British Waterways, which manages a 2,200-mile network of canals, rivers, docks and reservoirs, has signed a £120 million deal with The Small Hydro Company to develop the installations.

Ed Miliband, energy and climate change secretary, said: “By committing to build small hydro power stations and wind turbines, British Waterways is playing an important role in generating renewable energy from the UK’s natural resources.

“This will help cut carbon emissions and further secure energy supplies.”

British Waterways says the partnership, announced last Wednesday (March 11), will generate some 210,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy a year and save 110,000 tonnes annually of CO2.

It estimates the project will create 150 construction jobs, boost waterway biodiversity and ease flood problems for surrounding communities.

The process of winning planning permission for the first five schemes will begin later this month with sites understood to be alongside weirs and dams on the Trent in the MIdlands and the Aire, Ouse and Don in Yorkshire. Other scheme sites may include the Severn and Trent rivers.

The first of the 25 hydro-electric schemes will be generating renewable electricity by 2010, it is hoped.

Hilary Benn, environment secretary said: “Britain’s waterways were the arteries of our economy, providing transport and power.

“This scheme shows how with ingenuity and innovation they can once again deliver real economic, social, and environmental benefits, especially in tackling and adapting to climate change.”

The project is to be funded over three years by Climate Change Capital, a £1.1 billion renewable energy investment fund.

Passages for fish are to be built into the schemes, where needed, it is understood.

The project follows British Waterways’ announcement last October (2008) of plans to install wind turbines on canal-side land over the next five years with an annual generating capacity of 219,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy.

Income from both initiatives will go to maintaining the country’s waterways.

Mr Miliband says from next year the government will introduce a “feed-in tariff” for small-scale renewables to reward projects such as hydroelectric schemes with cash payments.

Some 40% of the UK’s renewable electricity comes from hydropower but few large schemes have been built since the 1980s.

David Gibbs

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