Approvals, licences and consents needed for hydropower schemes


These guidance notes explain which consents and permissions you need to obtain before you can build and operate a hydropower scheme in Wales and why these are needed. It also sets out the principles you need to consider when locating and designing your hydropower scheme to minimise its effect on the river environment.

They describe how to apply for an abstraction and/or impoundment licence, how we assess your application and how we decide if we can issue the licences.

What consents will you need for your hydropower scheme?

Developers will need to obtain several approvals, licences and consents before any hydropower scheme is built and operated.

Most of the permissions that will be needed for a hydropower scheme are issued by us and the Local Planning Authority for your area (your County Council or National Park Authority).

Water resource licensing for hydropower

Water resource licences describe a family of licences issued under the Water Resources Act 1991 (WRA), as amended by the Water Act 2003 (WA). These include abstraction and impoundment licences.

Abstracting water for power generation

If you intend to take water out of a river or stream for your hydropower scheme, then you will need to have an abstraction licence from us. An abstraction licence details how much water can be abstracted and sets out conditions on how the abstraction should be operated so that enough water remains in the watercourse to protect ecology, landscapes and the rights of other water users.

Abstraction licences

There are two main types of abstraction licence:

  • Full licence - this is the most common type of licence and is required to abstract water from a source of supply (for example a river or stream) where that water is used directly for a purpose – in the case of hydropower, where water is abstracted and conveyed via a pipe or open channel directly to a turbine for power generation.
  • Transfer licence – This type of licence is needed where water is transferred from one source of supply to another, or to another point within the same source of supply, without intervening use. For example, an abstraction for a hydropower scheme may involve conveyance of water from one channel to another channel, perhaps from the main river to a leat, for subsequent re-abstraction and use within a turbine. This abstraction will, in part, be permitted using a transfer licence to authorise the removal of water from the main source of supply.

New abstraction licences are time limited – this will provisionally be to the common end date for the catchment, as set out in our Abstraction Management Strategies. Time limits will range from six years up to a maximum of 18 years. Licences are eligible for renewal once they have reached the common end date.

An abstraction licence may not be required if a hydropower scheme is located entirely within a watercourse and water is not taken out of that source of supply. An example of this may be a low head scheme where turbines are installed on an existing weir and the water remains within the channel during operation.

Building an impoundment

Most run-of-river hydropower schemes require the construction of either a new in-river weir, or modification of an existing weir, to operate the abstraction. Several consents are likely to be required to authorise this. These include:

  • Impoundment licence
  • Flood Risk Activity Permit (FRAP) or Ordinary Watercourse Consent (OWC)
  • Planning permission

Impoundment licences

An impoundment licence is necessary to ensure that any proposed dam, weir or similar hydraulic structure, or modification to an existing in-river structure does not obstruct or impede river flow to the detriment of the river environment or other water users. Applicants will need to provide us with drawings showing us the proposed hydraulic design of a hydropower intake structure and how it will manage the associated abstraction. Note that we are unlikely to licence new impoundments in lower catchment rivers and streams as they can be very damaging to river ecosystem connectivity, sediment transport and habitat quality. We are more likely to licence new impoundments in small, steep, upland catchments where low impact principles of siting and design can be applied to new structures so that they replicate naturally occurring channel features.

For large schemes, we may also require an agreement with the operator under Section 158 of the Water Resources Act to regulate the way they are operated. These agreements will need to cover rights of access and may need to include the control of river flows, maintenance of the weir and river structures, fisheries and other environmental protection matters.

For schemes that involve the refurbishment or re-instatement of existing, historical structures such as derelict mills or weirs, we will take a view on whether an impounding licence is required on a case by case basis. Our general advice is that if you are planning to make changes to an existing structure, it is likely that you will require a licence.

Fish pass approval

Formal approval describes a legal process, similar but separate to the abstraction and impoundment licensing process, in which an applicant must submit detailed engineering drawings of a proposed fish pass to us. The design will be reviewed by specialists and given formal approval when the design has been accepted. The fish pass must then be built to the approved design.

Flood Risk Activity Permits and Ordinary Watercourse Consents

You may need to apply for a Flood Risk Activity Permit (FRAP) or to register an exemption for permanent or temporary works you intend to carry out in the channel of a designated main river, within 8 metres of the banks (16m if tidal), if the works affect a Flood Risk Management asset or our ability to maintain the asset and also for some activities within the wider flood plain. FRAPs and Exemptions are issued by, or registered with us.

Read more about flood risk activities

You may need to apply for a Land Drainage Consent (LDC) from us if you intend to carry out permanent or temporary works within an Internal Drainage District.

Find out more about land drainage consent and Internal Drainage Districts.

You may need to apply for an Ordinary Watercourse Consent (OWC) if you intend to carry out permanent or temporary works in or adjacent to an Ordinary Watercourse. OWCs are issued by the Lead Local Flood Authority within the relevant local authority and you will need to contact them for further information.

Main River and Ordinary Watercourse are legal statuses for a given reach of river. Main Rivers tend to be, but are not exclusively, the larger rivers lower down in a catchment while smaller, upland tributaries are usually Ordinary Watercourses.

You can find out the status of the watercourse you have an interest in from our Long-Term Flood Risk Maps (Detailed map view).

Planning Permission

In almost all cases you will need to obtain planning permission from your Local Planning Authority (LPA) before you construct any part of your hydropower scheme. The LPA will determine planning applications in accordance with local and national planning policies. It is important to contact your LPA to discuss your plans at an early stage. The LPA will be able to tell you which parts of the scheme require planning permission.

We will also seek environmental safeguards in connection with a development via other consenting regimes such as planning. We are statutory consultees to Local Planning Authorities and will provide advice on environmental protection to them.

Planning permission establishes whether a hydropower scheme is an acceptable use of land (which includes the riverbed), considering a wide range of environmental, social, aesthetic and economic considerations. These include potential cumulative effects and issues such as:

  • the physical appearance of any buildings
  • ecology
  • river morphology
  • landscape
  • amenity
  • flood risk
  • archaeology

Flood consequences assessment

A hydropower scheme may increase flood risk or affect what would happen in the event of flooding. You will need to evaluate the potential effects as part of any planning application. This is likely to require you to carry out a Flood Consequences Assessment (FCA).

A Flood Consequences Assessment is a study that can be used to demonstrate that the flood risks and consequences of your development can be managed in line with Welsh Government and UK policy on flood risk management. This assessment will form part of your planning application to your local planning authority.

We provide advice to Local Planning Authorities on managing the flood risk of developments. 

Consulting with other river users

Hydropower schemes can affect local communities, other river users and the environment. Before you apply, we recommend that you consult interested parties and take steps to address any concerns they may have.

You may need to consult with:

  • neighbours – including landowners, residents and businesses
  • existing abstractors and river users - including farmers, water companies, local angling clubs and representative bodies such as the Canal and Rivers Trust, Inland Waterways Association, the British Canoe Union and the Ramblers Association
  • environmental bodies – such as Afonydd Cymru, Salmon & Trout Conservation, the Rivers Trusts, Wildlife Trusts, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), national park associations or societies and organisations responsible for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • local authority officers who deal with environmental health, highways, local flood risk, ecology, amenity and archaeology
  • organisations with an interest in the built environment – including Cadw, Welsh Government’s historic environment service

Read more about applying for hydropower licences

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