Ever since we have moved into our new apartment, we have been subscribing to environment-friendly electricity ("Ympäristöpennisähkö" from Helsingin Energia). We decided to "receive" the energy from a hydropower plant which is located near our house at the rapids of Helsinki Vanhakaupunki. The Vanhakaupunki hydropower plant started its operation in 1876 and operated about 100 years before it was shut down about 40 years ago. Supported with EU money the power plant was restored and resumed operation in the year 2000 as a museum power plant which is free for visitors during the summer months.
Buying environment-friendly electricity is mostly a statement towards your electricity supplier. All what it means is that your supplier is buying some certificates that guarantee that somewhere electricity is produced environment-friendly. Electricity is electricity is electricity. Once it is in the grid, there is no way to distinguish between electricity from nuclear power plants or coal-burning power plants and wind- or water-generated electricity. Physically, you get most of the power from the closest source. If you buy ecological electricity and you live close to a nuclear power plant, you'll get most of your power from there whether you like it or not. Thus we have actually real chances to get some of our electricity from the museum power plant next to our house. That is: if it was working.
The generator broke about two years ago and a spare part had to be ordered from Austria (the generator axle needed to be custom made). The spare part had been delivered in 2009, but for some reason, the generator was still not fully operational.
The power plant's operation is dependent on the water level in the Vantaa river. Low water levels were to blame e.g. during summer of 2010, but the generator has mostly not been operating even when when water levels did permit its use (the statistics can bee seen here).
I visit the power plant frequently together with my son and thus I can say that during the approximately 10 visits during 2010 we have never found the generator turning. In 2007 it was turning almost every time we visited. Even more disappointingly, the museum staff was only able to confirm that something must still be wrong with the machine despite the replacement axle; but they were not able to tell us any details.
Most surprising is the fact that nobody from the operating company told us anything, although we were allegedly receiving our energy from this power plant. Therfore on August 24th I wrote a e-mail to Ulla-Maija Alander from Helsingin Energia asking about the situation and encouraging to make more information available for their customers. After not receiving any answer for three weeks I resent the mail on Sept. 15th and after waiting for another three weeks I finally phoned. During the phone conversation I was promised an answer which came via e-mail:
Dear Mr Jeltsch,
first I would like to apologize for not responsing to your feedback earlier, and also thank you for your interest in Vanhankaupunginkoski power plant.
The reason why the generator is not operating at the moment is - as you correctly assumed - the lack of water, as it often has been. However, there has also been technical problems since the generator was repaired in May 2009. This year, the lack of water caused "zero production" in January and February. In May and June, unfortenately, there were problems in the turbine that prevented the use of the generator. After these problems were solved, the water level sunk again in August.
I don't know if the demonstration use has been a daily procedure, but I will get back to you as soon as I find more information about that and the reasons why this may have been changed.
You are absolutely right about the lack of information on our website and towards our valuable Ympäristöpenni customers. And you are right that it is inexcusable. We clearly have to improve our performance. We will.
Thank you for the feedback!
Kampinkuja 2, Helsinki
Tel. 09 617 3168