Landowner Jan Birkås had planned a future for the farm with income from his own hydropower plant. The dream of having his own power plant would help secure the future of the family farm, which had been settled since the 17th century. They had made a living from goat farming, among other things, but when he began thinking about future generations, Birkås chose to sell their milk quota to invest in hydropower. In 1999, they began planning a power plant on the Sagelva river, where an old timber saw once stood. The family had just paid off the last instalment of the loan for the operations building and were ready to invest in new challenges in the form of hydropower. Birkås wanted to build the facility himself, with help from an independent advisor and loans from the local bank.
The bank granted the landowner financing for the power plant with his farm, car and the power station as collateral. When it turned out that the plant would become more expensive than initially assumed, the landowner had to secure the financing with money from an inheritance and large private loans from family members. The bank also demanded that the landowner lock in the price of electricity, which at the time was very low.
The power plant had been expected to deliver a power production of 750 kW, but instead it produced less than half and it worked only sporadically. Annual production was therefore virtually zero. The power plant had been planned by an adviser with no basic knowledge of power plants and with conflicting financial interests as the individual who sold the turbines. The original turbines were obviously manufactured by a supplier with no basic knowledge of turbine design. The result was therefore unusually poor. Småkraft calculated that the two turbines were less efficient that an old-fashioned water wheel, used in Norway centuries ago.
The farm and land were in danger of being repossessed by the bank, but in May 2005, Småkraft bought the entire plant. The technical installations were upgraded and renewed, and financing agreements and power sales agreements were entered into on market terms. The power plant was put into operation in May 2006 and now delivers approximately 2.5 GWh. Profits from the project are shared by the landowner and Småkraft in the usual way. Småkraft financed the power plant, and assumed the entire risk and the power can now be sold on the spot market. The lesson is simple. Use professionals when building a power plant. Don’t take on more risks than you can bear.
The turbine is a 5-nozzle vertical Pelton. Maximum flow rate is 0.55 m³/s, and it runs an 800 kVA generator. All power is converted to 22 kV and delivered to the grid. Parts of the existing penstock, 590 metres in length, have been used. It is composed of 165-metre ductile cast iron pipes that are buried, 390 metres of GRP pipe and 30 metres of PE pipe. The penstock has a diameter of 500 mm.