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.

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)