We have several roles when it comes to hydropower development, the most important being as a regulator for water resources. We support the development of sustainable hydropower and our role is to ensure the local environment is protected. We use evidence and our judgement to assess the impacts of a proposed scheme, issuing licences when we are satisfied that the project is sustainable.
In addition to regulating hydropower schemes we have identified a number of our own weirs along the River Thames where hydropower might be suitable. My role is to support hydropower development on our weirs while protecting our assets. We aren’t funding the hydropower projects, our chosen developer funds the scheme, and we agree a lease cost based on the scheme profits.
Hydropower can involve staff covering many aspects of our responsibilities. Protecting the environment and managing flood risk are our priorities when considering a location for hydropower. We need to balance the risks with our desire to support targets for renewable energy. Many hydropower schemes are promoted by start-up enterprises or community groups. There is a huge learning curve for those who want to progress these schemes, and the time it takes to collect strong evidence to support a development proposal is often underestimated.
We are currently mid construction of a scheme at Osney Island in Oxford, which has been put together by a community group. This has followed years of hard work and enthusiasm on both sides, and the scheme will soon provide power to 60 homes in the area. A fish pass built alongside the hydropower is an essential component of the scheme and will reduce the impact of this weir on fish migration for the first time since 1790 when the lock was built.
We help community groups through the licensing process with the advise and information so they make some informed decisions. The latest guidance for hydropower development can be found at Hydropower schemes guidelines. There are no short cuts in the approval process for hydropower projects on our assets. In fact, we put into place additional checks and balances to ensure that any schemes on our weirs meet the highest standards.
It is an exciting role to be in. I get to work with enthusiastic groups looking to make a difference for the environment. I aim to help them avoid some of the pitfalls and see them create proposals that could make a small but significant contribution to our energy needs in the UK.
Stephen is a Catchment Engineer based in the south east of England.