Hydropower generation at Brett’s Sion Mill on the river Nore

Bretts Mill on the River Nore, dates back to the 14th Century. The mill has been in the Brett family since the 1800s and the present owner John is carrying on a proud tradition, except that his operation, making the finest native Irish hardwood flooring, uses hydroelectric and biomass energy on-site, with surplus exported to the national grid. The clean production of electricity at Brett’s saves approximately 5,000 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) annually.

Bretts Sion Mills

The hydro turbine generating clean green energy

The undershot mill wheel, the oldest one of its type continually in use in Ireland  is a satisfactory solution to low-head hydropower in terms of construction, reliability and ease of maintenance. In addition, it is benign to fish movements and provides excellent aeration which is necessary for life in the river.  The paddles of the waterwheel are flat and are simply dragged round by the flowing water.

Bretts Sion Mills

Undershot waterwheel one of the oldest in continuous use in Ireland

By 1850, Ireland had around 6,400 watermills, according to the EU-funded SPLASH (Spatial Plans and Local Arrangement for Small Hydro) report. Nearly all of the old watermills have long since fallen into disuse, but the potential they represent is still there. Cost is a factor, but the report emphasises that small scale hydro schemes are a secure and reliable form of energy that should be used as part of the drive to promote renewable energy.

Old mill sites are ideal sites for hydropower because  in most cases the original structures are still insitu which in turn cuts down on the cost of civil work which greatly reduces the cost of a new install. The Irish Hydropower Association estimates, for example, that up to 600 old mill sites around the country could be redeveloped into hydropower generation sites.

Bretts Sion Mills

Kilkenny hurley on display

On the day we visited the mill John discovered that we were from Wexford and took great pride in showing us the gigantic hurley he had on display in one of his many workshops.  He makes the hurleys for the Kilkenny team and in his words “this is why they are winners” !! 🙂


Leave a Comment