Our Story

How it all began
In 2006 HWA raised funds to research and put on an exhibition on the history of power generated within the Cairndow locality - water mills, old micro hydro including the turbine installed at Ardkinglas House in 1907, and the great Hydro Board schemes of the 1950s, (Three of these used water from within the Cairndow parish).  And we were told how the local joiner found an old wheel on the shore and with it created a turbine on the burn beside his house - providing electric light for his family well ahead of  public supply. In this spirit we began to think - what could we do for ourselves? This lead to us sourcing funds from Community Energy Scotland for a  feasibility study to explore all sources of appropriate renewable energy.

Financing the project
Sun and wind proved insufficient. There were two potential micro hydro schemes, both impractical for different reasons, the remaining choice, with potential was a biomass plant to heat water for Lakeland Smolts, the  local salmon hatchery. Lakeland saw the attraction of reducing its oil consumption and a guaranteed energy price for a 5 year period, and Tilhill Forestry ltd, guaranteed a timber price. This enabled a business plan submitted to Scottish Biomass Support Scheme and a loan application to the Royal Bank of Scotland. Both of these were successful.  The bank agreed to a year’s holiday before the first repayment and the landlord similarly delayed  the first year’s rent.   So the end result was a viable  three - way project. Lakeland Smolts, Mawera (the boiler manufacturers, installers and now Energy Supply Company ) and HWA. 


Setting it up
The post of Manager for the chipping Plant was advertised and John Smart was appointed. With a background in forestry work, we were delighted to have him on board. Then came the arrival of the machinery, which caused a great stir with the men (boys and their toys!) and the arrival of the shed for storing the wood and chips. We were ready to chip in November 2007 and the plant was opened by an enthusiastic Jim Mather MSP ( at that time Minister for Energy), a landmark day in the history of sustainable community development. We would never have got to where  we were without the support and expertise of Bob McIlwraith, at that time  the Biomass Officer at ALIenergy. However there was a long time delay (due to distant consultants not listening to local advice) The erection of the hopper and the  installation  of the boiler at Lakeland Smolts was not commissioned until April 2008.  Now  we are in our  6th year of successful supply to them  

The Biomass  Learning  Curve
Since 2008  we have learnt a lot about the biomass industry, including …
  • The importance of care being given to hopper design and the ease, or difficulty, of delivery chips into it.
  • The size of the hopper  - depending on distance travelled (and time to deliver) transport maybe a substantial percentage of the price of chips.
  • A boiler with a very low chip moisture content wont be suitable for Argyll.
  • Thought needs to be given to how to dispose of bark
  • Due to the recent installation of very large  heat and power boilers demand for biomass timber is going up – also its price.  Again local is advisable.