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.

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'?

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Hydropower impacts exposed in award-winning Spectator article

At last some mainstream press about the negative impacts of hydro!

From the Spectator this week (1st September):

Why does hydroelectric power have such a friendly image compared to other forms of renewable energy? In this week’s magazine cover, our first ever Matt Ridley Prize winner Pippa Cuckson examines why hydroelectricity is not just bad for the taxpayer, but also bad for the environment. In our View from 22 podcast, Fraser Nelson discusses this hidden scandal: ‘The principle of hydroelectric power, which is great for mountains, does not apply to England’s green and pleasant lakes. But that hasn’t stopped the government subsidising this because they love the idea so much…every week three hydro-plants are being authorized which pretty much have the power of a candle. They require huge amounts of subsidy but most important of all, they harm the environment.’

You'll have to buy the magazine or subscribe on-line to read the article in full but there are more details from the Spectator here and there's a podcast you can download too. Here's a sneaky peek:

'As with wind and solar, so it seems it is with hydro power: a few rich get richer; everyone else gets poorer; property rights - in this case riparian rights - are trampled; time-honoured liberties are infringed; energy prices rise; and the environment, in the name of being saved, is needlessly damaged. But don't expect to be reading this any time soon on the British Hydropower Association's website.'

(image from The Spectator 1st September 2012, thanks to Glenn for the heads up on the article)

Friday, 17 August 2012

Fish Pass Clearance

SPRITE have posted a video of their massive efforts to clean up the fish pass on the River Don at Niagara Weir following a double spate.

'Only a few weeks after an exhausting effort to clear flood debris from the fish pass at Niagara weir on the River Don, another spate set things back to square one in July 2012. The local volunteers of the community group SPRITE set to work again and, along with their multiple additional works, become part of a long legacy of groups and heroic individuals from Yorkshire who have helped this post industrial river onto a fragile recovery path. It is significant that these works are going on at a time of great political pressure for widespread adoption of low-energy producing and ecologically damaging micro- hydropower schemes. These give a financial imperative to retain the impounding barriers in their entirety and also limit the efficacy of fish passes.'

Fish Pass Clearance by SPRITE from Paul Gaskell on Vimeo.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Screening and Cleaning

One of the issues raised in Kelham Island Hydro is the importance of adequate screening to prevent juvenile fish from entering the turbine channel from both up and downstream positions. The ideal size is just 3mm x 3mm. To give an idea of how difficult maintenance of such a screen can be, take a look at the before and after pictures below which show the accumulated debris caused by recent flooding at Niagara weir. The 'trash-screen' is at the upstream entrance to the fish-pass.



The screen in this case is intended to allow passage of fish and is therefore deliberately large, but if you imagine the amount of debris that will frequently accumulate on much smaller screens intended to stop fish passage, i.e. those that need to be installed on a hydro-power channel, then you can also imagine the levels of maintenance that will be required to ensure that adequate levels of water flow through and keep the turbine running at an optimum. Cost effective? No maintenance costs were factored into the published feasibility survey for Kelham Island.

The maintenance of Niagara fish-pass is undertaken by volunteers working for SPRITE and I'm hugely indebted to that organisation for providing these illuminating images. Keep up the brilliant work!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Protecting Freshwater Diversity - A Promo!

Interesting new short video emphasising just how important colonies of freshwater invertebrates are to the planet, how impoundments - e.g. weirs - affect them, and highlighting the fact that they form the most overlooked and least understood component of many of the aquatic ecosystems we think we already know. Its from the States so they've gone for cheesey blockbuster production, but the message is, nonetheless, clear:

(Thanks to PG)

Some very overdue updates, regarding invertebrates and their habitats closer to home, are coming soon!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Settle Hydro - EA evidence that fishery is affected

The EA investigations into complaints about the Settle hydro scheme have begun. The basis of the complaints are that the scheme is affecting fish migration, in particular Salmon, which are prevalent in the River Ribble on which the hydro station stands. From the Yorkshire Post article: Brian Shields, senior fisheries specialist for the Environment Agency, said: “ We believe there is sufficient evidence that fisheries have been affected for some form of action to be taken. “There is a whole range of options and in discussion with the operators we will have to find something that is workable and legally enforceable.” It seems the scheme isn't exactly living up to its 'environmental' plaudits after all and all for the sake of just 50 homes worth of electricity per year.

River Itchen Hydro Abandoned

Excellent work by the Salmon and Trout Association (SATA), working together with local fishery interests, has led to the withdrawal of a planning application by Eastleigh Borough Council to develop a 'run-of-river' or 'low-head' micro-hydro scheme on the River Itchen in Hampshire. It seems that the winning thrust of SATA's objections, led by leading environmental solicitor Guy Linley-Adams, was focussed around the scheme's incompatibility with the EU Habitat Directive. The River Itchen, a chalkstream, is designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) due to its Atlantic Salmon populations which use the river as a spawning ground, and in which juvenile fish develop before they embark upon their incredible journey into our oceans. The Itchen is also one of the most prestigious pleasure-fisheries in the UK, attracting fly-fishers from across the globe, and, consequently, it holds significant economic value to the county.

SATA CEO, Paul Knight, highlighted the impact the intended scheme would have on the hydrology of the river by 'slowing and deepening the water' above the proposed micro-hydro site. Locally, in Sheffield, this point has real synergy with the proposed development at Kelham Island and its an argument clearly illustrated by Dr Paul Gaskell in 'Kelham Island Hydro' when he discusses the ecological impacts of the perpetuation of the Kelham Island weir. As viewers will know, the channel upstream of any weir is 'impounded', which is bad news for the bio-diversity of hundreds of metres of river habitat. By and large run-of-river micro-hydro schemes need to preserve, or, even worse, resurrect, similar impoundments in order to generate power.

Sheffield's River Don, and rivers like it across the UK, do not have SAC status, despite the fact that Atlantic Salmon historically spawned at their headwaters and the fact that, year upon year, these remarkable fish continue their attempts to repopulate. These efforts have been devastated over centuries by man-made obstacles and pollution. As Chris Firth says in 'Kelham Island Hydro', 'those structures still impede the free movement of fish'. In Sheffield, the river's ecosystems are recovering after centuries of industrial degradation, and voluntary organisations like SPRITE and the Don Catchment Rivers Trust have been instrumental in cleaning up the waterway and improving its habitats, giving a significant helping hand to the re-establishment of natural wildlife orders; Sheffield is not alone in its incredible efforts - see, for example, the work of The Wandle Trust, a group who have, against inconceivable odds, revived the London River Wandle from its official classification as 'an open sewer' to the vibrant inner-city watercourse it is today.

But we cannot hope to attract the talents of a Guy Linley-Adams or to access fully any other resource of a major pressure group such as SATA to examine, campaign against, or object to every local proposal because groups such as SATA have finite resources which are spread over many other serious issues affecting their cause, and they prioritise duly. Instead our objections are local and voluntary and we must hope that the decision-makers, especially those within local authorities across Britain, will truly understand the basic tenets of a sound environmental argument and that they will acknowledge the example set by SATA in the case of the River Itchen and consider the evidence of the negative ecological impacts that are beginning to emerge from that flagship of micro-hydro tinkering on the River Ribble, Settle Hydro.

David Browse, Secretary of the Hampshire Salmon Trust said of the Itchen proposal, 'This hydropower scheme would have provided minimal energy generation compared to the potential impact on salmon and other aquatic species, and we felt we were being let down by the very people who should have been responsible for their protection.' Sound familiar? The full SATA article is here.

Friday, 20 April 2012

River Lamprey Radio

Fascinating BBC Nature documentary about these ancient little critters and the significance of conservation measures being taken. Unsurprisingly such measures include tackling barriers such as weirs in an effort to allow lampreys to migrate and spawn. Specific 'Lamprey passes' are being pioneered with some success but barriers coupled with persistently low river flows mean that life for the lamprey is still far from easy.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Where's Whalley?

A micro-hydropower scheme proposed for the Lancashire Calder at Whalley looks set to be rejected planning permission, despite having received a 'feasibility-survey' grant of £20k from the UK government. It would seem that anglers and others were instrumental in the successful objections, based on 'the impact of the scheme on the river environment and fish stock levels, noise from the generator and the risk of flooding', but in actuality the overarching swing-factor for the local Councillor was that the scheme would have a harmful 'visual impact'!

Full article here .

Thanks to JayZS

Saturday, 11 February 2012

European Commission study says 80% of rivers are adversely affected by human pressure

Changes to habitat and the chemical balance of water in our rivers - as a result of human development - are having an adverse effect on around 80% of European rivers and will get worse in the future says a new report from the EC. Those pressures include the development of hydropower on rivers. This indictment of the impact we're already having is surely a warning that must be heeded by developers and public officials, but is anyone really listening?

(Thanks to LR)

Thursday, 2 February 2012

'Salmon Fishing Harmed by Hydro Scheme' - River Ribble

Here's the latest example of the grave impact that micro-hydro schemes are having on our rivers. The scheme generates just 50 homes worth of electricity and the Settle Hydro company has breached its licence 238 times. Salmon Fishing Harmed by Hydro Scheme

Shocking stuff

Monday, 30 January 2012

Condit Dam 'removal' videos

Here's a couple of vids from the States showing the rationale behind the demolition of Condit Dam in Elwha Valley, replete with stunning footage of the moment of detonation. Although the Dam was an enormous obstruction to fish movement, fish have already started to re-colonise the river.  It doesn't take any great leap of imagination to transfer the thinking behind this ecologically-driven initiative to the thousands of obstructions that still exist on UK rivers.

Condit Dam Removal Explained from Andy Maser on Vimeo.

The Craziest Idea from Andy Maser on Vimeo.

Thanks to WS and PG

Monday, 16 January 2012

Kelham Island Hydro Given Go-Ahead

Sheffield City Council today approved the Kelham Island Hydro proposal with some significant mitigation conditions that willl need to be resolved before any development gets under way. The Environment Agency and ecologists were instrumental in ensuring these conditions were imposed.

The full document can be read here and the relevant info starts at page 5.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

High-head hydro scheme proposed for Pennines

A seemingly sensible scheme is being developed on Dove Stone reservoir. The difference between this and 'run-of-river' or 'low-head' schemes is that it capitalises on controlled releases from a man-made reservoir. Guardian piece is here