A NEW hydro electric plant in the Lake District has been supplying enough energy to meet the power needs of hundreds of homes.

The Hayeswater micro hydro plant in the Ullswater Valley is owned by the National Trust and in its first year of operation generated more than one million KWh of electricity, enough to meet the power needs of more than 300 properties.

Income from the sale of the electricity to the grid will provide the conservation charity with funds to carry out its vital work in the valley as well as helping it to meet its commitment to tackle climate change. This scheme, along with another in the Langdale Valley, is amongst seven operated by the National Trust around the country as part of its renewable energy investment programme.

They produce a combined output of more than 1,200 kilowatts (1,600 horsepower), generating in excess of four million kilowatt hours of energy a year, saving the equivalent of 1,700 tonnes of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere. The National Trust has a target of producing 50 per cent of its energy needs from renewables by 2020.

In the Ullswater Valley evidence of watercourses being used to power machinery date back to the 15th century - for fulling mills, corn mills and in 1870 supporting mining activity at Myers Head Lead Mine.

A dam was constructed in 1908 to provide local drinking water for Penrith.

The construction of the Hayeswater hydro-electric power scheme has brought other benefits to the valley explained Garry Sharples, National Trust Hydro Development Manager.

“We repaired a bridge, popular with walkers, which had been washed away, we improved a bridleway taking people up to Hayeswater Tarn and we removed a buried asbestos pipe, as well as the old reservoir pipe," said Mr Sharples. "Another opportunity to help out came six months into the build when Storm Desmond put a temporary halt to the project.

"Our contractors became community heroes and we found a use for the unwanted boulders brought down by the floods. They provided local material for pipe bedding and cladding for the walls of the powerhouse containing the generator and turbine” added Mr Sharples.

However, one of the biggest gains says the Trust is being able to work with the local community who initially objected to the scheme.

Mr Sharples says he and his team have actively listened to concerns and addressed them onsite. He also says they have kept the community updated and involved in key issues about the construction of the intake and housing for the turbine and generator.

“Our schemes are called ‘run of the river’ which are far smaller in scale and impact” said Mr Sharples. “As technology develops alongside rigorous environmental safeguards it is possible to install this sort of scheme in landscapes as sensitive as those that we have in the Lakes. "It's It’s been important for us to show people how technical features like the ‘hands off flow’ maintain the waterfalls within the gill and protect any ecological interests.

"Also with the involvement of bodies like the Environment Agency, Natural England and Friends of the Lake District we ensured every aspect of the design met very high environmental standards. The communities’ initial concerns and thoughts on the scheme were addressed early on and their input has really helped to create a great project for the long term.” added Mr Sharples.

“We look after special places, for ever, for everyone” said Garry. “To do that, we need to protect them from external threats. Right now the greatest threat to all of our places is climate change.

A community project celebration is planned for the spring when locals will be invited to the powerhouse to see the scheme in operation.