The Welsh Government wants local groups to work with specialist companies to identify sites where hydro schemes with capacities less than 5MW could be developed.

Forestry Commission Wales, which manages the Welsh Government’s woodlands, opened the door to expressions of interest when it launched a hydro power project at the Snowdonia National Park Centre at Plas Tan-y-Bwlch, near Porthmadog in late February.

Representatives of community groups, local authorities and commercial hydro development companies heard of the potential benefits of hydro power in Welsh Government woodlands before visiting a scheme operating nearby on private land.

Environment and Sustainable Development Minister John Griffiths said generating renewable energy at a local level was one of the cornerstones for making low carbon energy a reality in Wales.

“Hydro electricity generation is a proven technology and already makes a meaningful contribution to Wales’s energy generation mix,” he said. “The Welsh Government is committed to leading the way in shaping a truly sustainable future for our children by reducing our CO2 emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.”

Forestry Commission Wales has already identified 14 potential hydro sites on the land it manages, but it believes many more schemes could be developed by including adjoining land as well.

It is working closely with the Energy Saving Trust, Environment Agency Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales to push the project forward.

The Commission is also talking to Ynni’r Fro – a European funded Community Renewables Project sponsored by the Welsh Government – to ensure that community groups can access technical and financial support to develop hydro projects.

“This is another way in which our woodlands can contribute to the Welsh Government’s renewable energy policies,” commented Antony Wallis, head of the Forestry Commission Wales hydro team. “This project aims to bring about good quality hydro power projects which can help us to build a more sustainable future while offering meaningful community benefits.”

Communities and developers will be encouraged to work together to submit a simple expression of interest, identifying sites on a map which Forestry Commission Wales will check for suitability. A full proposal will then be scored against technical, financial and social criteria.

Once an application has been approved, Forestry Commission Wales will enter into an exclusive Option Agreement for the site. The applicant will then apply for operating licences from Environment Agency Wales and to the local authority for planning consent.

Once these are granted, the Option Agreement will transfer into a long-term operating lease.