Hydropower project checklist

Hydropower schemes can take a significant length of time to deliver. This will depend on both the scale of the system and the complexity of the planning process. Some of the practical issues in identifying suitable sites for hydropower projects are set out in this section.

Planning and regulatory requirements

In almost every instance, planning permission is required for hydropower plant installation. Please download this one page document for more information about the specific requirements for this technology.

Planning and regulatory requirements for hydropower

All scales

Space requirementsThe space required will depend on the site and the chosen technology.
System size

The size of the system depends on the chosen site.

Hydropower systems of up to 5MW of power are eligible for the Feed-in Tariffs. Any schemes larger than 5MW will be supported by the Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs) scheme.

Site considerations

Site locationWhere a hydropower proposal is likely to have an impact on a designated site (special areas of conservation (SAC), special protection areas (SPA), and so on) further work will be required to assess the impact of the scheme on designated species.
Suitability of riverThe available flow and head of water are critical in determining whether a hydropower plant would be feasible. A rough estimate of the flow rate at a potential site can be obtained by consulting the National River Flow Archive held by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Further advice can be sought by consulting the Energy Saving Trust.
Access to riverAccess for any installation needs to be taken into account. While remote areas may have better hydropower potential and less impact on a local community, access for construction vehicles may be constrained.
A developer needs access and permission to either side of the river bank in order to be able to construct and operate a hydropower plant.
Flood risk

Any scheme must ensure that it does not increase flood risk. Moreover a scheme should be built to withstand future storm surges.

EcologyA hydropower scheme must ensure that there is no deterioration in the ecological condition of water bodies. Schemes that avoid depleting main channel flows are more likely to be environmentally acceptable.
FishAny scheme must consider fish populations within the river. Schemes must ensure safe passage for fish.

Project development process

Contact an approved installer

This will provide an opportunity to discuss costs and available options.

Ensure that the installer and product are accredited, if not Feed-in Tariffs may not be available.

For systems below 50kW the major equipment and the company installing the equipment needs to be certified by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme.

For systems above 50kW there is an accreditation process called ‘ROO-FIT' based on that used in the Renewables Obligation.

ConsultationConsultation with the Environment Agency and local planning authority at an early stage is advisable. They should provide advice about site requirements and any foreseeable planning issues. Similarly, it is also worth consulting with the local community and other users.
Grid connection

Although some small-scale hydro plants may be specified for off-grid locations, many will require access to a grid connection point. Underground or overhead power lines can be very expensive, so the closer the site is to a suitable connection point the better.

For larger installations, an application may need to be submitted to the distribution network operator (DNO) for grid connection.

Permission and licenses

A hydropower plant needs to obtain permission from both the Environment Agency and the local planning authority. This will include: abstraction license, impoundment license, flood defence consent, fish pass requirements and consents from the Internal Drainage Board.

Small scales hydropower

Site locationMany small-scale hydropower schemes use existing weirs and mills which are considered as ‘heritage sites'. As such, engineering operations on these sites may require specific permissions.
Cumulative effects

In regulating low head and small-scale applications, the Environment Agency will take account of the potential cumulative impact of multiple sites on a river. Cumulative effects may be significant because even if the sites have efficient and effective upstream and downstream passage facilities, the cumulative effects of delays and damage could still cause the numbers of migrating fish to decline significantly.

7 February 2011

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