Renewable energy consultancy Dulas has completed research on behalf of the Welsh Government into the impact of potential changes to permitted development rights for small-scale hydroelectric projects in Wales.
The research, recently published as part of a consultation document from the Welsh Government, sets out a series of recommendations for introducing greater flexibility with regard to planning and water abstraction for hydro schemes, while mitigating the impact on the natural environment.
Wales possesses considerable land-based water resources, and hydroelectric power has the potential to make a significant contribution to a more sustainable energy mix. This is reflected in the country’s ambitious targets for renewable energy generation, with the proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources set to rise from 32% in 2016 to 70% by 2030.
However, following reductions to Feed-in Tariff support, the Welsh Government identified the absence of permitted development rights, which allow asset owners to carry out improvements or extensions without having to apply for planning permission, and the current licensing process for groundwater abstraction, as further obstacles to the wider deployment of hydroelectric schemes across Wales.
Dulas was appointed by the Welsh Government in June 2017 to assess the potential impact of changes to permitted development rights on the country’s hydro sector. Through extensive field research and stakeholder consultations with industry, local authorities and regulators, Dulas formulated a series of recommendations on the applicability of permitted developing rights to small-scale, low-risk hydro projects in Wales, as well as developing best practice guidance for the sector.
The study focused on schemes of up to 100kW that were identified as low-risk to the environment on the basis of site characteristics and flow requirements, rather than capacity, as these in turn influence various aspects of construction including the size of the intake structure and pipeline.
Based on its research, Dulas advised on three potential options for easing the planning requirements for small-scale hydro schemes. These ranged from leaving planning regulations as they currently stand but simplified through the adoption of good practice guidance, to introducing permitted developing rights for schemes up to a maximum capacity or on the basis of other planning aspects including topographical, ecological, and archaeological factors.
“The potential contribution of hydro power to Wales’ energy mix is clear, but, to date, the roll-out of small-scale hydro has been hindered by the need to secure planning permission and other licenses, which are often seen as an additional cost burden and present serious barriers to new schemes that may otherwise have real potential,” said Michael Phillips, Principal Consultant at Dulas.
“The research carried out by our team of expert engineers and consultants will allow the Welsh Government to gauge the extent to which permitted development rights would bolster the Welsh hydro sector, allowing landowners to more easily incorporate small-scale hydro schemes and boosting the proportion of electricity derived from hydro across the country.”