Dilemmas

Micro hydropower plants in mountains          


Model stories micro hydropower plants in mountains

Micro hydropower plants in mountains

The government has made a decision to support renewable energy, and in particular to stimulate the production of electricity by encouraging the construction of several hundred micro hydropower plants (MHPs) in mountainous regions. The relatively high feed-in tariff (the price of alternative energy per unit guaranteed by the state to the owners of small, mini and micro hydropower plants), compared to the price of the electricity supplied to consumers in Ukraine, is considered to be an effective incentive for businesses. However, the lack of clear environmental criteria for determining the location of MHPs has placed the unique ecosystems of the Ukrainian mountains under threat and prompted a public outcry. Environmentalists and activists have launched a campaign to protect nature in the mountains. The campaign is supported by local residents and representatives of the tourism industry, since the uncontrolled development of MHPs poses a threat to the area’s recreational potential.

Negative

Conflicting interests
  • Small hydropower contributes less than 1 percent of the electricity produced in Ukraine, which does not justify the harm caused to the environment. At the same time, the implementation of MHP projects involves violations of many laws in Ukraine and of several international conventions, as well as contradicting the principles of renewable, environmentally friendly energy.
  • The majority of submitted projects for small hydropower plants in the mountains involve the construction of diversion-type hydropower plants on headwaters. In these hydropower plants, river water is channelled through a pipe and transported over a certain distance (up to several kilometres), and then supplied to the turbine for electricity generation. The water is then returned to the river. The diversion of (often all) water from the river causes a range of environmental problems, including: a) the destruction of stable ecosystems in the headwaters of small rivers, which has a negative impact on the large rivers to which they are tributaries; b) the disappearance of some species of fauna, including species listed in the Red Book; c) the increased risk of landslides and erosion; d) a fall in groundwater levels; and e) negative impacts on landscapes.
  • Tourism and recreation are among the main sources of income for the inhabitants of mountainous region. A network of diversion-type MHPs or MHPs with dams will negatively affect the attractiveness of the region for tourists, while certain types of tourism (e.g. rafting) may disappear completely.
  • The local population will not be given preferential tariffs for electricity, thus only the owner of the MHP will benefit from the feed-in tariff. Outcomes for the local population include the loss of part of their own incomes due to a reduction in the number of tourists; and an increased risk of flooding from the mountain reservoirs above their homes.
Positive

Possible solutions
  • Introduce a moratorium on the construction of MHPs, or on the approval of MHP projects, until regulations are established in accordance with current Ukrainian, European and international legislation.
  • Review the criteria for the provision of a feed-in tariff for MHPs, bearing in mind that they do not fully comply with the principles of environmentally clean energy.
  • Adopt clear environmental criteria for determining sites for MHP construction — that is, excluding sites in the nature reserve fund and the habitats of rare species, for example.
  • Prioritise the exploitation of existing hydro-technical facilities, and construct the majority of MHPs on the middle and lower stretches of rivers, where, in most cases, landscapes have already been affected by anthropogenic activities and ecosystems have already been disrupted.
  • Plan hydropower use on rivers taking into consideration plans for social and economic development, and in such a way as to prevent damaging the area’s recreational potential.
  • Ensure public participation in decision making on the construction of MHPs, and carry out independent project assessments.
  • Ensure that small hydropower in mountainous regions also serves a social purpose — that is, that the electricity generated by these facilities is provided to the local population at a discounted price.

Varying viewpoints


Tourists and tourism organisations
Representatives of the tourism industry consider that MHPs in the Ukrainian Carpathians in their current form not only threaten sustainable and active tourism, but can also make some forms of tourism impossible (kayaking, canoeing and rafting).

Local authorities
Local, district and village councils earlier issued permits for MHPs. Later, following pressure from communities and public activists, they started imposing moratoriums on construction.

Business sector
Developers and investors are lobbying for the construction of MHPs and insisting on their significance and environmental safety. They are trying to reach an agreement with communities and are waging information wars with environmentalists.

Citizens
Members of the local population do not always have sufficient information and yet attempt to protect community interests. Communities are keen to preserve the natural condition of the rivers as a component of the development of the most promising tourism industry in the region, as well as to preserve traditional management practices.

Environmentalists
Environmentalists and public activists insist that MHP projects must be lawful, implemented with the appropriate permits, and preceded by actual, rather than formal, public hearings. Projects must not cause harm to the environment. They demand that the construction of MHPs be prohibited on particularly valuable stretches of a river.