Home owners with streams or rivers running through their gardens are to be encouraged to build controversial hydropower turbines to generate their own electricity by the government which is to cut red tape that can block such developments.
Ministers want to make it easier for communities and landowners to build water wheels and other types of small scale hydropower generators in rivers and streams around the country.
They believe it will be possible to power more than a million homes by harnessing the energy from rivers with small hydropower projects and will this week announce plans to remove some of the regulations that can lead to such schemes being rejected.
But the plans have angered national fishing organisations and countryside campaigners.
They claim that hydropower turbines can have devastating impacts on migrating fish such as trout and salmon, which must swim upstream to breed, while the schemes can become eyesores in some of the most beautiful parts of the country.
Greg Barker, the climate change minister, said he wanted to encourage local communities and even individual home owners to use hydropower as a form of microgeneration that could feed extra electricity into the national grid.
He said: “I have wanted to drive the decentralised energy agenda. There are a whole range of exciting technologies that can be deployed.
“Micro-hydropower is one of the oldest forms of energy available. If you go back 200 years Britain was packed full of water mills to harness the power of our rivers and streams as it was the primary energy source of our industrial revolution.
“Far from spoiling the landscape, some of the community projects I have seen involve restoring old water mills and water courses.
“My preference is for lots of community or even consumer based projects, as there are lots of people who have streams at the bottom of their gardens.”
Currently there are around 350 hydropower schemes licensed in England and Wales with around 100 qualifying as microgeneration schemes, producing around 1.5 per cent of the country’s renewable energy.
To build a microgeneration hydropower generator, the project must first be approved under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme and many are rejected for not meeting certain standards that allow them to benefit from green energy subsidies and tariffs for feeding power into the national grid.
Mr Barker said the Government intended to remove the requirement for hydropower schemes to obtain a microgeneration certificate in an attempt to make it easier for such projects to go ahead.
It comes as the Government prepares to publish its Microgeneration Strategy that is aimed at increasing the number of small wind turbines and solar panels being built by home owners.
Micro wind turbines have been heavily criticised because they produce little electricity in built up areas.
Mr Barker said he felt hydropower was different from other forms of energy and had the potential to make a significant contribution to the country’s energy supplies.
The Environment Agency will still be required to regulate any proposed hydropower projects and grant them licenses, but it recently simplified its own application process.
The Agency last year released a report stating there was potential to build more than 26,000 hydropower turbines around the country and in 2010 saw a six fold increase in the number of licenses it granted for such schemes compared to two years earlier.
The plans to relax the regulations around hydropower, however, have met with strong opposition from fishing organisations.
Mark Lloyd, chief executive of the Angling Trust said: “The current level of regulation is inadequate to avoid damage to fish as it is, so if they want to make it easier to put these things in, then it is extremely unwelcome news.
“The feed in tariff for micro-hydropower should be abolished as it is a bad use of public funds as these schemes make a minimal contribution to tackling climate change and cause a lot of damage in the process.”
An Environment Agency spokesman said: “We recently simplified our own application process for hydropower schemes. Renewable energy will help meet the country’s carbon reduction targets and the Environment Agency will continue to support hydropower, while ensuring that wildlife is protected.”