Anyone who has walked past Osney lock in the past eight months cannot have missed the new £650,000 hydroelectric power plant there. But with some of the most bizarre weather on record in the last year, you would have been as likely to see its water-powered screw turning as not. Environment reporter Pete Hughes paid a visit

It’s been a year of contrasts for Oxford’s first community-owned hydroelectric power plant.

The little plant on the Thames at Osney had a sticky start last year when the lowest summer rainfall for years sent river levels plummeting.

The plant’s Archimedes screw, which is turned by the force of the river to generate electricity, did not move for weeks at a time.

Then record rainfall in December sent river levels shooting up, which means this month the screw has been churning at maximum capacity.

On some days in recent weeks the community-owned plant has generated enough electricity to power 100 homes over 24 hours.

But with so much rainfall, river levels have been so high that on some days the screw has not been able to turn.

The group remains confident it will be able to pay back the 200 investors every penny of the £640,000 they put in – plus four per cent interest – in 20 years.

Osney Lock Hydro director Saskya Huggins said: “There will be times when you walk past and it isn’t operating.

“We were really unfortunate that this summer we had some of the lowest rainfall in this area for a long, long time.

“We always knew the plant would work best in the autumn and spring.”

Now the team is powering ahead with its plans to open the plant to the public on a permanent basis later this year, and already there is a lot of interest.

Mrs Huggins said: “A lot of people want to know how we’re operating: we’ve been talking to schools and the universities and Science Oxford.

“We want to tell the whole story of the river, of which we are just the latest part.”

As she talks, Mrs Huggins, a mum-of-two, points just up the river to the huge Victorian buildings that used to house Oxford’s first ever power station.

“That power station, in its first year, generated 1MW of energy: Osney Hydro will generate double that.

“That plant was built at the start of one revolution, and we have built ours at the start of another.”

She is not wrong: Osney Lock Hydro is the first community-owned hydroelectric power plant ever to be built on the Thames, but plans are now in the pipeline for many more.

Groundwork began on another one just down river in Sandford-on-Thames this week, and more are being devised along the river.

The Osney hydro team obtained the land for its plant on a 40-year-lease from the Environment Agency.

After paying back investors, the group will give the rest of its predicted £2m profit away to local environmental schemes, further ensuring its green legacy.

Mrs Huggins said: “We are just so happy to have it up and running. All those years of effort and great community support are now generating electricity.”

For more details and information on free guided tours go to

* Construction cost: £650,000
* Number of investors: 200
* Return on investment: 4 per cent
* Expected profit over 40 years: £2m
* Max power output: 47.8kW
* Estimated annual output: 179MWh (equivalent of 50 homes’ usage)
* Annual CO2 saved: 77 tonnes