The firm behind the plant near Rotherham, described as the biggest of its type ever built in Yorkshire, says it will generate electricity for ten or eleven months a year for the next century.
As part of the development, a ‘fish pass’ has been built which local groups hope will allow salmon to return to Sheffield to spawn for the first time in 100 years.
The £2.1 million plant, developed by Barn Energy and Yorkshire Hydropower, is located at Thrybergh Weir on the River Don, near the village of Kilnhurst and five miles north-east of Rotherham.
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Said to be the largest plant commissioned in the UK in the last three years, it was due to be officially opened today by Wentworth and Dearne MP John Healey and Richard Mercer, Head of Utilities at the Canal & River Trust.
Officials behind the project say work was carried out after consulting local groups and that “it has been completed on time, on budget and with 80 per cent of the contracts placed with British companies, many of them local to the area”.
Mark Simon, Chief Executive of Barn Energy, said: “I am delighted that Yorkshire can boast this outstanding low head hydropower scheme.
“In making this special project happen, we have worked tirelessly with the Canal & River Trust, the Environment Agency and local interests to ensure that hydropower enriches and repairs the local environment of the River Don, as well as reduce our burning of fossil fuels.
“This project...can justifiably be regarded as an exemplar for renewable energy in this country. It offers baseload electricity, delivering clean energy highly efficiently into the local grid.
“It is a very long term source of clean electricity - there’s no reason why Thrybergh won’t be running into the next century. This is truly a ‘Northern Powerhouse’.”
As part of the project, a fish and eel passage has been built to enable salmon and trout to swim upstream in the direction of Sheffield and help the river’s eel and elver populations recover.
It is hoped salmon will eventually return to Sheffield to spawn, something which has not been seen for more than 100 years because of weirs blocking their path and past pollution.
David Rowley, chairman of the Don Catchment River Trust, a local group dedicated to protecting the area’s rivers, said the fish pass was “part of the jigsaw” which he hoped would see salmon return by 2017 or 2018.
In September, the group was given £1.2 million by the Heritage Lottery to aid its project to help fish move up the River Don by creating fish passages on the weirs. He said: “There are bound to be some casualties of fish going through the turbines, that is unfortunate, they are taking precautions with mesh to avoid that.
“But in terms of the greater good, the amount of money that is required to put in a fish pass is considerable.
“If you are able to get one for the river that is provided as an add-on, that is great.”
Barn Energy has plans for two further projects in Yorkshire, at Kirkthorpe on the River Calder and Knottingley on the River Aire, to be built over the next two or three years and has plans for larger projects on the River Ouse and River Trent.