According to the SNP MEP, Alyn Smith, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) imposes stricter rules than in England and Wales, preventing farmers and other rural business from installing green electricity schemes.
He is calling on Scottish ministers to relax the rules, so that it will be easier to get permission for small river schemes which generate less than five kilowatts, known as “pico-hydro”.
“It is frustrating that Sepa's interpretation of European Union legislation is currently discouraging development,” Smith said.
“Over-rigorous interpretation of the rules is hampering a sector which, with just a small adjustment, could grow and grow for the benefit of Scotland’s farmers, our environment and, of course, our renewables targets.”
People wanting to install a pico-hydro scheme have to pay the same charge - £588 - and meet the same regulatory demands as those wanting to install developments up to 50 times bigger, Smith alleged.
But south of the border, Sepa’s sister organisation, the Environment Agency, has said that very small schemes don’t have to go through the same process, prompting a flurry of new developments. Smith has written to the environment minister, Roseanna Cunningham, asking her to introduce a similar arrangement in Scotland “as soon as possible”.
He added: “If we really are to see Scotland achieve its renewable potential then it is paramount that we deliver as much help and support as possible from our side.”
Sepa, however, pointed out that even very small schemes can have a major impacts on the environment because of the loss of water flows, if they are not suitably designed and located. It will be consulting on guidelines in March.
“We recognise that it is important our charging scheme does not act as a disincentive for small-scale energy generation,” said Sepa’s hydropower specialist, Lin Bunten. Developers should be able to recoup the cost under a new government payment scheme, she argued.
Bunten added: “Sepa recognises the importance of supporting the development of renewable energy generation as a contribution to reducing global warming.”
The policy of the Scottish government is to support hydropower while minimising its environmental impacts. Schemes less than 100 kilowatts which can be shown to have no adverse impacts on the water environment “will be welcomed”, according to a government statement.