Harvesting hill streams of Wales for hydropower

Thousands of untapped streams pouring off hillsides hold the promise of generating clean energy and income for local farming communities

The little stream bubbling off the Black Mountain and tumbling 300ft down to the river Towey in the Brecon Beacons has no name and is far too small to feature on most maps. But for Welsh hill farmer Howell W illiams , over whose 290 acres of steep and boggy pasture land it flows, it is an unexpected pension and a simple way to keep rural Wales populated.

Directing just some of his stream’s water down a six inch pipe and into a turbine all constructed for about £50,000 generates nearly 18 kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity at peak times, and earns him £10-15,000 a year.

Williams has dubbed his stream “Try dwr” – or “electricity from water”. “You work long hours on the farm and do not earn much at all, but my small stream works 24 hours a day, even when I am sleeping. The price of lamb is down this year and the European grant has decreased so these are difficult times,” he says.

Helping to harvest Wales’s abundant rainfall should be a priority for any government, he says, because there are thousands of untapped streams like his pouring off hillsides in the Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia and the Berwyns.

“I would say micro-hydro beats farming. This is the best pension we could possibly have. Most farmers put all they earn back into the farm but have to leave when they cannot go out in all weathers ... Now I get paid to do nothing!”

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