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Experts opinion: What can local communities expect from hydropower?

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A series of articles presents experts opinion on the current issues of the hydropower sector. To begin with, HYDROPOWER EUROPE introduces you to the topic of involvement of the local communities. No one doubts hydropower's green credentials, but to gain acceptance it must bring direct benefits for local people. Prof. Dr. Anton J. SCHLEISS and Dr. Jean-Jacques FRY bring the light into the benefits and disadvantages of hydropower for the local communities.


Hydropower development plays an increasing role of mitigation of global warming impacts, thanks to water availability, drought and flood control or conservation of freshwater habitats which provide resources and useful services to local communities, Jean-Jacques argues. The increase of the existing storage as well as the construction of new reservoirs ensures high flexibility which is not only required for safe electricity supply in Europe but it also the mitigates locally the effects of climate change as droughts and floods, Anton adds.


Why is hydropower advantageous for us?

Hydropower is unique amongst other renewables as besides electricity generation, providing positive externalities for local communities like additional social-economic benefits such as flood and drought protection, water supply, irrigation, navigation, river crossing, recreation, etc.

A large number of reservoirs operators have experience in managing water in a multi-purpose way. Benefits for the local communities provided by multipurpose reservoir can improve public acceptance to a new hydroelectric project. Involvement of these local communities is the primary condition for the deployment of hydropower. Dams boost regional development creating jobs and providing non-electricity related facilities such as transportation infrastructures and leisure attractions, etc.

Hydropower schemes can provide funds to preserve cultural heritage and reservoirs provide good sightseeing and tourism attraction.


What are the possible disadvantages?

As a major weakness, Jean-Jacques sees that there is not enough communication between stakeholders and description of non-electricity values of hydropower for the public in the times when the development of hydropower is stopped and movement of dam removal is getting stronger. Hydropower is perceived only as an industry or business and not as a service to the community without evaluation and recognition of its benefits.

Public and government are taking additional benefits of hydropower for free without a clear allocation of cost and benefit or without any additional incentive for hydropower plants owners. On the contrary, incentives from governments are getting lesser and it is difficult to rely only on electricity sales. For example, in Estonia, a number of small hydropower plants were decommissioned due to high environmental requirements.

A multipurpose reservoir may have an impact on profitability and results in more expensive energy production. Hydropower, not strictly responsible for water use, has to share its assets with all the stakeholders and cannot optimize the use of reservoir for power generation. This situation may induce conflict of interest between stakeholders and in some cases to lead to maximal demands.


About the authors

With more than 40 years of experience, Prof. Dr. Anton J. SCHLEISS is regularly involved as a consultant and expert in large water infrastructures projects including hydropower and dams all over the world. 

Worked for 37 years for one of Europe's largest hydropower utilities, EDF, Dr. Jean-Jacques FRY has participated in numerous studies of hydroelectric projects with expertise mainly in structures and more particularly dams and geotechnical problems of structures.

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