Minister for Business, Energy & Tourism, Fergus Ewing, today officially revealed a 100-year-old re-commissioned Edwardian hydro-electric scheme at Blair Castle in Highland Perthshire. The hydro scheme, which was originally commissioned in 1908, will generate enough energy to power the castle, offering both financial and environmental benefits to the estate and surrounding area.
De-commissioned in 1951 after the arrival of the National Grid, the castle decided to re-visit the original hydro scheme to see if there was a way to develop an income stream to offset the increasing costs of maintaining Blair Castle. Now fully operational, electricity bills for the 13th century castle are a thing of the past with Blair Castle’s energy supply now enabling the building to be self-sustaining as well as environmentally friendly in the process.
A full consultancy team of hydro engineers (Campbell of Doune), environmentalists and electrical specialists started construction of the re-commissioned hydro in 2014. After approaching Gilkes, the manufacturers of the original 1908 turbines, and extensive specialist testing, the project team discovered that the original pipe from 1908 was still in good working order, because it had been full of water and continually in use since 1951 for the castle fire hydrant system.
The team constructed a new intake and the existing powerhouse was refurbished with a new Gilkes 84kW turbine. Now, at full design flow, 331,200 litres of water pass through the turbine every hour.
As a Green Tourism Gold Award winner, it was important to Blair Castle that the hydro scheme was efficient, but also kind to its natural surroundings. Jamie Troughton, husband to Sarah Troughton who is the head trustee of Atholl Estates, led the project team.
“We put a great deal of thought into how to refurbish the power house. The turbine generates about 85 decibels when it is running so, with the help of acoustic engineers at the design stage, the internal lining of the power house’s brick shell was designed to contain all the noise to ensure that the building is completely soundproof. This is a feature of which we are very proud.”
The project team also painted the external brickwork of the powerhouse in 1940s camouflage paint acknowledging Blair Castle’s historic connections with British wartime history. There is also a viewing window into the power house with an external light switch that illuminates the interior, so castle visitors can peer inside to see the turbine and read about the history of the hydro scheme.
To mark the re-opening, Minister for Business, Energy & Tourism Fergus Ewing visited the castle to find out more about the hydro-electric scheme and see the turbine for himself. He commented:
“It is fascinating to see a working hydro-electric scheme from a century ago re-mastered and utilised in this way. The team at Blair Castle, and the engineers and designers working on this project have done a fantastic job of using the land effectively while being respectful of the surroundings and ensuring the power house is environmentally friendly. The power house itself is another story for the Castle to add to its rich history and I’m sure many visitors will enjoy learning about their impressive hydro-electric scheme.
Mr Ewing continued:
“This hydro-electric scheme is a prime example of how businesses can make sustainable use of their natural resources without adversely affecting our stunning Scottish landscape, while also creating, for themselves, a positive commercial advantage. Their efforts are to be highly commended and it is projects like Blair Castle’s hydro-electric scheme that places Scotland at the leading edge of green tourism.”
Andrew Bruce-Wootton, General Manager at Atholl Estates added:
“The re-commissioning of our very old, but enduring hydro-electric scheme has been a real triumph for everyone involved in this project. We are delighted to be welcoming the Minister to officially mark it as being opened. There are many benefits to both Blair Castle and Atholl Estates, but a highlight has to be the work that has gone into refurbishing our power house to create another unique experience for visitors to the Castle to enjoy.”