Natural Resources Wales has announced a new approach to assessing the amount of water that can be taken from Welsh rivers to generate electricity whilst ensuring water supplies and wildlife are protected.
The approach, agreed today (4 September) by the Natural Resources Wales Board, will offer a clearer, more straightforward way of assessing the water available for sustainable hydropower, consistently across Wales.
Hydropower schemes can cause lower water levels in rivers between the points where the water is taken out and where it is put back into the river after passing through the turbine.
River levels and day to day changes in the natural flow of the river are essential to protect important wildlife habitats for spawning fish and other species.
Alongside the new approach, Natural Resources Wales is also looking at more ways to help support the industry, as well as the community groups and landowners that could benefit from hydropower.
The organisation is providing additional guidance to help hydropower developers to develop sustainable schemes, which are designed and operated in the right way and in the right place.
It is also reviewing the application system to identify ways of speeding up the process.
The guidance will outline a clear process for developers and provide a clearer indication of the volumes of water they are likely to be able to take for renewable energy generation, aided by a map based screening tool, which will be improved over time as knowledge increases.
Natural Resources Wales is also establishing a hydropower working group consisting of developers, community groups, angling groups and other environmental organisations to work together to help the industry in Wales develop sustainably for the long term.
The approach proposed by NRW, which have now been ratified by the Board, followed an extensive consultation with the hydropower industry and other interested parties like angling groups and conservation bodies.
Ceri Davies from Natural Resources Wales said:
“Hydropower in Wales has the potential to make a real difference for farmers, landowners and community groups, to help their economic and environmental sustainability on a local level.
“We have listened to what stakeholders said and have used the best scientific evidence to develop an approach suited to the natural environment that we have in Wales.
“What this decision means is that we are enabling the energy from our natural water resources to be used, whilst protecting our water environment and other water users. This, alongside the other work we are doing to help developers, will support the development of sustainable small-scale, renewable energy generation in Wales.”
Details of the new standards and guidance on flow availability will be published on the Natural Resources Wales website this autumn.