Morvern opens UK’s largest community-owned hydro scheme

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What is thought to be the UK’s largest community-owned hydro was officially opened on Friday on Morvern, writes Nic Goddard.

Local MSP Kate Forbes spoke at the event, which saw a trio of community projects opened, including the Barr River hydropower scheme.

The £6.5m hydro scheme, which was five years in the making, is expected to generate sufficient energy per year to power more than 1,000 homes and is the result of tireless work by Morvern Community Development Trust (MCDC).

Ms Forbes held one end of the ribbon while Isla MacKechnie, a former pupil of Lochaline Primary School and who is now at Ardnamurchan High School – and who won the competition to design the logo for MorVolts, the trading company which will run the scheme – cut the ribbon to mark the official opening.

Kate Forbes holds one end of the ribbon while Isla MacKechnie cuts it. Photograph: Ady Goddard. NO F49 Kate and Isla cut ribbon AG 02
Kate Forbes holds one end of the ribbon while Isla MacKechnie cuts it. Photograph: Ady Goddard.

Isla also pushed the button to start up the 1.6MW capacity high-head (142m) hydropower scheme, which is near Loch Teacuis, and is expected to have a lifespan of 50 years.

Jane Stuart-Smith, chairperson of  MCDC, said: ‘Morvern is a delightful place to live and work, and its sustainability as a remote rural location has been bolstered by MCDC’s strong track record in creating and delivering fantastic local infrastructure projects.

‘The income from the scheme will be an important source of investment into local development priorities. Its development also gives the Morvern community a strategic stake in the energy supply on the peninsula.’

Ms Forbes MSP said: ‘The opening of the UK’s largest community-owned hydro is the culmination of years of hard work and the Morvern community is to be heartily congratulated for their efforts.

‘This shows what enterprising and resilient West Highland communities can achieve, and income from the hydro will now become an important source for investment into other local development priorities.’

Local MSP Kate Forbes with Jane Stuart-Smith, of MCDC; Ian Philp of HIE and Angus Robertson, also of MCDC. NO F49 Jane Stuart-Smith, KF, Ian Philp and Angus Robertson Barr Hydro scheme GB
Local MSP Kate Forbes with Jane Stuart-Smith, of MCDC; Ian Philp of HIE and Angus Robertson, also of MCDC.

Community Development Officer Lilia Dobrokhodova, whose post is funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and has been involved in securing funding and project managing the three projects for MCDC, said 2021 had been an exceptional year  with the completion of three major projects that are already providing tangible benefits to the community.

‘It is great to see the years of planning come to fruition, despite the added challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic,’ she added.

The hydro opening was followed by the official opening of The Hub, a multi-functional space in Lochaline comprising cafe space, office and meeting room space.

Adjacent to The Hub, three new houses have also been built. The Hub is already host to a successful cafe and all three affordable one-bedroom houses have new tenants including the principal teacher at Lochaline Primary School.

Commenting on these projects, Ms Forbes added: ‘When I was at Gaelic medium school we would often sing songs of Morvern and they were always such sad tales of how people had been forced to leave and missed this wonderful place.

‘With projects like these it is clear that this community is thriving. Projects like the hydro, which generate renewable energy and income for the community, affordable housing and spaces like The Hub creating a place for the community to come together you have all of the necessary measures in place.

‘I fully expect that in the future folk will be singing happy songs about how wonderful Morvern is and how they were able to stay.’

The official opening of the three projects comes after a community-led project ‘Morvern does COP26’ which saw daily walks, talks and events organised during COP26 and ended with a hope for Morvern to become the first net zero rural community in the UK.

With around 300 residents Morvern may only be a small community but it is certainly generating some big projects and some big ideas.