Going green in the shadow of Snowdonia

Palé Hall in North Wales is a listed Victorian property which incorporates a host of eco friendly features. Owner Angela Harper explains how and why the hotel is going green.

Renowned as one of Wales’ most important buildings, Palé Hall is a Grade II* listed property built in 1870. Palé Hall was designed without reference to expense, built during a period when the term ‘carbon neutral’ was not considered. She is a grand old dame of building, with single glazing, high ceilings, big doors and takes a lot of keeping warm. Nevertheless, we are committed to doing our best in improving the environment around us – many of our green initiatives may be small, but they all add up.

We are fortunate to be in an almost unique situation. When we purchased Palé Hall in 2015, the property was complete with an outdated and hazardous hydro-electricity plant. This was installed in 1919 and first produced electricity in 1920. The system produced DC electricity, an unsafe and unacceptable type of electricity for a feed in tariff. Fortunately, the bones of the system were still in place, including a quarry holding the head of water and almost a mile of pipework, inspection houses, overflow chambers and a plant house.

Due to the original Gilkes turbine’s listing status and historical significance, the turbine needed to be maintained. With this in mind, a new system was designed while working around the original framework. This included the installation of a new turbine, meter house, new consumer units, switches in order to enable us to feed into the grid, and new fusing systems.

The project cost a total of £350,000 and took nearly two years to be completed. In late May 2017, we produced our first ‘free’ electricity. To date, the total electricity has been 640Mw hours, and we are cash positive to the tune of £110,000pa. We are looking at a three-year payback.

Over the year as a whole, we now produce more electricity than we use at the hotel. Our next development for this year will be to remove the oil central heating boilers and replace them with electric boilers. Subsequently, all our hot water, heating, lighting and much of the cooking will be powered from our hydro system.

It’s good to share our good fortune. We have recently installed two electric vehicle charge points, capable of charging four cars at the same time. With our hydro supplying the electricity, the cars essentially run on water. The charging points are free to use for both the general public and guests of the hotel.

Of course, we do all the ‘usual’ things in contributing towards making a difference. Without listing them all, our philosophy is to be clear, organic and local where possible. Some examples of our environmental initiatives include using glass and reuseable materials rather than plastic, recycling, composting, low energy, grow our own, and solar power. In addition, Palé Hall has its own spring fed water supply; we purify and bottle our own table and room water (both sparkling and still) using reuseable bottles.

Aside from the obvious, there are many other areas where we try to source with care. This includes utilisation of ecologically sound water-based paints from suppliers such as The Little Green Paint Company, natural fibres where possible, silk and cotton from responsible producers with minimal use of petrochemical derivatives. Furthermore, our service providers, telephone, accountancy, internet, building firms and curtain makers are all very local to the hotel, ultimately reducing travel time while simultaneously supporting local businesses, and therefore the community.

With Palé Hall set in 50 acres of Welsh park land, we have a grazing agreement with a local farmer over 30 acres; he farms this organically and actively manages healthy hedgerows to encourage biodiversity. Areas within the garden are ‘left’ wild with cut paths, and seed heads are left for wildlife. Woodpiles are left for hedgehogs and invertebrates, the pond is naturalised, planted with native species and a haven for wildlife. We don’t spray with chemicals unless absolutely necessary, such as those that are harmful to the soil and wildlife. Bats have been preserved, with new habitats set up for them, including a £10,000 Batingham Palace installed in the roof of a barn.

Finally, to the future. We are trialling different products to work towards removing the use of all single use-plastics from the hotel. Additionally, we are trialling Bokashi bins as a potential answer to food waste; this is a system that allows all food waste, except large bones, to be composted, subsequently producing an organic fertiliser as a by-product. The plan is to assess its success and set it up on a commercial scale to deal with our food waste.

Whilst we are far from perfect and there is still much work to be done, step by step we aim to reduce waste and deal with responsible, local partners where possible. In essence, we strive to continue our efforts to use energy more efficiently, proving that you can be ecologically sound even in a beautiful Victorian mansion.

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