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Hydropower surge follows incentive scheme

The number of hydropower schemes has increased six-fold in the last two years as people cash in on government incentives for green energy.

The number of hydropower schemes has increased six-fold in the last two years as people cash in on government incentives for green energy.

The Environment Agency said it had granted 65 licences for small scale electricity projects in rivers and waterways last year, compared to 10 in 2008.

The surge in hydropower schemes comes in the wake of the introduction of Government's feed-in tariffs that pay fixed rates for electricity generated from small-scale renewables.

The Environment Agency said it was changing the application process to make it simpler, to help communities, developers and individuals who wanted to capitalise on the incentives introduced last April.

The agency insisted there would be no lowering of the standards of environmental protection given to rivers and habitats as a result of the changes.

While they produce clean electricity, hydropower schemes can have negative impacts on the environment, including altering river flows which can affect fish migration and habitats as well as introducing a risk of flooding.

Alongside the simpler application forms, which will be published on the Environment Agency website in February, teams from the agency will provide early advice to developers of hydropower schemes to help them produce sustainable projects.

Dr Paul Leinster, EA chief executive, said: "Hydropower is a reliable and proven technology and it is increasingly attractive to local communities, organisations and individuals.

"But poorly-designed schemes could have damaging impacts on the environment and increase risk of flooding. The Environment Agency is committed to getting the regulatory balance right - supporting the development of sustainable renewable energy by making it as easy as possible for organisations to apply for hydropower permits whilst ensuring that the environment is protected."

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne said hydropower would help the country meet renewable energy goals.

"It's vital that getting hydropower schemes up and running is as simple as possible.

"There's been a big rise in applications over the past two years and, with financial incentives, there'll be even more this year," he said.

There are around 350 schemes licensed in England and Wales by the Environment Agency, which estimates the number could rise to around 1,200 by 2020.

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