New hydropower scheme: apply to build one

The licences and permits you need, the documents you must prepare, and how to apply to build a hydropower scheme.

If you want to build a new hydropower scheme, you need to apply to the Environment Agency for:

  • an abstraction licence - if you divert or take water from a river or watercourse
  • an impoundment licence - if you plan to build a dam or weir to hold back the flow of an inland water, or if you plan to change an existing weir or structure as part of your scheme
  • fish pass approval - if you plan to install or modify fish passes as part of your scheme
  • an environmental permit for a flood risk activity - when you build in, over or next to main rivers (for rivers and watercourses that are not main rivers you must apply to your lead local flood authority for consent)

Contact your Environment Agency permitting officer if you’re unsure who your lead local flood authority is.

You must not cause harm to the environment while constructing or operating your hydropower scheme. Fish and other aquatic ecology can be very sensitive to changes in river flows.

Before you apply, you can speak to the Environment Agency to get more detailed information about the process of applying to build a hydropower scheme.

You should contact Natural Resources Wales if any of your site is in Wales.

Designing your scheme

You should employ a specialist to help you design your scheme and make your application. You can contact the British Hydropower Association or the Micro Hydro Association to get help finding a hydropower specialist.

You can also get detailed technical information from the Environment Agency to find out how you need to design and operate your hydropower scheme to protect the environment. Email or phone 03708 506 506 to get this information (see call charges).

The Environment Agency is less likely to accept proposals in sites of high environmental sensitivity, like protected sites and sites where there are protected species.

The Environment Agency will only give you permission to build a scheme if you can show in your scheme’s design how you’ll prevent harm to the environment and other water users by ensuring:

  • it will not prevent the achievement of Water Framework Directive objectives, for example it will not damage the ecological status of water or prevent the improvement of its status - find the objectives for your local area
  • it will not affect protected and designated sites or species in unacceptable ways, for example it will not damage habitats that are important for protected species of fish
  • it will maintain or improve fish passage
  • it will not affect people’s access to the water, for example anglers
  • it will not have negative impacts on local communities, for example it must not increase the risk of flooding

Check you have rights of access

Before the Environment Agency will grant you an abstraction licence, you will need to show them that you have rights of access to the river at the point where you plan to build your scheme.

Using weirs on upland watercourses

If you want to build or reconstruct a weir on an upland watercourse, your proposal is likely to be rejected by the Environment Agency if it’s higher than 1.5 metres.

For weirs up to about 1.5 metres, you will need to show that your scheme will not harm the watercourse and its ecology. You need to show this in your application by providing a report containing hydrological assessments that explain:

  • any changes your scheme will make to the watercourse
  • how these changes will avoid causing harm to the environment

Using existing weirs on a lowland river

You must check with the Environment Agency that there are not any existing plans to remove the weir.

The Environment Agency will not give you permission to use an existing weir on a lowland river if your scheme will increase the risk of flooding or disrupt:

  • water level controls
  • use of the river, for example it must not affect the movement of boats

The Environment Agency will not give you permission to raise the height of an existing weir, unless you can show that a small increase in the height of the weir is needed because:

  • you’re raising the height to compensate for turbine drawdown
  • your proposed work will improve fish passage

Building or reconstructing weirs on a lowland river

The Environment Agency is unlikely to give you permission if you propose to build or reconstruct a weir in a lowland river.

You might get permission if you can show there will not be significant impacts on the environment. Include in your proposal detailed environmental and technical assessments showing that there’ll be no significant impacts on:

  • fish migration
  • fisheries and conservation
  • targets and objectives for the river under the Water Framework Directive
  • sediment movement
  • flood risk
  • land drainage
  • navigation rights
  • designated habitats and species
  • other people’s rights to, and uses of, water
  • water ecology, for example from the creation of a pond or a lake behind the weir

These assessments will require specialist technical reports that will normally need to be prepared by experts in these areas.

Using existing weirs that are used to measure river flow

The Environment Agency uses some weirs and river structures to measure river flows. If your scheme will change the flow of water across one of these structures, you must avoid affecting the accuracy of the data that the Environment Agency collects.

The Environment Agency will tell you if the weir you plan to build on is used for measuring flows when you get advice from them before you apply for your licence.

Get advice before you apply

You will not get a licence to build a hydropower scheme from the Environment Agency unless you can satisfy them that your scheme will not harm the environment.

You can get advice about your hydropower scheme from the Environment Agency before you apply for a licence.

The Environment Agency will appoint a permitting officer - they might ask to visit your site. They’ll tell you:

  • what you need to do to apply
  • what permissions you need
  • what environmental assessments you need to carry out
  • if you need to contact Natural England about protected sites and species

To ask for advice before you apply for a licence, send the Environment Agency a completed pre-application advice application form to:

Permitting Support Centre
Quadrant 2
99 Parkway Avenue
Parkway Business Park
S9 4WF

Or email

In your form, include as much of the following information as you can (you do not need to provide all this information if you do not have it):

  • where your scheme is, including a site map and river name
  • how you will access the river
  • the type of turbines you plan to use in your scheme
  • any changes you propose to an existing weir or the construction of a new weir
  • the water flow that your turbines require to operate
  • the amount of river water you will allow to flow when your turbines are operating
  • the length of the river that may be affected by any reduced water flows
  • hydrological information about your site and how your scheme will affect hydrology of the river
  • details of your scheme’s design, including any fish screens and fish passes you plan to install

You need to show the Environment Agency that you’ve considered the local environment and other water users when designing your scheme by producing a report explaining:

  • any changes your scheme will make to local conditions
  • what you’ll do to prevent these changes causing harm to the environment and other users

The Environment Agency will provide you with 15 hours of free pre-application advice. They aim to provide this advice within 6 weeks.

If you want additional advice you will need to pay for it. If you agree to pay for this additional advice, the Environment Agency charges £125 per hour for each hour of advice they give you.

Consult local communities

You should talk to local people that might be affected by your scheme before you apply. This can help you gain the support of local communities and can save you from doing extra work to address any issues that local people may have at a later stage in the process.

There are no specific requirements or standards for this consultation.

Consider talking to:

Apply for licences, consents and approvals

The Environment Agency will tell you which licences, consents or approvals you need for the scheme you plan to build.

When you apply, you need to send the Environment Agency different documents and assessments depending on the licences, consents or approvals you need.

You should apply for consents, licences or approvals at the same time as applying for planning permission. Many of the following documents you make for your application to the Environment Agency may also be needed when you apply for planning permission.

Apply for an abstraction or impoundment licence

Most hydropower schemes will need an abstraction licence or an impoundment licence. These are known as water resources licences.

Send the Environment Agency your:

  • completed hydroelectric power schemes application form (WR317)
  • completed water resources licence application forms - for abstraction licences complete the WR330 form and the WR332 form, for impoundment licences complete the WR334 form (read the WR330 form guidance, the WR332 form guidance and the WR334 form guidance before you fill out these forms)
  • hydrological assessment
  • environmental report with assessments of the impacts of your scheme on ecology, fish passage and Water Framework Directive objectives, including geomorphology and a weir pool assessment (only if the Environment Agency asks you for one)
  • fish screen design proposal or an explanation of why you are not proposing to include a fish screen in your scheme
  • site plan

The Environment Agency might ask you to provide additional information.

Apply for fish pass approval

You must get the Environment Agency to approve the design and size of any fish passes you propose to use, including eel passes.

Send the Environment Agency your:

Apply for an environmental permit for a flood risk activity

You must apply for an environmental permit for a flood risk activity if you plan to construct your scheme either:

  • in, over or under the channel of a main river
  • close to the bank of a main river

You need a permit for both permanent and temporary work. For example, you need an environmental permit for things like changes to an existing weir or installing cables or ducts above or below the river channel.

Some activities are exempt from needing an environmental permit. This means that you do not need a permit for these activities but you must still register the exemption with the Environment Agency.

Read a detailed description of these exempt activities and the conditions that apply so you can decide whether you will be eligible for an exemption for some parts of your works.

You must apply for a bespoke permit if your activities do not fit the conditions of the exemptions.

Before you apply for a bespoke environmental permit

You need to:

  • develop a management system (a written set of procedures that identify and minimise the flood, land drainage and environmental risks associated with the activity)
  • check whether you need to complete a risk assessment
  • follow relevant technical guidance and any advice the Environment Agency give you in any pre-application discussions
  • prepare plans and documents clearly describing your proposed activities, and any supporting information such as site surveys and method of work

If your scheme is not on a main river but is on a river or stream designated as an ordinary watercourse, you must apply to your lead local flood authority for consent. This is either your county council, unitary authority or internal drainage board.

How to apply for a permit

To apply for a bespoke permit for a flood risk activity you need to fill in these forms and send them to the Environment Agency:

You must apply for an environmental permit for each individual flood risk activity you’re doing that needs one.


You need to pay the Environment Agency:

  • £1,500 if your scheme needs an abstraction licence or an impoundment licence - if you need both licences you only pay for one
  • a fee for each application for a permit for a flood risk activity in accordance with the Environment Agency charges for environmental permits

You must pay these fees regardless of whether you get consent or not.

For some applications, the Environment Agency will need to advertise them in local media like newspapers. In this case you’ll need to pay the Environment Agency:

  • £500 if it’s an environmental permit application
  • a £100 application fee and the cost of the advertisements if it’s an abstraction or impoundment licence application

To pay, you can either:

  • send a cheque with your completed application form - make cheques payable to ‘the Environment Agency’
  • pay by Visa, MasterCard or Maestro card - please complete the required details in the form CC1 or tick the box asking us to call you to arrange payment

Contact the Environment Agency on 03708 506 506 (see call charges) if you’re unsure of the fees that would apply to your scheme.

Submit your application

Send your completed application forms, application fees and supporting documents to:

Permitting Support Centre
Quadrant 2
99 Parkway Avenue
Parkway Business Park
S9 4WF

Or email

The Environment Agency will check the proposals in your applications and your environmental assessments. It can take up to 4 months for you to get a decision.

Successful applications

The Environment Agency will give you conditions within which you must build and operate your scheme.

The Environment Agency will tell you:

  • the volumes of water that you can divert to your turbines and during what periods
  • the environmental protection and mitigation measures you must provide, like fish screens
  • how long your licences are valid for
  • the times of year when you will be allowed to work in the river
  • what information you must provide each year and, for some schemes, details of environmental monitoring after installation

The Environment Agency might visit your site during construction, before your scheme comes into operation and for periodic checks when its operating.

Precautions for fish passage

The Environment Agency may ask you to design your scheme so that additional water flow will be available for a fish pass even if you do not need to include a fish pass when you build your scheme.

This is because the Environment Agency might in future need to improve fish passage in the river as part of wider environmental programmes.

Record keeping

You must keep a record of evidence that proves you’re operating your scheme according to the conditions in your licence. The type of records you must keep will be specified in the licence. The Environment Agency can ask you for these details at any time.

You must submit these details in an annual report to the Environment Agency - your reporting requirements will be written in your licence.

You must show:

  • that your scheme does not abstract more than the maximum amounts agreed with the Environment Agency
  • that the hands off flow does not fall below the required level written in your licence (this is a technical specification that the Environment Agency agree with you before granting your licence)
  • the amount of water your scheme uses in cubic meters per hour
  • the amount of electricity your scheme generates

Checking for environmental impacts

The Environment Agency might ask you to do environmental monitoring to measure how your scheme changes the local environment when it’s in operation. These requirements will be included in your Environment Agency licence. You may need to stop operating your scheme if you fail these inspections.

The Environment Agency might ask you to:

  • record local ecological conditions, such as changes to fish populations and sensitive plants and ferns, over a number of years
  • change the way you run your scheme if the monitoring shows it’s causing environmental damage

If you’re refused a licence

The Environment Agency will write to you if they refuse to give you a licence for your scheme. You can appeal against this decision - details are given in the letter you receive.

Published 10 February 2016
Last updated 3 April 2018 + show all updates
  1. Updated fees section with what the Environment Agency will charge you when they need to advertise your application.
  2. Flood defence consents have been replaced by environmental permitting regulations for flood risk activities.
  3. First published.