Ashton Hayes - An inspirational example of community life.
What a community is doing of its own accord to face up to the challenges of climate change.
Last week I went along to a community meeting in the village of Ashton Hayes in Cheshire. The meeting was called to present the results of a year long study the village had commissioned, looking into the feasibility of setting up their own renewable energy microgrid'. This sounds like a geeks' convention, but it was far from that. A broad cross section of the village inhabitants were there and the majority had actively taken part in the study, which was undertaken by the University of Chester and consultants EA Technology. Why would the average villager be in the least interested in the legalities of generating power? The answer to this is the inspirational part.
They have, as a community, decided to do their bit to combat their own contribution to climate change. They have faced up to their responsibilities to all their fellows on this planet and have decided that doing nothing is not an option. They have actually taken the lead, not waited to be told what to do, but have set themselves the goal of reducing their communities carbon footprint to zero, or as they say, they are "going carbon neutral''. This group of 1700 people are now actually showing us all the way. Unbelievably it is actually illegal for them to generate and use their own power as a community and sell the surplus onto the national grid. Legislation is actually getting in the way of innovative responses to meet the very carbon reduction targets governments are setting. Having said that, they have found a way round the obstacles of current electricity generating regulation.
Ashton Hayes began this journey in 2005 when the idea of going carbon neutral was floated by the parish council. They started with a carbon footprinting exercise and then spent the next year looking at ways to improve energy efficiency and to be more aware of needless energy use. Following a second carbon audit, at the end of that first year, they had reduced their footprint by 20%. They maintained that reduction the following year as well. The next stage was to go further and that is where generating their own renewable electricity comes in. They believe they can reduce their combined carbon footprint by a further 60% if they work together. This goes way beyond signing up for a green tariff from their electricity supplier. The vision is ambitious, but sitting in the meeting last week, I for one was convinced it was achievable.
In broad summary the plan is to generate their own renewable power from a series of different but complimentary technologies that will generate power to match the pattern of electrical load demanded throughout each day from the community. All the data to allow such a power generation system to be designed was collected in their year-long study. The final plan is to use a combination of wind turbines, photo voltaic cells and a combined heat and power (CHP) plant. The CHP plant will be sited at the village primary school and will run off biodeisel. The heat produced by the plant will not be needed in the summer so it will be stored in the underlying bedrock until it is needed in the winter, when it will be recovered and used to heat the school. Using this mix of generation equipment they believe they can match their overall maximum electricity load and have some left over at other times to sell on.
I was impressed by the way the project was presented during the evening; whole thing was so well thought through and professional but still maintained a collaborative atmosphere. It appeared that all the work undertaken to date had further encouraged the community spirit and strengthened bonds between the villagers. The primary school appeared to be a focus for much of the project and the head teacher there one of the prominent contributors to the project. Apparently some of the university students who worked on the going carbon neutral project have actually since moved to live in the village, such is the positive feel the community has.
Something very positive is happening at Ashton Hayes in more ways than one and I was not the only outsider there to see some of it. The entire evening was filmed by a South Korean film crew and representatives from various local and national non-governmental organisations were also present. Perhaps a measure of the seriousness the residents take the issue of climate change is that whilst chatting to the lady sitting next to me, I found myself being quizzed on my travel habits, after having confessed to be from Bristol and having a job that requires me to travel a lot. I felt very inadequate admitting to the use of a car on that particular evening.