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, 29 December 2011

Elwha Dam Removal

Here's an amazing project to remove two HEP dams on the Elwha River in North America which will restore a blocked valley to its former wilderness. The project will cost $325 million and began in September 2011. The Seattle Times has full, fascinating coverage on a dedicated project page here.

Here's a quick look at how they're planning to restore the ecology:

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Hydro Good Practice Consultation

The EA and Climate East Midlands, a central government funded organisation with responsibility for coordinating the area's local councils and other bodies in tackling climate change, have commissioned AMEC, a major engineering firm, to write 'Planning for Hydropower: A good practice guide'.

It seems very curious that public funds should be paying a private company for such a document that will, in effect, inform private developers on how to get a smoother ride for their projects through the planning permission process. Even more curious given that the EA, less than two years ago, had already written their own 'Good Practice Guidelines to the Environment Agency Hydropower Handbook' which covers the ecological impacts of schemes and, getting really weird now, the EA are due to publish their own new guidelines, 'Good Practice Guidance for small-scale and micro-scale hydropower' in early 2012! Might a multinational construction firm have been paid from the public purse simply to position themselves perfectly to cash in on the UK's present and ill-informed love of all things micro-hydro? Surely not...

The document is presently in draft and can be read here. Comments should be sent to alex.melling@amec.com or in writing to Alex Melling, AMEC, 155 Aztec West, Park Avenue, Almondsbury, Bristol, BS32 4UB. The deadline for comments is 13th Jan 11.

Thanks to RW

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Millhouses Park Fish Pass

Recently hatched just over the road from me is an imaginative way to put a derelict watercourse into sensible eco-use.

An old Victorian lido, for decades unmanaged and unloved, has been transformed into a 'fish-pass' thanks to a partnership between The Friends of Millhouses Park and The Environment Agency. A fish-pass is a man-made conduit which allows fish to travel upstream to their natural spawning grounds where significant barriers - mostly man-made weirs - have prevented them from doing so in the past.  In theory a fish-pass creates vital opportunities for fish to move above these obstacles and a major measure of their success is an increase in the river's fish population and, as a result, increased numbers of predator populations (birds and mammals) which depend on them for food. This contributes greatly to good bio-diversity.

The pass at Millhouses is designed to allow the main native fish species,  Brown Trout, to bypass the significant barrier - a long weir with a medium gradient - as well as creating new habitat for our endangered, native, white-clawed crayfish which is under threat from its American cousin.

Slightly spooky to think your dog is at risk of a nip from one of these beautiful creatures

but more worrying to think they might, without real concrete action, be wiped out by their American counterparts!

The EA have a short promo video for the fish pass on their website here. The BBC commented on it here. I know of two 'tagged' fish below the weir in September 2011 and it'll be very interesting to find out in March 2012 whether the same fish have managed to navigate the pass.

Here's a very rough video I made this morning of the pass area with my pocket camera (the river is in reasonable but late form)

Millhouses Park Fish Pass 23rd December 2011 from Waterfeature on Vimeo.