Applying for licences for hydropower schemes

This guidance explains the application process for an abstraction or impoundment licence. It summarises the environmental design considerations you should incorporate into your hydropower scheme to minimise its effect on the river environment and lists the technical information required to support a licence application.

Designers and applicants are responsible for carrying out preparatory work before applying for a licence. We can more quickly review an application and issue a licence where a scheme has been designed and application submitted in line with our guidance.

Applicants will need to provide us with information describing their proposed scheme and where it is located. We will also need to receive information about a scheme’s environmental setting and how it may affect in-river ecology, landscape, recreation, amenity and other water users.

Our general approach is that where small hydropower schemes have been sited and designed using our guidance to minimise impact on the river environment, then we will require a limited amount of information to support a licence application. The amount of supporting information we require increases for schemes that are larger, more complex and located in sensitive sites.

What you need to do before applying

Water abstractions for hydroelectric power generation

Before you apply for an abstraction licence you should use information about your site to work out how much water may be available for abstraction.

Read more about how to do this on our page Abstraction rates for hydropower.

Siting and designing your impoundment and outfall

New impoundments, outfalls, water management structures, or changes to existing ones, will need to be located and designed so that they have a low impact on the river environment or lead to an improvement where a structure already exists. This can be achieved by applying the simple principles for good environmental design that we set out in sections 6 to 8.

You may apply for an impoundment licence when your proposed impoundment meets these siting and design principles or can otherwise show it will have a low impact on the river environment.

Pre-application enquiries

Our guidance provides enough information for developers to determine the location, design and operation for most types and scales of hydropower schemes to meet our requirements for environmental protection.

We can provide a pre-application service to address enquiries related to a hydropower scheme proposal. We expect enquiries for this service to be associated with large scale or complex schemes, or for proposals in environmentally sensitive sites. Enquiries should seek advice on specific aspects of scheme development and be relevant to the requirements for abstraction and impoundment licence applications.

We will provide two hours of time per scheme without charge for each pre-application enquiry. If responding to a pre-application enquiry takes more than two hours of our time, then we will charge at our current standard hourly rate (See our Charging Scheme).

Licence application forms

All applications for abstraction and impoundment licences should be made using the forms available on our website. You will need to include basic location, design and operation information about your proposed scheme. 

Supporting information

We will require you to provide us with additional technical and environmental information to help us understand how your proposal will affect the river environment.

Low risk schemes

We view hydropower schemes as presenting a low risk to the river environment if they have the following characteristics:

  • the location and characteristics of the scheme qualify for a Zone 3 abstraction regime (i.e. small, steep upland streams)
  • the impoundment and intake structure is of overspill / Coanda screen type design
  • the scheme structures have fully incorporated our principles of low risk siting and design and meets our requirements for environmental protection
  • catchment hydrology to the point of outfall is simple
  • there are no cumulative or in-combination effects of abstraction or impounding
  • the proposed site is not used for recreational or amenity purposes (e.g. kayaking)
  • the proposal does not affect a visually prominent landscape feature such as waterfalls or cascade
  • the scheme does not affect any other lawful water users

Applications for low risk schemes should be submitted with the following information:

Supporting information should be developed and submitted to us.

Higher risk or complex schemes

Applications for all other schemes that don’t meet the low risk criteria must submit the basic supporting information requirements for low risk schemes listed above plus one or more of the following:

Scheme impact Supporting information requirement

Schemes affecting a designated site, supporting habitat, protected species or salmon spawning ground or otherwise qualifying for a Zone 1 abstraction regime (See Abstraction rates for hydropower & Designated sites, protected species and supporting habitat).

Ecological and environmental surveys

Environmental statement

Schemes with complex hydrological catchments or abstraction regimes that differ from our guidance for purposes of amenity, landscape, recreation or environmental protection. (See Abstraction rates for hydropower & Hydrology).

Hydrological analysis and impact assessment

Sites sensitive to changes in geomorphology (See Understanding geomorphology in hydropower scheme design & Siting an intake weir for hydropower).

Quantitative geomorphological assessment

Sites where multiple abstractions or in-river structures are present on a river reach (See Cumulative impacts).

Cumulative geomorphological impact assessment

Sites that do not apply our zoned abstraction regimes or meet our requirements for low risk siting and design. 

Water Framework Directive compliance assessment

We set out when additional supporting information will be required and what it should include in the subject chapters. Note that we may require applicants to provide other supporting information not listed here to address issues specific to a given proposal.

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