The plans to construct a major port in Vienna with a barrage, lockage and a power plant date back to 1900. The first "Danube Framework Plan" from 1917 provided for nine barrages on the Austrian Danube and one barrage in Vienna. By 1984, eight Danube power plants had been constructed in Austria. The protests in Hainburg in December 1984 did, however, result in a major rethink on the power plant projects.
Following the first drafts in 1985, Österreichische Donaukraftwerke AG organised a two-year competition entitled "Opportunities for the Danube Region Vienna". In addition to the competition for the civil engineers, a further competition was organised for students, graduates and experts in other disciplines together with a competition inviting ideas from the people of Vienna. At the end of the first competition phase, plans were drawn up to construct a barrage on the Danube in Vienna. The second competition phase was won by a project from TEAM 3C with the architect Albert Wimmer, the hydraulic engineer Herwig Schwarz and the landscape planners Gottfried and Anton Hansjakob. The plans for the information centre are the brainchild of architect Laszlo Krismanicz from Baden.
Due to its location on the outskirts of the city of Vienna, a great deal of importance was attached to the design of the power plant. Vienna city council proposed that the quietest part of the power plant, i.e. the weir system, be located at the Danube island with access for pedestrians and cyclists but not for motor vehicles.
At the end of 1988, Österreichische Donaukraftwerke AG submitted the project to the highest water authority, the Federal Ministry for Agriculture and Forestry. Parallel to this, an environmental impact declaration was drawn up. This formed the basis for the positive environmental assessments in accordance with the Austrian Water Law Act in January 1991. The City of Vienna and Österreichische Donaukraftwerke AG then provided the public with wide-ranging information on the planned power plant project. In a referendum held in May 1991, the people of Vienna voted in favour of the power plant. The negotiations with the water authorities, which involved more than 40,000 parties, took place in May and June 1991. The process was completed on 31 July 1991 on receipt of basic authorisation from the water authorities. In addition, a range of federal and regional procedures had to be carried out and approximately 500 environmental requirements had to be met.
The construction work was carried out from 1992 to 1998. Flood control and shipping continued without interruption for the full duration of the construction period. In Construction Phase I, which lasted from October 1992 – June 1995 (Construction Phase I a from October 1992 to September 1993, Construction Phase I b from October 1993 to June 1995), the south lock chamber and the weir system were constructed in their own foundation pits and a bay was created at the Danube island for the weir system. Following the construction of the excavation pit for the weir on the left bank, the navigation channel was moved from the left side of the river to midstream. From the beginning of Construction Phase II in July 1995, vessels passed through the new south lock chamber and water was discharged via the weir system. The excavation pit for the construction of the power house, the north lock chamber, the filling and emptying facility, the power plant island and the operations building was located midstream.
On 22 October, the Slovak pusher train "Dumbier" drifted into the weir system of the power plant. Eight seamen died, only one survived the accident. The vessel was finally salvaged in spring 1997.
The power house was designed to accommodate seven machine units but the total number was reduced to six and an assembly site was located in the seventh pier. In March 1996, partial damming was implemented and the water level of the Danube was raised by approximately 6 metres. After full damming in November 1997, the water level was raised to 8.3 metres. Construction Phase II, and hence the construction of the power plant, was completed in February 1998. The power plant has been fully operational since April 1998 .
The construction of the power plant required the implementation of a wide range of measures in the surrounding area as well as in the 28-km long reservoir. The entrance to Freudenau harbour was moved 40 metres to the south, as was the separating dam between the Danube, the harbour and the south bank of the offshore terminal. The support structures of Nordbahnbrücke, Ostbahnbrücke and Praterbrücke were raised to guarantee a clearance height of eight metres for the shipping vessels. The work in the surrounding area of the power plant, which initially involved the sealing of the existing flood protection dam, commenced in autumn 1994 on the right-hand Danube dam between the main structure and the weir system at Nussdorf. The left bank of the Danube along the entire Danube island was developed in line with the ecological requirements. Sealing measures in accordance with the ecological requirements were only carried out at the biotope "Toter Grund" and to protect the facilities at Donaustadt power plant. In Lower Austria, ecological improvement measures were carried out on the right bank of the Danube. A drainage line and a pump station were constructed on the left bank of the Danube.
A matrix plant, with a total capacity of 5 MW, was erected in the lock between 1997 and 2000. Following the certification of the Salzach power plant, the power plants Ybbs-Persenbeug and Freudenau were certified in accordance with the "Renewable Energy Certificate System" (RECS) in 2002. The generators were replaced in 2006/07. Since 8 January 2007, control station Freudenau has functioned as the central control station for all of the Danube power plants.