Plans to generate electricity on the historic mill lade in Galashiels have been abandoned.
The 3km stretch of man-made waterway was one of three potential hydro sites identified in the town following a feasibility study by local regeneration group Energise Galashiels.
In November last year, the Scottish Government announced a £1.5m award from its Local Energy Challenge Fund (LECF) to the community benefit company – the Gala Water and Mill Lades Society Ltd (GWMLS) – set up to deliver the project.
A condition of the award was that the money had to be spent by April next year and the GWMLS duly began a procurement process, inviting tenders for repair and reconstruction works at the three sites – the mill lade, along with the Gala Water cauld and lade at Buckholm/Ryecleugh to the north west and the so-called Electric Cauld at Netherdale.
Once that work, due to be underwritten by the LECF award, was completed, the company had planned to offer shares to the community to fund the installation of low-head “water engines” capable of generating enough electricity to power around 1,000 homes.
However, this week came confirmation that, despite interest from several local contractors, the GWMLS has aborted all three construction contracts and informed the Scottish Government it is unable to meet the terms and conditions of the £1.5m funding award.
“It is a great shame, given the tremendous amount of work already carried out, that the mill lade scheme – which combined electricity generation with visitor attraction – will not go ahead as planned,” said Hans Waltl of the GWMLS.
“There were simply too many issues – mainly concerning land ownership along the length of the lade – which, despite our best efforts, could not be resolved in time to meet the LECF spending deadline. To say these issues are complicated would be an understatement.”
Mr Waltl said the reinstatement of the Electric Cauld could also not be achieved within the funding timeline.
“We could only carry out this work in certain months of the year and at low river levels,” he told us. “Technically and practically this is just not possible in the time available.”
However, Mr Waltl said he was hopeful the cauld and lade at Buckholm/Ryeheugh could still be harnessed to generate hydro electricity.
“This is the site with the fewest technical and land ownership problems and, although it will not be covered by the LECF award, we are looking at other funding sources and the possibility of issuing shares to the community later this year,” he added.