HOW GREEN IS THEIR VAL­LEY

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Property -

De­spite lovely views over the Usk val­ley, the farm at Ll­wmws in the Bre­con Bea­cons lives up to its Welsh name, which lit­er­ally means “cold, des­o­late or bare”. The north-fac­ing slopes pro­vide rough graz­ing for hardy Welsh sheep but lit­tle else, and the sun dis­ap­pears be­hind the hill­tops at 1.30pm in the win­ter. The stream that bounces and plays its way down the hill­side has, un­til re­cently, been such an in­signif­i­cant part of this bleak land­scape that gen­er­a­tions of farm­ers on the hill have failed to give it a name. The cur­rent farmer, Ge­orge Smith, says it has been of more in­ter­est to his chil­dren, who love to play in it, erect­ing rock and peb­ble dams, than to any­one else. But as of the end of Novem­ber last year, dozens of or­di­nary peo­ple were in­ter­ested enough in this lit­tle stream, and another sim­i­lar one on neigh­bour­ing land, to in­vest £270,000 in them. Why? Be­cause within a year, as “mi­cro hy­dro” schemes they will be pro­vid­ing enough elec­tri­cal en­ergy to power 57 homes in such a low-tech, un­ob­tru­sive way that Ge­orge Smith’s chil­dren won’t even no­tice the dif­fer­ence in their dam-build­ing. Many in­vestors come from Ge­orge Smith’s own vil­lage, Llan­gat­tock, a set­tle­ment of 425 homes, a mix­ture of mod­ern bun­ga­lows and tra­di­tional hill farms scat­tered along a trib­u­tary of the River Usk. Four years ago, the vil­lage an­nounced its in­ten­tion of be­com­ing Bri­tain’s first “carbon neg­a­tive” com­mu­nity by 2015. A bold claim, but four years on, they are still on track: the al­lot­ments group farms a field of new veg­etable plots and has res­ur­rected the an­nual vil­lage fete, the lit­ter-pick­ing group re­cy­cles more than three-quar­ters of the 1,265 bags of rub­bish it gleans from 70 miles of verge; and a group buy­ing club has raised money to put so­lar pan­els on sev­eral home and barn roofs. The vil­lage has formed its own com­mu­nity in­ter­est com­pany, Llan­gat­tock Green Val­leys (LGV). Its vil­lage to put so­lar pan­els on their roof, us­ing money from the com­mu­nity in­ter­est com­pany. Rob, a vet, says: “We have al­ways been in­ter­ested in en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues and our teenage daugh­ter is on her school’s eco­com­mit­tee. I like that the tech­nol­ogy has been around for cen­turies.” The in­ter­est in the mi­cro-hy­dro scheme – rais­ing £270,000 in two months from small-scale in­vestors with a max­i­mum in­di­vid­ual stake of £10,000 – re­veals much about sup­port for re­new­able en­ergy both in Llan­gat­tock and around the UK. There has been sharp growth in th­ese so-called com­mu­nity en­ergy schemes – small-scale re­new­able projects based on lo­cal re­sources such as streams, so­lar panel-clad vil­lage hall roofs and patches of derelict wood­land brought back to life through biomass (wood­fired) projects. Rod­ney Ar­chard, a re­tired physi­cist and school­mas­ter from Here­ford, is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of the new kind of in­vestor in en­ergy. In to­tal he has in­vested less than £10,000 in a va­ri­ety of schemes, in­clud­ing a re­stored wa­ter mill near Cleobury Mor­timer and a biomass project in Here­ford­shire. “Th­ese projects are a non-pol­lut­ing, fairly be­nign way to ex­ploit the Earth’s re­sources,” he says. “I have been in­ter­ested in green en­ergy for a while, but as a hill walker I have a real loathing for on­shore wind tur­bines.” Jeremy Thorp, of Share En­ergy, an or­gan­i­sa­tion that helps com­mu­ni­ties turn their rivers and wood­lands into sources of en­ergy, says co­op­er­a­tive share of­fers are one of the only ways to fund small-scale re­new­able en­ergy as grants are scarce and banks are wary of loans – even though the Llan­gat­tock scheme, for ex­am­ple, of­fers five per cent re­turn. “Peo­ple like to feel they own en­ergy pro­duc­tion in their locality, and the growth in th­ese schemes is very much in re­sponse to the per­ceived un­fair­ness of the ‘Big Six’,” he says. As for Ge­orge Smith, not only is his stream an illustration of how the peo­ple of Llan­gat­tock are tak­ing con­trol over their en­ergy needs and do­ing some­thing about cli­mate change, but “in 20 years’ time, that stream will be my pen­sion”. Llan­gat­tock Green Val­leys will be is­su­ing a share of­fer for four more sim­i­lar schemes in March. For more de­tails visit llan­gat­tock­green­val­leys.org

Wa­ter way: Jackie Charl­ton, Michael But­ter­field and Rob Smith at the stream that will be­come a mi­cro-hy­dro power source for their vil­lage

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