02-28.
Huge thanks to Marcus O for putting our thoughts and this letter together!
This is copy-pasted from the original PDF that Marcus prepared and has been lightly edited, eg some personal details have been omitted for privacy.
Transition Town Kingston - Energy Group
Environment Agency River Thames Scheme – Public Consultation
Dear Sir / Madam,
I write to you on behalf of the Transition Town Kingston - Energy Group (TTK-EG). TTK is part of a nation-wide network of community interest organisations working collaboratively to build resilient local communities. Our work involves raising awareness of the climate crisis and supporting practical projects to assist the transition to a sustainable low-carbon future.
As you will be aware, the Environment Agency is engaging in a public consultation on the proposed River Thames Scheme. The scheme is intended to provide a long-term sustainable plan to protect homes and businesses, enhance the environment and boost the local economy. This includes works to improve existing river structures and channels to reduce the risk of flooding between Egham and Teddington, which is increasing due to climate change. The large scale of the scheme means the project has national significance status, with the final scope and design of the project yet to be fully determined pending feedback from the public consultation process.
The scheme includes physical improvements to the Thames weir structures, including the first and largest weir on the non-tidal part of the river located between Ham and Teddington which is operated and maintained by the Environment Agency. Significantly from the TTK - Energy Group perspective, in 2011 the Ham Hydro community interest company obtained rights to develop a small-scale hydropower project at the weir:
- To generate clean electricity, thus reducing carbon emissions locally and nationally
- To generate income to support low-carbon solutions in Ham and surrounding areas
However, following an appeal led by the Lensbury Club, planning permission to develop the hydropower project was subsequently withdrawn in 2016. The Lensbury, an important local employer whose property is located immediately adjacent to the proposed area, had a number of concerns about the hydro project related to: 1) noise; 2) flooding; 3) environmental and visual impacts. Although successful in their appeal, the Lensbury stated that they remained supportive of an appropriate hydro power development at Teddington and would be open to cooperation with Richmond Council and the project's developer to ensure an appropriate scheme can be progressed.
Since that time the energy landscape has changed significantly making a previous strong business case even more attractive. It is apparent from recent discussions with those involved in the Teddington project, there remains strong interest across the local community for such a scheme . By learning from the experiences of the former Ham hydro directors and applying an appropriate multi-stakeholder consultative process to assess the impacts, benefits and suitability of the proposed works, we believe there is a strong rationale for the integration of small-scale hydro power generation at the Teddington and other weir structures within the River Thames Scheme, including Sunbury and Molesey. This could result in significant financial savings benefitting the Environment Agency due to the efficiency of constructing revenue generating assets, whilst at the same time upgrading the weirs to meet the requirements of the River Thames Scheme.
Accordingly, with the proposed upgrading of the river structures as part of the River Thames Scheme, the TTK - EG believes these infrastructure investments provide a once in a lifetime opportunity to integrate appropriate hydro power developments into the Teddington and other weirs, as an integral component of the wider flood protection scheme. These public investments could unlock synergies across separate, albeit connected, policy agendas to achieve mutually reinforcing objectives that provide optimal solutions for the natural environment, the built environment, and the provision of services:
- Improved flood protection, including enhanced weir discharge capacities during peak flow conditions in line with climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction requirements
- Generate an environmentally friendly and sustainable source of energy, reducing local carbon emissions, contributing to national climate mitigation targets, and improving the environment
- Provision of cost-effective, affordable energy for local residential, public, and commercial end-users (incl. the Lensbury) at a time of unprecedented energy price inflation and energy security concerns
- Generate sustainable income for community funds to develop low carbon projects, contribute to the local economy and improve the wellbeing of local people
- Strengthen relationships, social cohesion, community resilience and public-private collaboration, including raising environmental awareness and increase engagement in civic life and place making
- Enable the Environment Agency to achieve cost efficiencies in capital expenditure by sharing infrastructure upgrade costs across stakeholders and constructing revenue generating assets
The weirs between Egham and Teddington are the largest on the river Thames and are ideal locations for small-scale hydro power generation. The Teddington weir alone could provide an estimated 1,860,000 kwh of electricity annually, sufficient for 600 homes and save around 1000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents.
In the context of rising energy costs and a rapidly changing climate, where despite progress being made, the UK and neighbouring countries are not on track to achieve net zero for the +1.5 C Paris target, the need for integrated solutions has never been stronger. The River Thames Scheme could provide an enlightened example of a holistic cross-sector approach to optimise the performance and resilience of existing riverine infrastructure assets, that increases return on investment and maximises impact by achieving multiple co-benefits.
Such an integrated approach would be in full alignment with the vision and principles of HM government's new white paper on Transforming Infrastructure Performance - Roadmap to 2030. Moreover, a community-based approach aligns strongly with the UK's National Resilience Strategy, which encompasses a whole-of-society all-risks approach - where strengthening the resilience of local communities builds the foundation of a more resilient nation.
In support of the vision and ideas outlined in this letter, the TTK-EG will provide a formal submission as outlined above to the River Thames Scheme public consultations and seek further dialogue on these proposals with the Environment Agency. Notwithstanding the above, to bring these ideas to fruition will require a genuine multi-stakeholder consensus building approach. Accordingly, we write to you as our representatives of national and/or local government to ask for your support in a collective effort to communicate and raise these issues with the relevant government agencies, planners and decision makers.
If considered helpful, representatives of the TTK-EG would be available to meet with you in the new year. This would provide us with an opportunity to understand your perspectives on these matters and how we could collaborate to influence the design of the River Thames Scheme to capitalise on this unique and nationally significant scheme to directly address some of the country's most critical challenges.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours faithfully, on behalf of Transition Town Kingston - Energy Group