A SMALL community in the heart of the Lake District has won backing for an ‘inspirational’ £1.6 million scheme to turn its renowned rainfall into renewable energy.

Planners this week gave the green light to residents in picturesque Kentmere to harness power from the River Kent to sell to the National Grid.

Not only is the initiative designed to help cut carbon emissions by generating hydro-electric power, but surplus funds will be used to benefit the community and support similar renewable energy schemes in the region for many decades to come.

The decision comes in the week in which Eden was chosen by PM David Cameron as one of four areas to pilot his Big Society initiative.

The area was selected because of the large number of existing community projects already being undertaken.

A delighted Iain Johnston, chairman of Kentmere Hydro Trust (KHT), said the money generated by the project would first pay the annual operating and financing costs of the scheme before making charitable grants to Kentmere and neighbouring communities.

“We have two large buildings – our church and village hall – which would benefit and we hope to contribute to the long-term sustainability of Kentmere’s infrastructure too,” he said.

Lake District National Park Authority chief executive Richard Leafe said the Kentmere scheme could prove ‘inspirational’ to other national parks looking to harness natural resources for energy.

“As a planning authority our policy is to encourage such schemes where appropriate.

"By doing so we are demonstrating to the rest of the country that national parks are good places for renewable energy.”

The Kentmere hydro scheme was first mooted at a parish meeting more than two years ago.

It gave an enthusiastic reception to the idea and within a week a steering group was formed to look into the project.

Many years of combined professional experience in areas ranging from engineering to biology, given voluntarily, moved the project forward.

The team completed hydrological, ecological and topographical surveys which were funded by the national park authority’s sustainable development fund and produced designs before submitting plans to the Lake District National Park Authority.

The plan is to build a weir at the top of a 350 metre-long cascading stretch of the Kent – one of the UK’s fastest flowing rivers – which once powered a wide range of mills.

Some water will be diverted and carried along a buried pipeline to a turbine where electricity will be generated before the water is returned to the river.

Around 1225MWh of electricity will be generated annually – enough to power 250 average homes – thanks to average annual rainfall of 2,500mm (100 inches).

As the location is within a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation, design and construction will give special consideration to ecological and environmental concerns.

It is hoped that work will start at the beginning of next year.

Planning consent will unlock a further £123,000 grant from the Rural Development Programme for England which together with matched funding will pay for the design phase to develop the project.

The rest of the £1.6 million will be funded by grants and loans.

Other local hydro projects supported by the LDNPA include two in Longsleddale and a third at Logan Gill in the Duddon Valley, the largest water generation scheme in the Lakes for 100 years.