A new idea was then introduced as a means of gaining support from environmentalists and to provide some tangible economic input. Hydro-electric plant requires a ‘head’ of water – i.e. just what a weir provides. To combine hydro-power with a lock and an inflatable weir appeared to members of the Trust to be the ideal combination – and this gathered momentum after the turn of the millennium with the introduction of ‘Feed-in-Tariffs’ – a Government sponsored scheme to encourage the adoption of ‘green electricity’ or the preference for ‘renewable- energy’.
In 2007, a ‘splinter group’ (as it could in retrospect be regarded), set up the Upper Severn Hydro and Navigation Company, with the intention of including hydro-generation at the weir sites associated with the proposed scheme on the upper river. (or even specific sites such as just at Bewdley or Bridgnorth). Several members supported the new group, lead by Jeremy Coles, who saw it as an opportunity to work independently of the ‘restoration’ element (evident due to the presence of IWA personnel and ‘boaters’ in the membership – as opposed to the more ‘river Severn’ based members, engineers and locals who saw the proposals as extending the Severn, rather than extending the other waterways of the Midlands). As it turned out, they were misguided, in that they found themselves somewhat marginalised in both waterway AND local authority circles, and found similar difficulties as the main campaigns had before it.
However, the singular achievement that USH&NCo realised was that due to a grant from a Power Company to set them up, a Report was commissioned from Segen, a noted consultancy with engineering and conservation experience on all types of waterway, who completed a Feasibility Study which was up-to-date, included both flexible weirs and hydro (and canoe portage, fish pass etc,), at a number of sites from Stourport as far as Coalport in the Ironbridge Gorge.
The Segen Study is regarded as a fine example of what COULD be done. Of course it needs tweaking – there are some details which would need finalising like which stages to commence with, precise alignments of lock-channels, number of turbines in each hydro plant, etc., but it is a document which proves beyond doubt feasibility – which was it’s brief.
Alas, due to not being able to handle set-backs and change in personnel etc, USH&NCo did not last. In 2009 it was announced that the company had closed, in favour of a new company with a smaller number of directors, called All Rivers Hydro. This company still exists in 2012, and is interested in applying hydro to any rivers in England and Wales. They are sympathetic to the needs of navigation, but regard it as the responsibility of others to provide locks were appropriate.
During the USH&NCo period, it had been proposed to close SNRT, in favour of the new company. Indeed, for a couple years, the Trust certainly ‘lay low’, not doing anything contentious, in fact doing hardly anything at all. ‘Dormancy’ was mentioned, but we were not entirely dormant. As it happened, we were well advised to keep our options open, as we felt justified after the failure of the other company.
Two more years went by and the proposal to close was once again raised. The difference this time, was that several members of the council of SNRT were now involved with IWA, with whom there was a closer working relationship (though to be fair, there had always been IWA membership and co-operation) and an understanding that a wide range of interests must be included to form a suitable consortium which would have any chance of success. The example of the successful opening of the Droitwich Canals as a through route (which was much admired) was also an incentive to re-think the Trust’s campaign.
The motion was passed, and in the Chairman’s closing report, he promised that ‘the dream would go on’, that lessons learned would be recorded, and in due course of time, he felt that a new incentive would surface, with a better relationship with the authorities – bearing in mind that BW is transforming itself into Canal & River Trust, and that the EA navigations were due to follow in a few years time, offering new opportunities for consultation and wider incorporation of issues before campaigning for any specific scheme.