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  • Community Case Study

    Donside Hydro Generating Station

  • Background

    Donside Hydro is a unique environment whereby it is an urban hydro electric station, the first of its kind in Scotland.  Situated on the edge of a new housing development, Donside Village, this site is a perfect example of what can be achieved by a community who are working towards a single vision, that being a sustainable community. When you look around the site you can see there has been a tremendous amount of work involved, and when you learn of what the site looked like previously it shows the true level of commitment given. 

    Donside Hydro was originally a project started by a Housing Association, with the idea of putting three turbines alongside a running river.  The plan was to generate electricity to power the village. However, not long into the project it was decided this scheme was not core business and despite much preparatory work and the granting of various permissions, it was dropped.  

    It was at this time that members of the community, who had seen the potential of the scheme, decided to take this project forward, albeit on a smaller scale, as a single turbine generating station.  The Village Community Association (Donside Village Community SCIO (DVC)) agreed to take the scheme forward and a small ‘hydro sub group’ was formed from the committee. This sub group went on to become Aberdeen Community Energy (ACE), and these members of the community began what was to become a long standing working relationship with the original turbine developer. Together they brought this project forward.



    Despite the fact the Housing Association did not see the value of the scheme for the development, as a community scheme, it was evident that, as well as being financially viable, there were other benefits to be had.  Whilst there is a financial agreement to pay money back into the community (ACE is a ‘not-for-profit’ community benefit society - all monies made will be returned to shareholders, bondholders and a percentage will go the DVC), there are the added benefits such as additional tourism to the area through the generating station itself.  The surrounding land has also been significantly enhanced and is now the site for many local walks.  This can only be improved by the changing seasons which will enhance the landscape.  There is also evidence that the local fisherman, who were perhaps a bit sceptical to begin with, have been working to spruce up the other areas as a direct result of the work being done with the hydro scheme and surrounding areas. 



    Sinclair Laing, the Chair and founder of the project, spoke of some of the difficulties identified with this grid connection, some of which were a direct result of inexperience when it comes to developing any form of renewable energy.  Some of the feedback we received was “having more help from companies such as SSE would be invaluable to the process.  Having someone to walk through the process from the very beginning would have been helpful to all concerned”.  
    This feedback along with others prompted Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks to make the ICE commitment in 2015/16 of appointing a dedicated Community Contract Manager to give additional support to community projects, help navigate customers through the process and have regular progress meetings and explain to customers what to expect from start to finish.   

    Sinclair also spoke of the issues they encountered when it came to funding.  “It is unlikely you will be in a position to raise funds through the normal route for a project which has already been deemed as not commercially viable so you have to look at other routes such as Government grants/Cares Loans as well as raising money through share options through the local community.  It’s also very time consuming for those who wish to take this on.  It is difficult enough for those who have jobs and be dedicated to connecting renewable energy, however more often than not, community projects are being developed by people who are doing this outside their normal working day.”
    Sinclair with 2 customers.


    When visiting the site along with two of the key figures involved in this scheme, Sinclair Laing and Jane Fullerton, you could see that the passion was very evident from them from the start.  They were keen to show exactly how much had changed from when they first started the project.  Without people like this who have the ambition and drive to carry these types of projects forward this would more than likely have come to a halt.  Sometimes you need to look past the financial gain to see the true benefits. 

    This project is an example of what can be achieved once you set your mind on something. 

    Andy Crumley

    SHEPD Community Contract Manager

  • Overview

    Community group: Aberdeen Community Energy (ACE)

    Location: Donside Village

    Date of Completion: December 2016

  • Construction work.
    Construction work.
    Crane with construction.
  • Top tips

    1. It will take longer than you think

    2. Finance – grants & loans

    3. Build a committed team

    4. Continually revisit business plan & modelling

    5. Budget for professional advisors

    6. Good project management