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Jordan Dam Lessons Learnt

Issues

The project became infeasible due to several key issues:

  • The late discovery of a sewer running below the site
  • The potential additional fish and eel  passes being subsequently required on the dam
  • The cautious assessment of risk  by Sheffield Renewables
  • Organisational constraints

Buried Infrastructure 

The late discovery of the sewer under the site, led to significant extra cost being associated with the construction of the scheme. If it had been discovered during the detailed feasibility study or if a topological survey had been carried out earlier in the design stage, it may have been possible to alter the design to avoid building over the sewer. More readily available site maps would also have helped – it took over 6 months to obtain these.

Fish Pass

The uncertainties associated with the design, location and number of fish passes required was a considerable factor in the project not going ahead. It became clear during the tender process that there was a significant risk that the preliminary design for the fish pass would not meet the Environment Agency’s (EA) requirements and, if not, a second fish pass and eel passage facilities on the dam would be required, adding considerable cost to the scheme.

The design of a fish pass can cost up to £30,000 and as the tendered prices based on the preliminary proposals were already higher than the available funding the decision was taken not to proceed.

The EA is focused on maximising the migration potential of fish at every obstruction on the river network. While they claim to be supportive of hydropower, they perceive hydro schemes to be fundamentally detrimental to fish movement and therefore won’t prioritise hydro or anything that obstructs the flow of the river. The EA will rely on the Water Framework Directive and landowners to pay for fish passes. A fairer way to deal with this issue may have been for all stakeholders to be drawn into a public partnership, with the responsibility for providing fish and eel passes being apportioned in accordance with the benefit each stakeholder receives.

The scheme would have been financially viable if the fish pass had been funded by other means, such as through the public partnership mentioned or by the CRT and EA. The burden of providing fish and eel facilities at Jordan Dam now lies with Yorkshire Water  and the Canal and River Trust, the latter being the primary historic and current beneficiary of the presence of the dam.

Risk Management 

At every stage of the project development Sheffield Renewables took a comprehensive and proactive approach to risk management due to their commitment to their shareholders. As a consequence of this the overall price of the project reflected a cautious judgement. Had Sheffield Renewables been prepared to take on more of the risk, in such areas as performance guarantees for the hydro plant and the need for additional fish pass facilities the project may have gone ahead, but with risk of diminished financial returns.

In addition, further consultations with the contractor undertaking the redevelopment of the Blackburn Meadows Sewage Works could have led to significant savings in the cost of disposing surplus materials off site by their use elsewhere in the sewage works premises, with appropriate treatment where necessary.

Organisational Constraints 

As a voluntary organisation, Sheffield Renewables encountered additional constraints when developing the project. Volunteers had to carry out work in their own time and often had other work commitment as well. The commitment volunteers were able to give varied considerably. This became problematic for the external organisations Sheffield Renewables dealt with, when key volunteers stepped down and others picked up the work. External organisations often did not understand that dealing with a volunteer organisation presents itself with very different challenges. Discussions and agreements take longer as Sheffield Renewables capacity is not as great as a commercial organisation carrying out a similar project. Sheffield Renewables also received support from other voluntary organisations. This work was invaluable, but it would have simplified and made the process more effective had Sheffield Renewables had the experience to do the work themselves.

Summary

  • A larger contingency should have been budgeted. The 10% contingency fund did not adequately cover the risks. A 15% fund would have covered the higher than expected tender prices. A 35% fund would have covered the cost of additional fish pass requirements.
  • With a large proportion of the early funding coming from grant bodies, work could only be done when this funding was available and not necessarily when it should have been done, or in the right order.
  • A topographical survey should have been carried out with the detailed feasibility study.
  • Early discussion and negotiation with the EA particularly around fish pass approval could have reduced the impact the fish pass design had on the project failing to go ahead.
  • These risks were identified on Sheffield Renewables’ risk register, some of these however were not apportioned a high enough risk rating.
  • Some consultants and organisations may not have recognised the specific guidance that Sheffield Renewables needed and therefore may not have given comprehensive and timely advice.
  • A more equitable allocation of the liability for the provision for fish and eel passage facilities at weirs and other obstructions should be negotiated between all the stakeholders involved at an early stage.