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Scottish Government minister Paul Wheelhouse this week celebrated the completion of the new £4million hydroelectric scheme that has now powered the Nevis Range base station and gondola since December 2016.
Mr Wheelhouse, minister for business, innovation and energy, joined those from the Nevis Range Hydro Company, the sister business to Nevis Range Mountain Experience in Lochaber, for Monday’s special ceremony.
The minister congratulated Nevis Range Hydro Company for the realisation of what he called a ‘forward-thinking and ambitious project’ and for all the hard work that had clearly underpinned the delivery of the project.
‘I’m sure that constructing a hydro-electric scheme so close to Ben Nevis itself, in a National Scenic Area and close to the summit of one of highest peaks in the British Isles, was not without its challenges, but the creation of a sustainable and affordable, green energy source should hopefully prove to be just reward for those endeavours,’ said Mr Wheelhouse.
‘This £4 million investment will ensure a financially and environmentally sustainable power supply to support vital local economic activity at Aonach Mor, including skiing and mountain biking.’
The new hydroelectric scheme, situated at the Allt choille Rais – known to skiers and boarders as the Braveheart Burn in the ‘Back Corrie’ of Aonach Mor – has an electrical output range of 40kW to 1.1MWh from two 550kW Pelton turbines.
The scheme is projected to generate 3,700MWh per annum, equivalent to the annual electricity consumption of more than 1,000 households.
The power generated from the turbines is transferred via an 11kV private HV cable to the Nevis Range Gondola Station. The power is then used onsite with any excess being exported to the National Grid.
Peter MacFarlane, managing director of Nevis Range, said the idea of building a hydro scheme had been an attractive one to Nevis Range.
‘Not only did we want to produce green power with the option to export any excess to the National Grid, reduce carbon emissions and help mitigate climate change, we were also looking for a way to benefit from the periods of wet and windy weather when our visitor attraction and ski area struggles to generate income from its normal business,’ he explained.
The hydro project was first conceived in September 2012 after the then Nevis Range chairman, Jim Gunn, looked at various options, and staff from Greencat Renewables walked over the ground at Allt choille Rais.
Marian Austin, a director of Nevis Range Hydro Company and responsible for liaison between the various partners involved in the build, added: ‘This hydro scheme was a hugely challenging project due to the remoteness of the intake, the steepness of the terrain and its location within the Ben Nevis Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and the National Scenic Area (NSA).
‘The contractors, George Leslie Ltd had to bring in specialist equipment such as a walking digger from Hitrak in Beauly and manpower from GeoRope in Ballachulish.
‘As the development of a road to the intake was ruled out, materials such as pipes, concrete and machinery had to be flown to the site by helicopter.’
The new hydro scheme started generating in December 2016, but it was too late in the year to finish the reinstatement of the pipeline and the access roads, so this work was carried out over summer of 2017 and has only recently been completed.
Ms Austin also commented: ‘The turbines have generated over 2.5 million kWh to date. This is good news for Nevis Hydro Company as we borrowed £3.2m from Close Brothers Asset Finance and need to make a start on paying it back.’
Minister Paul Wheelhouse with Marian Austin, director of Nevis Range Hydro Company, Ian Sykes, behind, chairman of Nevis Range Development Company and many of the people involved in construction and operation of the Hyrdo Scheme. Photograph: Iain Ferguson, The Write Image.
1IF F43 Nevis Range Hydro Scheme03