CAMPAIGNERS want Huntingdonshire to lead the way with a green electricity scheme that would harness the energy of the River Great Ouse. They have calculated that the river could produce 20-30 megaWatts a year, approximately sufficient for the needs of a t

CAMPAIGNERS want Huntingdonshire to lead the way with a green electricity scheme that would harness the energy of the River Great Ouse.

They have calculated that the river could produce 20-30 megaWatts a year, approximately sufficient for the needs of a town the size of Huntingdon.

A series of run-of-river turbines could be installed at weirs along the Great Ouse, feeding into the National Grid at Little Barford power station in St Neots.

The idea for hydro-electric generation, which is not just for fast-flowing rivers in mountainous terrain, could unlock the kinetic energy in any navigable river with little impact on the environment, according to Bev Gray, chairman of a campaign group opposing a wind farm in Huntingdonshire.

He is urging Cambridgeshire County Council to commission a feasibility study into capturing the river's potential.

But the Environment Agency, which is responsible for the river, is sceptical though stopped short of ruling out the possibility.

"Because of the region's physical geography, the River Great Ouse is not fast flowing and developers would need to consider the viability of any hydro-electric scheme," a spokesman said.

"The Environment Agency has drawn up good practice guidance for use by developers to help them with applications. Making it quicker, cheaper and simpler to design, site and get permission for small scale hydro-power schemes.

"However, any applications for hydropower will have to consider both the impact on the environment and other established users of the River Great Ouse."

He added that the agency recognised the cumulative contribution that hydro-power schemes could make to the reduction in the emissions of greenhouse gases and in achieving a sustainable, cost-effective climate change programme.

The idea emerged from Mr Gray's research as chairman of the Cotton Farm Action Group, which is fighting a plan for an eight-turbine wind farm at Graveley, near St Neots.

RWE npower renewables, the company behind the plan predicts that the 16-24 megaWatts output could meet the average annual electricity needs of between 6,900 and 10,000 homes each year.

Mr Gray's plan is for linked turbines at each weir along the river, installed at the same time as dredging operations. "Suddenly, the Great Ouse would earn a phenomenal amount of money. It has been estimated that, if micro-hydro-electric schemes were installed in all Britain's navigable rivers, that would supply 10-15 per cent of the nation's electricity needs."

As a renewable energy source, the scheme would attract the same Government subsidies as wind farms, Mr Gray believes.

One big advantage claimed for run-of-river schemes is that the water flow is generally at its highest when demand for electricity is at its highest - in winter.

"Where the problem comes is in the capital investment. The big power companies are not interested because they can't make enough profit out of it. Yet they could claim the same subsidy as for wind power. And the turbines would probably last for 100 years while wind turbines start to fail after 17 years. And seven-eighths of the equipment would be under water.

"It's sustainable, controllable and reliable, and my guess is that each installation would cost £2-3million - about the same cost as a wind turbine, but with a much better return."

Cambridgeshire County Council said a study would not fall within its remit, but Huntingdonshire District Council's environment department said there was some interest in looking at the Great Ouse's potential if the conflict with fish migration could be resolved.

It is by no means the first time the idea of harnessing the energy of navigable rivers has been considered. The Department for Energy and Climate Change said both the Severn and Mersey, where there are tidal flows as well as river flows, had been considered. The most expensive scheme on the Severn - unlikely to go ahead because of the cost - could technically supply five per cent of the country's energy needs, a spokesman said.

Npower itself has a dozen run-of-river generation schemes in Scotland and more in North Wales.