Ettrick hydro scheme goes with the flow

Work being carries out to finally repair Murray's Cauld, Selkirk.
Work being carries out to finally repair Murray's Cauld, Selkirk.

PLANS for the first hydro-electric plant in the Borders at Murray’s Cauld a mile upstream of Selkirk are on course.

Sir Michael Strang Steel of Philiphaugh Estate revealed last week that he hopes to have the Ettrick Water project, which will cost in excess of £1million, up and running by next year.

And work by Rodger Builders of Earlston has begun on repairing the 165-year-old cauld ahead of the planned introduction of an Archimedes screw turbine, which will generate 0.8 MW – enough top power more than 200 homes – for the National Grid.

Attempts to secure Scottish Government funding have failed and it is estimated the payback period for the estate will be 18 years.

But Sir Michael told The Southern: “We will gain a feed-in tariff which is available to renewable energy projects involving water, wind, solar power or biomass. It is a subsidy on the electricity we sell to the grid.

“It is a very, very expensive project but we are looking to the long term.

“The first priority is to sort out the cauld which we believe was constructed in 1846.

“It has done not badly to last so long but it now needs to be repaired.”

Sir Michael added: “I believe there is a similar project on the River Don in Aberdeenshire but it would certainly be a first for the Borders to utilise the flows of our rivers to generate renewable electricity, which everyone agrees is of enormous community and environmental benefit.”

The scheme will also include a state-of-the-art fish pass, which is hoped will improve the experience of Philiphaugh’s Salmon Viewing Centre.

Sir Michael said: “Everyone, including the River Tweed Commission, has been very supportive of the project. I think everyone realises something had to be done otherwise the cauld would have been left in a dangerous state.”

Among those supportive of the cauld repairs and hydro-electric plant plans is Selkirkshire’s SNP councillor Kenneth Gunn.

He said the estate was at the forefront of making electricity more than 100 years ago, with a building close to the river, known as the Dynamo House, previously powering Philiphaugh House and surrounding homes.

He told us: “Murray’s Cauld is, of course, an important piece of the jigsaw that sees continued and increasing population of wild salmon in our area of the Tweed basin and the repair work is vital in that continuing.

“That work has started is great and it is a huge bonus that Sir Michael has had the foresight to include in his plans a scheme to use the water from the Ettrick to make electricity.

“The present works promises to provide electricity again to the estate proves that sustainable energy is possible without the unsightly and inefficient wind farms.

“It proves once and for all that the Tweed river system could make this whole area self-sufficient in its own resources.”