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RWE Innogy plans for HEP scheme near the Conwy Falls

Background

RWE Innogy UK has submitted proposals for a hydroelectric scheme on the River Conwy, near the Conwy Falls and Fairy Glen Woods SSSI. Our input is two-fold – we have submitted a comprehensive response to the planning application to Snowdonia National Park Authority. Secondly we are determining an application for abstraction and impoundment licences which the developers must have before they can build.

Update May 2016

The consultation period on the abstraction and impoundment licence application has now closed and we can no longer accept written comments on the application. Due to the complexity of the application and addition information provided to us by the developer (on our request) we don’t expect to make a decision on the licences until 29 July 2016. When we announce our decision we will also set out clearly the reasons behind this decision. We will contact all people who submitted a comment to inform them of our decision. A decision document will also be available on our website shortly after determination of the proposal. 

1. Abstraction and Impoundment licence

We asked for comments and representations on the permit application during November 2015. As part of this process we will carry out an in-depth assessment into the company’s proposals to find out if the water can be taken from the Conwy with minimal impact on the environment.

Each application of this type has to be considered on its own merits – our decision cannot be influenced by what other operators may have done in other areas.

If we conclude the company’s proposals to abstract the water will cause environmental damage which cannot be mitigated for, they may not be granted the abstraction and impoundment licences or may be offered licences with conditions which we consider to be protective of the environment. 

The steps we follow when deciding whether to grant or refuse a licence are defined by legal requirements. We are required to justify any decision within the confines of these legal limitations. Local opposition to a development is not, in itself, a reason for us to refuse an application. We can only consider evidence of impact on specific matters. We can't stray outside our legally defined remit. Our decisions must be based on evidence and only on matters within our remit.

In making our determination, we will consider all relevant information submitted to us. Amongst the issues we consider when reaching our decision are:

  • the environmental effects of the proposal and its impact on designated sites and habitats
  • the likely effect of the proposal on the protected water rights of existing licence holders and other lawful water users
  • the reasonable requirements of the applicant for water and its efficient use
  • the sustainability of the proposal and any effects on biodiversity

However, often we receive comments on matters which are beyond the remit of our determination. Among the issues we cannot consider are:

  • Noise
  • Dust
  • Transport
  • Future connections to the national grid
  • Cultural heritage
  • Construction impacts
  • Rights of way

These issues are beyond the scope of our determination process and many will be considered by the Planning Authority as part of its determination of the Planning Application.  

The applicant will also need further permits from NRW such as Flood Risk Activity Permits, Consent to Work in Rivers (Land Drainage Consent), and Formal Fish Pass Approval.

2. Our input into the planning process

We have submitted a comprehensive response to the planning authority covering many aspects of this proposal. These include the following

Flood risk – We initially objected to the development on this ground but altered our opinion after the developer altered its plans to lower the intake weir level.

Protected landscapes – We considered the effect from the Conwy Falls café and from the entrance to the Fairy Glen. As well as the aesthetic impact of reduced flow in the Conwy Falls. The evidence shows that, under the proposed abstraction, Conwy Falls would remain dramatic during high flow and spate conditions, and at other flow rates the falls and the gorge would retain their intrinsic natural qualities. A detailed landscape plan should be made a condition of any approval of the planning application and an environmental clerk of works should be appointed to oversee work on the planned temporary compound area at the Conwy Falls Café and near Fairy Glen.

Trees, bryophytes and lichens – Trees to be felled near the intake are of limited value with regard the SSSI features as they are not mature and do not host important bryophyte and lichen colonies. All other trees or groups of trees must be protected during construction.

At the powerhouse four mature trees and one semi-mature tree will need to be felled within the SSSI. These have been surveyed and no protected bryophytes or lichens would be harmed by this activity. Measures must be taken to protect surrounding tree roots from damage during construction. As compensation for the trees to be felled the developer will plant trees in an area measuring 1.2 hectares.

In-river works – removing boulders will not adversely harm the liverwort, Porella pinnata, which will quickly recolonize any areas disturbed during construction. Work cannot be carried out between 17 October – 15 May, during fish spawning season and to protect ova/fry.

Bats – No roosts are likely to be directly affected by the development.

Otters – measures must be taken to ensure any otters do not fall into construction holes and become trapped.

Environmental pollution - We have requested 11 conditions to ensure construction does not cause pollution.

Fish passage – must be maintained at all times, including for eels.

Screening – the intake must have a maximum 6 millimetre screen and the discharge a maximum 3 millimetre screen. The discharge pipe must be positioned so that it does not cause erosion and be positioned as close to the mean water level as possible.

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