Communities are being urged to harness the energy in water to develop hydro power schemes in local woodlands owned by the Welsh Government.
The Welsh Government wants local groups to work with specialist companies to identify sites where community scale (less than 5MW) hydro schemes which use water to generate renewable electricity could be developed.
Forestry Commission Wales, which manages the Welsh Government's woodlands, opened the door to expressions of interest when it launched a hydro power project at the Snowdonia National Park Centre at Plas Tan-y-Bwlch, near Porthmadog, this week (Tuesday, 21 February).
Representatives of community groups, local authorities and commercial hydro-development companies heard of the potential benefits of hydro power in Welsh Government woodlands before visiting a scheme operating nearby on private land.
Environment and Sustainable Development Minister John Griffiths said generating renewable energy at a local level was one of the cornerstones for making low carbon energy a reality in Wales.
He said, "Hydro electricity generation is a proven technology and already makes a meaningful contribution to Wales's energy generation mix.
"The Welsh Government is committed to leading the way in shaping a truly sustainable future for our children by reducing our CO2 emissions and dependence on fossil fuels."
It's hoped the project will enable communities to reap the economic rewards of being involved in the development of high quality hydro schemes that are sensitive to environmental and social factors.
By harnessing the latest technology, sites that once used water to power our mining and textiles industries during the Industrial Revolution could once again become economic hubs, creating jobs and income on a community scale.
Forestry Commission Wales has already identified 14 potential hydro sites on the land it manages, but it believes many more schemes could be developed by including adjoining land as well.
It is working closely with the Energy Saving Trust, Environment Agency Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales to push the project forward.
The Commission is also talking to Ynni'r Fro - a European funded Community Renewables Project sponsored by the Welsh Government - to ensure that community groups can access technical and financial support to develop hydro projects.
Costs and revenues of hydro schemes can vary hugely from one site to another, but a typical good quality "highhead" 100kW scheme could provide renewable electricity for between 15 and 20 households a year and pay for itself in seven to ten years - using income from the UK Government Feed-in-Tariff (FiT).
The amount of electricity a scheme can generate is determined by how much water can be taken from the river without damaging species or habitat biodiversity, or the needs of other users. This limit is set by Environment Agency Wales.
A well-designed scheme can have minimal visible impact in the landscape, with a buried pipe carrying water from the river to a turbine house which is connected to a generator taking power to the grid via over-ground cables.
Antony Wallis, head of the Forestry Commission Wales hydro team, said, "This is another way in which our woodlands can contribute to the Welsh Government's renewable energy policies.
"This project aims to bring about good quality hydro power projects which can help us to build a more sustainable future while offering meaningful community benefits."
Communities and developers will be encouraged to work together to submit a simple expression of interest, identifying sites on a map which Forestry Commission Wales will check for suitability. A full proposal will then be scored against technical, financial and social criteria.
Once an application has been approved, Forestry Commission Wales will enter into an exclusive Option Agreement for the site. The applicant will then apply for operating licences from Environment Agency Wales and to the local authority for planning consent.
Once these are granted, the Option Agreement will transfer into a long-term operating lease.
A total of 14.3 per cent of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Government.
Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Government's department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf.
For more information on the hydro renewable energy project, contact Sue Ansell on 07506 694697 or email email@example.com
More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on www.forestry.gov.uk/wales