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Environmental & Socio-Economic Challenges of Hydropower in Europe: the Experience of Non-Governmental Organisations

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On the 19th of January 2021, the HYDROPOWER EUROPE Forum organised a roundtable event inviting non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to discuss environmental & socio-economic challenges of hydropower in Europe.

The interaction between the Forum and regional players was essential to obtain a holistic view of the social acceptance of hydropower in Europe. About twenty organizations have alerted the Forum of unacceptable situations especially in the Western Balkans and they have shared a large number of recommendations with the team.

The roundtable event was divided into the following sessions:

  1. Geographical regions
  2. Ecosystems
  3. Fauna and biodiversity
  4. Geographical regions
  5. Environment & Society

Key takeaways

Hydropower plants in EU and EFTA countries must comply with the provisions of the Water Framework Directive and plant owners have to and are continuously investing in environmental mitigation measures. The topics and discussions arising from the roundtable were dominated by problems with some rogue and irresponsible hydropower development in non-EU countries of the Western Balkans where foreign investors profit from the absence of strict environmental legislation and lack of enforcement measures by authorities.

The raised issues concerned mainly small hydropower projects on not yet tapped rivers, especially in the Western Balkans, which are still in a good natural state and have vulnerable biodiversity. The witness of so-called hydropower “Bonanza”, ongoing in the Balkan area, was alarming and very harmful to the overall image of the EU hydropower sector, especially small hydropower, not only in Europe but also worldwide. Many small hydropower projects presented during the roundtable hadn’t been designed and built according to the high standards as used for hydropower in other European countries where plant owners have to comply with provisions of the Water Framework Directive to ensure that they are technically sound and safe, environmentally defendable and socio-economical beneficial. In many Balkan countries, the political and legislative framework does not request and enforce the highest standards and private investors are taking advantage of a kind of “Wild West” situation.

The feedback received will inspire the main documents being drafted by the project, namely the Research and Innovation Agenda and the Strategic Industry Roadmap. 

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