Renewables First has vast experience of hydropower environmental consenting, including on ecologically sensitive sites and rivers with migratory fish.
Hydropower environmental consenting is needed to protect the aquatic environment while allowing sufficient water to pass through the hydro system to generate energy. This is a difficult balancing act which requires expertise in hydropower design, fish behaviour, fish pass design and a number of other complex factors.
The types of environmental licences that may be required by a typical hydro site during the environmental consenting stage are:
- Fish Pass
- Flood Defence Consent
Renewables First have experience of dealing with complex sites including designations, ecological sensitive sites, migratory species and flood risk areas.
We also work closely with the Environment Agency in England, NRW in Wales and SEPA in Scotland to improve the regulatory process through being key members of the Hydropower Working Group and Hydropower Technical Working Group. These are the principal forums for improving the regulatory process for hydropower consenting.
Making sense of hydropower applications
We can navigate your project through the minefield of bureaucracy and misunderstanding that surrounds most hydropower environmental consenting applications.
Renewables First believes that all hydropower systems should be designed to improve the aquatic environment whenever this is possible. When we design hydropower systems we consider the global benefits from renewable energy generation alongside the local benefits from improved fish passage and habitat improvements that well-designed hydropower systems can bring.
Abstraction Licence/SEPA CAR licence
This is the most common form of environmental consenting licence and defines how much water you can divert away from the watercourse.
When water is diverted, the main watercourse is left ‘depleted’ of water and a minimum amount of water must remain to protect the ecology. The abstraction licence defines what this minimum amount of water must be.
Although this seems simple, actually defining how much water must remain in the depleted channel can take some time to agree because it is easy for the relevant agency to be over-cautious and ask for a lot of water, but this would render the hydro project uneconomic. Equally it isn’t reasonable for the hydropower system to take too much, because this would be to the detriment of the ecology in the depleted reach.
The factors that affect how much water must remain in the depleted reach include:
- The length of the depleted reach
- Any special ecological sensitivities
- Whether or not the site has migratory fish
- Any proposed improvements to fish passage
- The flow characteristics of the river
- The ‘Water Framework Directive’ classification of the watercourse
- Local fisheries plans for the watercourse
Abstraction Licences are often issued alongside Impoundment and/or Transfer Licences. The exact types and number of licences required tends to depend on the local EA officer’s interpretation of the project rather that any scientific criteria. Licences typically take 9 to 12 months to obtain, depending on the size of the project and the ecological sensitivity of the site.
Renewables First has expertise in all of these areas of environmental consenting and a proven track record of negotiating licence terms that meet the ecological needs of the site without overly compromising the energy production from the hydropower system. Where required we work with specialist ecologists and fisheries experts to provide robust supporting evidence for our licence applications.
EA Impoundment Licence
Impoundment licences are used where the proposed hydropower system either requires a new impounding structure (such as a weir or a sluice gate) or needs to modify an existing impounding structure.
They are commonly used for ‘on weir’ hydropower schemes where the hydro turbine is integrated with the existing weir, or as is more commonly the case, immediately alongside the weir.
Because ‘on weir’ hydropower projects do not have to divert water away from the main watercourse they can be less complicated to license because there is no compensation flow to negotiate. There are however several other factors to consider in addition to the ones listed above under Abstraction Licence:
- Ensuring fish passage on migratory fish rivers
- On lower-quality, heavily impounded rivers ensuring the weir pool is maintained
- Ensuring flood risk is not increased
- Consideration of aesthetic water flows over landmark weirs
Impoundment Licences are often issued alongside Abstraction and/or Transfer Licences. The exact types and number of licences required tends to depend on the local EA officer’s interpretation of the project rather that any scientific criteria.
Renewables First has expertise in all of these areas and a proven track record of negotiating licence terms that meet the ecological needs of the site without overly compromising the energy production from the hydropower system. Where required we work with specialist ecologists and fisheries experts to provide robust supporting evidence for our licence applications.
EA Flood Defence Consent
Flood Defence Consent checks that any proposed works in the river to construct a hydropower system are safe and will not create any additional flood risk for nearby properties.
It also checks the construction methodology to ensure that disruption and the risk of pollution are minimised, and that all reasonable steps will be taken to protect the aquatic environment during the construction process.
Obtaining Flood Defence Consent is not normally a problem provided the project is well designed and this can be demonstrated by engineering calculations. Renewables First can provide the following services to secure Flood Defence Consent:
- Engineering drawings of all temporary and permanent structures
- Construction method statements
- Flood modelling
Fish pass design/approvalAll hydropower projects on rivers where migratory fish are present will require a fish pass to be installed. If there is an existing fish pass that would be adversely affected by the hydropower system this may require alterations.
They may be required on other rivers where the NRW/EA/SEPA has an aspiration to improve fish passage.
Renewables First is an expert in the design of fish passes with experience of designing and constructing fish passes on some of the UK’s most sensitive rivers. We will both design the fish pass and take the design through the fish pass approval process. If third-party verification of new fish passage arrangements is required we work with several leading fisheries consultancies that have experience of hydropower projects.
Renewables first can expertly deal with all your hydropower environmental consenting needs.
Are you considering a hydropower project in the UK, Ireland or overseas?
The first step to develop any small or micro hydropower site is to conduct a full feasibility study.
Contact us about a feasibility study today!
Once complete, you will understand the site potential and be guided through the next steps to develop your project. You can read more about hydropower in our Hydro Learning Centre.