Staverton Leat Hydro

Town Mills in 2008 by Paul Hutchinson/Creative Commons

Town Mills in 2008 by Paul Hutchinson/Creative Commons

We are co-developing a small-scale 100 kW hydro power plant at Staverton leat in joint venture with Hydrosense, developers of the scheme at Totnes Weir.  To do this we have set up a separate, project-specific ‘BenCom’: Staverton Hydro Community Benefit Society.  Agreements are in place with the Staverton family who own the land where the leat is located and with Dartington Hall Trust, who will receive the electricity generated.

We have confidence in this project because there is an historical precedent—the plant once generated electricity for the Dartington estate in the 1930s (see the story below).  Also, the local developer, Hydrosense, has a successful track record of similar hydro projects which satisfy many stakeholders (Environment Agency, planners, anglers, neighbours and others), and we know the river flow in the Dart offers an excellent opportunity for generation from the work done for the Totnes Weir hydro scheme, and from the data from the very first Archimedes screw turbine in the UK at River Dart Country Park.  Co-development of the project also offers a much higher projected rate of return.

The state of the leat that the new hydro project aims to improve

The state of the leat that the new hydro project aims to improve

In addition to generating electricity from a single Archimedes turbine, the project will regenerate the leat, which has fallen into disrepair, with a new fish pass and smoult pass to help up- and down-stream migration of river life. 

Back in June 2014, TRESOC met with Hydrosense, the landowners, Parish Council members, local residents, representatives from the Environment Agency and the Dart Anglers Association to progress the Staverton Leat hydro project.  The meeting was very positive, with all present in favour of the scheme.  During the meeting, Julian Sharpe of the Dart Anglers Association said, “I am very, very keen to see this scheme happen, and my beloved fish protected.”  A member of the Staverton Leat Working Group said, “This is the best answer to our problems”.

Here’s more about the history of the hydro station, with thanks to the staff of The Totnes Archive, part of Totnes Museum:

In June 1930, Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirsts’ daughter Ruth, aged four, flipped a switch and formally started up a new hydro station to bring hydro-electric power up to the Dartington Estate—a J.J. Armfield water turbine installed within Town Mills, near Nappers Crossing at Staverton leat.  Town Mills, which was leased from the Church Commissioners by Dartington’s trustees, was previously a corn mill built over Staverton leat.

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Detail from a drawing of the Estate by Dartington architect Rex Gardner (print located in Totnes Community Hospital)

In those days, electricity to this area was controlled by Torquay Borough Corporation.  They had advised the Elmhirsts when they bought the estate in 1925, that the Hall and village were too remote to have a mains supply.  With his appreciation of small scale electricity generation, Leonard Elmhirst moved forward with plans to convert Town Mills,  into an ‘automatic turbo electricity generator’.

From 1932 to 1942, the plant provided electricity to Staverton Builders, but wartime production proved too demanding.  Staverton switched to the mains and the trustees were ready to scrap the plant.  However, the estate’s electrician, Frank Christy, was able to make the modifications necessary to overcome the technical obstacles.  He also successfully conducted the high diplomacy needed to enable the plant to be run in connection with the Torquay supply.

Staverton_smThe plant produced power for forty years via its two turbines (15kW and 35kW).  Dartington took the electricity it needed and more if necessary, although by the late 60s the plant was primarily serving the Hall area.  In the early 70s, the plant was closed down.  Town Mills was bought at auction by Nigel Amherst, a member of staff in the music department at Dartington College of Arts and it remains the private residence of the Amherst family.