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Hydropower offers 'win-win' if done sustainably, says agency.

Byline: Steve Dub

THOUSANDS of small-scale hydro-electric schemes could power homes without damaging wildlife in rivers around the country, according to an Environment Agency study.

The agency has identified almost 26,000 locations on Welsh and English rivers where turbines could be installed to generate electricity from the water - enough to power 850,000 homes and produce 1.5% of the UK's electricity needs.

Not every potential site could be developed as some could damage the environment or are in places with practical constraints, such as difficulty accessing the local electricity grid. Around half are in environmentally sensitive areas and would need measures such as screens to stop fish getting killed by turbines.

But many are in places where humans have already interfered with the natural landscape - for example by putting in a weir. So theEAsays they have the potential to generate green electricity and improve the local environment at the same time.

Sensitively designed schemes, which include fish passes to enable species such as salmon to navigate around the turbine or other technology, could provide a "win-win" situation for the environment in more than 4,000 areas. The study says these are particularly concentrated on rivers such as the Severn and Neath.

Small-scale hydropower will also benefit from new government subsidies that pay people to generate small-scale green energy. The feed-in tariffs, which came into operation at the beginning of last month, offer hydropower schemes up to 20p for every kilowatt hour of hydroelectricity produced, with a guarantee to pay the subsidy for 20 years.

That means that a medi-um-sized scheme costing pounds 100,000 to pounds 150,000 to set up and providing enough electricity to power 32 homes, could receive around pounds 25,000 a year in subsidies.

Tony Grayling, head of climate change and sustainable development at the Environment Agency, said: "Some hydropower schemes have the potential to deliver lowcarbon electricity and improve the local environment for wildlife, for example by improving fish migration.

"But there will inevitably be some sites where the risk to the environment outweighs the benefits of power generation."

He said there was increasing interest in small-scale hydroelectric plants, with a rise in applications from around 10 a year in the past to 80 last year, and further growth is expected with new subsidies for green power.

"With the Government's new feed-in tariff for renewably generated electricity, hydropower could become an attractive income generator for hydropower developers, if environmental safeguards are met." UK energy minister Lord Hunt said small-scale hydropower was a cost-effective way of producing low-carbon energy.

"It is clear that recent advances in technology, reduced equipment costs and financial incentives like the new feed-in tariffs will provide further opportunities for communities to harness the power of our rivers and streams," he said.

The report by the Environment Agency recommends fish passes, which allow fish to get round the hydroelectric scheme, should be part of all proposals.

A system of grants for providing fish passes could help unlock the potential of small-scale hydropower in England and Wales. Paul Knight, chief executive of the Salmon and Trout Association, said: "Poorly designed hydropower systems can cause damage to the river environment and its dependent species, so we are pleased to see that the report recommends that fish passes are used as a matter of course in all new hydropower installations.

"With the right design and placement there could be opportunity for a win/win situation - where a barrier to fish migration is removed and power is generated."

Mr Grayling said: "We want to see hydropower, but we want to see sustainable hydropower, and that's a double win because we're looking after the local environment and generating low-carbon electricity."

CAPTION(S):

CASH FLOW: Snowdonia farmer Tegwyn Jones with his 340,000 kWh hydro-electricity scheme near Mallwyd, Meirionnydd, that produces enough to power 60 homes and brought him an income of pounds 15,000 a year even before the feed-in tariffs came into being last month
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:May 4, 2010
Words:661
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