Planning permission has been granted for a micro hydro scheme on the River Don at Kelham Island in Sheffield, despite the fact that it will generate enough electricity to power just 20 homes per year, provided there is enough rainfall and the scheme is managed and operated with maximum efficiency. The scheme in Sheffield is not unique - many thousands of sites across the UK have been identified as 'suitable' for micro hydro development and they are being universally sold as a serious 'green' alternative, a key part of Britain's energy future and a lucrative 'community-based' investment that will help power the nation, paying sustainable dividends to those willing to part with their cash. This blog is a public resource designed to demonstrate the negative ecological impacts of 'low-head' or 'run-of-river' micro hydro schemes and asks why UK taxpayers are funding their development despite the fact that the evidence from the world over is that they do far more environmental damage than good.

Watch the film, 'Kelham Island Hydro', and ask whether what boils down to be a few kettles' worth of hydro-generated electricity is proportionate to the decimation of our little-understood and very fragile river ecosystems.

If you have problems viewing the film from here, please view on Vimeo or watch on Google where you can also download to your pc.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Hydro Guidelines Omnishambles

From SATA's website...

Angling and conservation groups have expressed alarm at the continued delay in properly regulating the use of hydropower turbines on English rivers despite admissions that the current guidelines for hydropower schemes were ‘not fit for purpose’ and risked long-term environmental damage to fish and other ecology.
At a meeting of on Thursday 11 July, the Environment Agency (EA) board failed to approve new Good Practice Guidelines for hydropower developments because of a lack of evidence provided by the EA executive team to support their recommendations that higher flow protection standards should be adopted. The Angling Trust, Atlantic Salmon Trust, Buglife, Fish Legal, Salmon & Trout Association and WWF have today demanded a moratorium on all new developments until the necessary evidence has been gathered to enable a decision to be taken to protect rivers from further damage.

This latest delay follows years of broken promises and delays with the process of developing the new guidelines. The meeting was expected to approve the executives’ recommendation to adopt new guidelines which would have reduced the amount of water that could be diverted from rivers into hydropower turbines. The proposed guidelines were supported by angling and fisheries NGOs who have attended more than 20 meetings to help draw them up. Their position was based on the best available evidence world-wide, including scores of scientific papers and a review of flow requirements commissioned by the Agency itself from a renowned expert in the field.

You can read the full article here.

Kelham Island Hydro Abandoned!

This is the official statement from Sheffield Renewables on the Kelham Island hydropower project:

Kelham Island has always been a small scheme and therefore difficult financially. Following on from what we have learned from Jordan Dam, we have further concerns about the viability of this scheme. We do not currently have the resource within the group to work through these, therefore we are concentrating our efforts elsewhere for the foreseeable future.

We do believe it has a great potential for outreach and as a celebration of Sheffield’s culture, whilst providing a small but significant contribution to energy demand in the city. Therefore, if any opportunities arise for us to partner with organisations to enable this scheme to happen, we would be very pleased to do so.

Needless to say this is fantastic news for those who opposed the scheme in Sheffield and I'm very grateful to all those who signed the petition. The planning consent will expire in Jan 2015 but I really can't see a way back for it now, and wish Sheffield Renewables all the best in their new ventures, creating genuinely green solutions such as Solar PV arrays for the city.

The lesson from both these abandoned schemes which at first seemed so 'eco-friendly' and profitable, must surely be that the small-scale, low-head, hydropower simply cannot work efficiently and cost-effectively for either man or the environment and we are far better off looking towards genuinely sustainable and 'green' means of energy generation.

Of course the questions about Sheffield's weirs remain. They still continue to pose a barrier to fish migration and cause significant problems for bio-diversity in their canalised upstream sections. Here's an exciting prospect from the Irwell Rivers Trust, although I don't anticipate anything quite so radical happening in Sheffield any time soon!

Keep an eye on the changing image where you can clearly see the immediate improvements to the upstream section which was like a mill-pond before the weir was removed. Great work by all involved!

There's also excellent news from The Wandle Trust that two weirs are being removed from the Hogsmill. See here and here.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Jordan Dam Dead in The Water

The sister project for the Kelham Island scheme will not be going ahead despite raising £200k+ from a community share offer. Why not? Because the developers couldn't afford the fish pass demanded by the Environment Agency. Instead Sheffield Renewables are going to focus on sensible energy schemes such as solar power, according to this report from the Sheffield Star. Great news for our city!

Thursday, 4 April 2013


Here's the trailer for a major new film about removal of huge dams on the Elwha in the US.

For the film-makers, 'Dam removal is no longer the work of a fictional Monkey Wrench Gang. It’s real, upon us, a cornerstone of the modern environmental and cultural movements. The benefits from dams, including hydropower, urban water supply, irrigation, and flood protection have played a critical role in the development of the United States, but river ecosystems and Native American heritage suffered greatly. Now, many of these antiquated relics of the industrial revolution are classified as public safety hazards by the Army Corps of Engineers.'

For more info take a look at the website of this brilliant project. DamNation.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The End of The River

A startling new European film about hydro has just been released. It contains interviews with Green Party MEPs who are calling for small scale hydropower to be abandoned because of the clear evidence of the environmental damage they have caused across the continent.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Slicing Up Our Fish For a Mere Drop of Hydropower

Here's a comment from Charles Clover in The Sunday Times, made back in November 2011, rightfully shocked at the 'fish kill allowance' of a hydro-scheme on the River Trent. In 'Slicing up our fish for a mere drop of hydropower', Clover says, 'one water power scheme on the Trent is allowed to kill 110 fish a day - including salmon and sea trout, of which the river has vanishingly few', and he goes on to say how 'fish-kill' limits are not enforceable in practice. Its worth noting that this particular scheme - Gunthorpe Weir - isn't actually in place yet although licences were granted in 2010 (this is the same scheme referenced in The Spectator article).

David Mann of hydro-consultancy firm, 'Mannpower', said this of permissible fish kills in a comment published on this blog in February 2012, 'I do understand your position and desire to alert people to the potential for problems to arise with hydro schemes, and along with others in the industry, were surprised that the EA issued a licence permitting a limited 'fish kill'. Strange that the leading hydro-consultancy firm in the country was unaware that EA had granted a licence which allows the killing of up to 10 salmon and sea-trout, or 100 coarse fish, brown trout, eels, and lampreys, per day, almost two years previously! Indeed one would hope that EA are working very closely with Mannpower in developing the long overdue Hydropower Good Practice Guidelines (which were due to be published at the beginning of 2012).

Clover's article concludes:

'History says that we once had to alter our rivers to grind flour. Superficially it seems reasonable to do it again to fight climate change. But England is a fairly flat country that isn’t very wet, so the potential gains from small-scale hydro are insignificant - a maximum of 0.5% of electricity demand - and the ecological costs are high. I have no doubt that a look at the costs and benefits would convince us to scrap subsidies for small­scale hydro, and put the money into solar instead.'

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Run of River Projects Are Killing Fish - Evidence from British Columbia

According to British Columbia's Wilderness Committee, run of river hydropower projects are having a deathly impact on fish populations.

The Mamquam River pours cold and fresh off the Coast Mountains, forming pools and canyons and chutes of white water on its way to the Squamish River and Howe Sound. It was a natural place for federal fisheries biologists to assemble on an August 2010 weekend for swift-water safety training. Like the river itself, however, their exercise took an expected turn. Rather than watch the Mamquam flow predictably to the sea, the biologists were dismayed to witness the water levels fluctuate wildly — and with dire consequences. Young steelhead were dying, stranded without water. The culprit? The Capital Power run-of-river hydro plant, located just upstream. 

The independent power industry bills itself as green, sustainable and environmentally responsible. But more than 3,000 pages of documents obtained separately by The Vancouver Sun and the Wilderness Committee through freedom of information requests show water-flow fluctuations caused by run-of-river hydro projects are killing fish — and the problem is not isolated. While independent power producers insist their sector remains the cleanest energy option, the documents bolster environmentalists’ long-standing concerns about the industry. “I’m seeing significant environmental problems,” said Gwen Barlee, policy director for the Wilderness Committee. “And that runs completely counter to what the companies are saying, which is essentially, ‘Trust us with your wild rivers and there won’t be any problems.’ ”

The full article can be read here. Of great concern is the synergy with UK plants such as the Settle hydro scheme. The companies have, according to the evidence, time and again breached the requirements of their licences but not been charged. And in tandem with our concerns about the depleted reach of the River Don and the likely impacts on the Kelham Island Goit, the main culprit of the damage being caused is the lack of proper control of the flow being taken from the river.

Julia Berardinucci, the south coast’s director of resource management for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations... said run-of-river projects represent an “emerging technology” operating in a “challenging landscape.”

So here again we have clear evidence of the negative environmental impacts of hydropower, but what are we learning from this here in the UK? Aren't companies like Sheffield Renewables being given consent to use the same 'emerging technology' to tinker with our poorly understood river ecosystems in the name of 'being green'?