Policy - Hydro - Scotland - General Guidance

General Policy and Planning Information

Small scale renewable energy projects are becoming more and more popular across Scotland, particularly in rural areas. New hydro schemes have the potential not only to support the climate change targets set by the Scottish Government, but also to support economic development in rural areas. Due to the size, funding and environmental concerns, it is most likely that community schemes will be small run-of-river or small storage schemes that generate less than 10MW.

Planning applications can be a major obstacle for community renewable energy developments. However there are several main points that if developments can show that they will have little if any significant adverse effects, are likely to be accepted. In other words, little or no adverse effect on:

  • The natural environment and built heritage of the surrounding area
  • The surrounding landscape and the effect on scenic viewpoints
  • Local amenity of nearby residential properties
  • Tourism and leisure regions and areas of great landscape value
  • Environmentally protected areas e.g. Natural 2000 site and Sites of Special Scientific Interest
  • Historic sites and monuments
  • The local economy in terms of tourism or recreation
  • Landscape character, watercourse, peat land hydrological impacts or damage to the local ecology

    Most importantly, developments which can fit into the existing landscape - appropriate in design and scale to their surroundings and no significant adverse effect on the intrinsic landscape qualities of the surrounding area- are more likely to be successful. Also proposals which meet the targets and objectives of the National Planning Framework, the Climate Change Act, and the National Renewables Infrastructure Plan thand at can be connected to the national grid in a satisfactory manner will be supported. Hydro energy developments should be sensitive to ecologically important rivers as weirs and pipelines (part of the development) could have a significant effect. A license from SEPA will be required for any abstraction and discharge from the turbine of the proposed development.

    Local Amenity, Residents and Resources

    The quality of life of local residents (local amenity) should be considered by hydro developments. The most likely concerns would be visual (cumulative affect), disturbance during the construction period and potential damage during construction to the surrounding environment, which local residents may make use of for recreation etc. The environmental issues are addressed under the headings below.

    Environment, Archaeology and Conservation Areas

    If the potential proposed installation falls within a designated site (SPA, SAC, SSSI, Ramsar), consultation with Scottish National Heritage (SNH) is required.
    SNH will encourage and support the development of renewable energy knowing its important role in increasing renewable energy sources, which will work towards national policies regarding carbon reduction and climate change. It also recognises the potential that renewable energy can offer for rural development and the Scottish Economy as a whole.

    SNH guidance states that Projects should use technologies which maximise climate change benefits whilst minimizing adverse natural heritage impacts; and should be based on a strong (local planning) strategic framework that will help guide developments towards locations where they can be more suitable accommodated within the Landscape. Overall however, targets to stimulate further development of renewable energy should be reached in a sustainable way that includes for the protection of natural heritage and not the continued devaluation of the natural landscape from a progressive development of renewable schemes.

    SNH wishes to safeguard the elements of natural heritage that are of most value, to ensure that it can continue to enrich the lives of people who live in and visit Scotland, and to encourage the use of natural resources. "A priority for renewable energy development, should be to encourage technologies and approaches to their adoption, which are most likely to be consistent with the overall natural heritage objectives in Scotland...It is important to guide renewables, in scale and location, to those landscapes that can accept change, avoiding areas which are held in high value and landscapes which are protected".

    SNH Specific Guidance on Hydroelectric schemes

    In terms of the different types of hydro schemes, storage schemes (dams) present difficulties for migratory fish. Impoundment can affect the river geomorphology by altering the transport of riverbed materials and in-stream temperatures- affecting the habitats and species contained within that environment. Run-of-river schemes, on the other hand, are generally small and have fewer impacts on the natural heritage, and are more likely to be accepted in terms of environmental impact. However care is still required to ensure that flow rates in the river, vegetation, lower plant communities, birds, mammals and invertebrate communities in the surrounding area and downstream are not adversely affected.

    Presence of a national heritage designation (such as a SSSI) should not preclude the development of hydro schemes, however proposals will be required to be assessed for the effects they will have on the interests in which the designation is required to protect. Hydroelectric schemes may also affect species that are protected under domestic or international legislation. The species that are most likely to be encountered are: Atlantic salmon, lamprey, otter, freshwater pearl mussel, water vole, river jelly lichen, bats, and when structures/trees are present. Different species and water habitats will be affected in different ways, some are specifically protected under the EC Habitat Directive (e.g. freshwater pearl mussel).

    Therefore the effects on the above should be surveyed and detailed in any planning application made. Guidance can be found through the SNH website and through consultation with SNH.

    Cumulative affects

    The development of hydro schemes in close proximity to one another presents a challenge in managing potential cumulative effects. These effects could be on a variety of issues, such as the habitats and species in and around watercourses or the local landscape. Increasing the number of small hydro developments in the same area increases the potential for cumulative effects, therefore care is required in planning proposals to take into account nearby schemes.

    Possible cumulative effects can include:

  • Pressure on available water resources
  • Landscape and visual impacts within a glen or catchment area (especially from particular viewpoints) both from the structure itself and any ancillary infrastructure
  • Disruption to migratory/feeding areas for species within a catchment area and subsequent knock on effects on the feeding areas of terrestrial species

    Cumulative effects can also occur between hydro schemes and other forms of development such as wind farms and roads. Cumulative effects are particularly important in relation to natural sites and would require a detailed assessment for planning applications. To minimise potential visual adverse effects, the design of the development should be kept as simple as possible with the form of the weir relating to prevailing landforms and the finish being of a texture and colour that relates to local ground cover, e.g. outcropping rock/vegetation. Measuring devices and gauges should also be kept as low in profile as practical and fencing avoided if possible.

    The ideal situation, through careful design and siting, will allow reconciliation of new hydro schemes with the existing natural heritage.

    Technical considerations regarding natural habitat

    Impoundment type schemes including weirs, dams and intakes, should include: screens to prevent debris and fish entering the pipeline (which flows to the turbine); arrangements to remove accumulated sediment; and devices to measure and monitor water flow.

    Hydro schemes can isolate important fish and invertebrate species, especially if their upstream / downstream passage is not maintained. Also reductions in water depth and flow downstream can affect the availability and distribution of fish spawning and holding habitats for fish. Due to the reduced amount of suspended material that is transported downstream, it can affect the suitability of the stream to host invertebrate species e.g. freshwater pearl mussel. Therefore appropriate bypasses can ensure that the watercourse contains appropriate residual flow, and should ensure seasonal flow variations are maintained. Seasonal flow rates have the potential to be disturbed as some species / habitats may be more sensitive to disturbance at certain times of the year. For example, lamprey spawning beds (redds) are particularly sensitive to disturbance between the months of March and August, depending on the species that is present.

    Care is also required with regards to the protection of all species of fish, especially migratory species including salmon and sea trout. Consultation with the local District Salmon Fishery Board is therefore advised when a new hydro scheme is proposed. (Association of Salmon Fishery Boards Website)

    Water Quality & Aquatic Habitats (SEPA Guidance)

    The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has a duty to promote the cleanliness of controlled waters and to conserve, so far as practicable, water resources. "SEPA recognises the importance of renewable energy generation as a contribution to reducing global warming. Small scale hydro projects can be a good investment, they can offset your carbon footprint and contribute to sustainable development. They can, however, have a significant impact on the water environment if not managed properly, which is why we urge anyone who is interested to contact us for advice and guidance."

    The impacts of hydro schemes can occur through several areas: sediment transport, water quality, water temperature, morphological changes to running and standing waters, impacts on species, landscape, recreational use of rivers/burns and wild land qualities. The Water Environment and Water Services Act (Scotland) 2003, gives SEPA the statutory powers to regulate the use of, control and protect water environments in Scotland. Therefore any hydro scheme which has an effect on groundwater, wetlands, rivers, lochs, transitional waters (i.e. estuaries) and coastal waters, are required to apply to SEPA for a water use license. All hydropower developments require a Controlled Activities Regulation (CAR) authorisation for abstractions, impounding works (weirs and dams) and any other engineering works associated with the scheme.

    SEPA uses criteria to determine if applications are suitable to obtain a water use license, for development of a hydro scheme- subject to consideration of any adverse impacts on the interests of other users of the water environment. Schemes which are likely to be acceptable include those:

  • Situated in degraded parts of the water environment (other than those planned to be improved);
  • Situated in small, steep streams;
  • If they deliver an overall improvement to the ecological quality of the water environment;
  • If they use only a specific proportion of flow which doesnt breach river flow standards.

    Proposals, which do not satisfy the criteria set out by SEPA may still be able to gain authorisation if they can show that they would provide additional significant social or environmental benefits resulting from the scheme.

    To assist landowners / developers in installing schemes, SEPA has produced draft guidance for those considering hydro developments. The guidance is designed to aid developers with regards to environmental concerns and so that when SEPA considers applications, the information provided will allow for a decision to be made on a case by case basis.
    This guidance can be found at: http://www.sepa.org.uk/water/hydropower.aspx

    SEPA Application Fees

    If you are considering installing such a scheme on your land, you are required to apply for an authorisation from SEPA, which will incur a small fee. SEPA is required by the Scottish Government to recover the costs of regulation through applicants and license holders, however they stress that their charging scheme should not act as a disincentive for small-scale energy generation. Different charges are made depending on the size of the scheme, and these are evaluated again on a case by case basis.

    Small hydropower schemes primarily serving domestic properties or small communities with an installed generating capacity less than 100 kW = simple licence application fee (currently £588). Subsistence charges for small hydropower schemes with installed generating capacity less than 2 MW will be exempt from subsistence charges. Between 2-5MW will be subject to a single flat subsistence charge of £1,087 per year for the first abstraction and £1,087 per year for the first impoundment in each hydropower scheme license. Other abstractions and impoundments included in the licence will not be charged.

    A summary of these fees, can be found here

    Guidance for SEPA Applications

    When making an application to SEPA, the following (minimum) information is required: (information taken from SEPA website)

  • Outline description of scheme design, stating which watercourses (rivers and lochs) will or could be affected by the development, including a map of the scheme showing the location of each controlled activity being proposed.
  • An 8-figure National Grid Reference for the location of each proposed controlled activity and photographs showing the character of the watercourse at those locations (with a reference scale in the photograph).
  • Maximum installed capacity (kilowatts) of the scheme and an estimate of the mean annual power expected to be generated (gigawatt hours).
  • Minimum and maximum abstracted flow for each intake, including minimum river flow at which generation will commence.
  • The hands off flow proposed and the residual flow at maximum abstraction. If possible, supply photographs of the watercourse at the proposed hands off flow.
  • Details of the design of each impounding works, including the height as measured from the downstream toe of the works to the crest or top of the spillway; and, where practicable, an estimate of the length, surface area and volume of the impoundment (ie the pool) expected to be created upstream of each intake structure.
  • Information on designated sites that may be affected by the development.
  • Details of the river flow that will pass over, through or around the intake structure into the downstream river, including how the flow will vary and how the design of the intake structure enables downstream flow to be provided.
  • Information on whether the watercourses involved are important to fish and fisheries at a local, catchment or national level, and the locations (with 8-figure National Grid References) of the upstream limit(s) of salmon, sea trout, eels, lamprey, spawning river trout or loch trout in the watercourses involved, or, as appropriate, downstream of them. Information may be required on other fish species if known to be present, for instance, Arctic charr.
  • Details of fish screening measures planned for each intake structure.
  • Details of any provisions made to allow fish to pass safely downstream and upstream if appropriate at the intake structure.
  • Details of how tailrace flows will be returned to the water environment, including the location of the outfall, the engineering works involved in the construction of the outfall and any fish screening measures. Photographs of the proposed outfall site should also be supplied. The date and time of each photograph must be indicated to allow SEPA to link in with gauging records.
  • Information on other activities in the same catchment, which could have a potential cumulative effect.
  • Photographs of the river taken from the same point near the proposed impounding works at low flows after at least two days of dry weather; at medium flows and at high flows (designed to represent a variety of weather conditions). The date and time of each photograph must be indicated to allow SEPA to link in with gauging records.
  • Photographs of the affected reach showing the representative characteristics of the river bed and bank at low, medium and high flows. This should include a minimum of three photographs within a 500m stretch upstream of the intake.
  • Photographs of potential obstacles (with a scale for perspective) to fish movement taken at a range of flows. The date and time of each photograph must be indicated to allow SEPA to link in with gauging records.

    More Information can be found here (link to SEPA website)

    Transport Considerations

    Consideration needs to given on the disturbance from construction transport. If a track is required for construction, this can lead to erosion (which can increase sediment deposition on the surrounding vegetation) and loss of soil cover (leading to a loss of surface drainage, leading to more surface water and possible localised flooding of the river system). Also if there is the need for vehicles to cross small rivers / streams, this has the potential to increase bank side erosion.

    Connection to the Grid

    Connection to the grid is likely to require a link between the scheme and its substation using a 11kV or 33kV overhead or underground line. There is a potential issue of impacts on birds due to the risk of collision- this will depend on the routing of the line and its supports- but is less likely to be applicable for small scale projects. A statement on the form of such instillation and what method of vegetation reinstatement will occur afterwards needs to be included with planning proposals, if appropriate.
    There is also potential associated landscape and visual impacts of power lines and these can be minimised if lined are placed underground.

    Community Benefit

    Apart from the energy and money saved from supplying your own electricity, further revenue can be generated from the Government Feed in Tariffs.
    Feed-In Tariffs were introduced on 1 April 2010 and replaced UK government grants as the main financial incentive to encourage uptake of renewable electricity-generating technologies, including hydro power.The energy regulator Ofgem regulates the scheme and your energy supplier will make the FIT payments to you. To qualify for FITs, the installer and the products you use must both be certified normally under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) for installations with a declared net capacity of 50kW or less. However for all hydro power schemes (up to 5MW) this accreditation must come through the ROO-FIT accreditation process. This process is administered by Ofgem, and more information can be found on their website.

    The current rate for hydro is set at 21.9p per kWh for systems under 15kW and 19.6p for systems 15-100kWh. The tariff levels are normally guaranteed for the period of the tariff (up to 20 years).

    Grants / Funding Available

    Funding for community schemes generally comes in the forms of grants (charitable funding which does not need to be paid back) or from Loans(which needs to be paid back, but there are specific organisations that specialise in financing community projects).

    In terms of Loans, one potential avenue is a Small Business Loan provided by Energy Saving Scotland, which can be utilised by not-for-profit organisations and charities. These loans (up to £100,000) can be used to install renewable energy technologies and come with a low interest rate of 5% if used alongside the Feed in Tariff (FIT) or Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). If FIT pr RHI are not claimed, then the interest rate is 0%. More information can be found on the Energy Saving Trust Website

    The main option in terms of loans available to communities is through the Scottish Government's Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES).CARES provides loans for locally owned renewable energy projects which provide wider community benefits. Loan finance is available to cover the pre-planning consent stage, which is often considerable and is seen as a major barrier to community groups who would wish to develop a project. CARES loans are available to any renewable project up to 5MW, and can be up to £150,000 covering 90% of the agreed costs. It has a fixed interest rate of 10% and no security is required. CARES is administered by Community Energy Scotland.
    A link to a case study on a community hydro scheme in Ardgour which utilised a CARES Grant, can be found here here.

    In terms of grants, there are several potential options:

    1. Trust + foundations: There are over 4,000 independent trusts and foundations in the UK which give around £3 billion to charities and community organisations each year. There are also many community foundations which want to support causes in the local area. More information can be found through the Community Foundation Network website.

    2. Lottery Funding: can provide another source of funding.

    3. Government funding: The Scottish Government gives grants through its Climate Challenge Fund of around £10m a year.

    Important Links
    SNH Hydro Development Guidance Webpage
    SNH Document: "Renewable energy and the National Heritage"
    SNH Guidance Note: Micro renewables and the natural heritage
    SNH Guidance Note: Hydroelectric schemes and the natural heritage
    SNH Guidance Note: Renewable Energy Consulation guidance
    SEPA Hydro Guidance Webpage
    Scottish Renewables joint guidance on Hydro Construction Good Practise
    Local United Document: "Community-led hydro initiatives"
    Aiding the Hydro-scheme development process. Web-links to useful information sources