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How much hydropower is ecologically sustainable ?

Oct 04, 2021 / Veronika Hribernik, CIPRA International
Renovate power plants instead of building new ones, preserve the last freshwater pearls, coordinate use and protection across countries: CIPRA has published a position paper with detailed technical demands on the use of hydropower in the Alps.
Image caption:
An Alpine freshwater pearl: the wild Areua stream, spared from hydroelectric power projects, flows through the remote high valley of Curciusa in Graubünden/CH © Eduardo Soteras

There are currently around 21,000 hydropower plants in operation in Europe, 300 under construction and over 8,500 at the planning stage. In many places, climate change and its imponderables such as extreme floods are to be countered with more dams and walls, although river widening, for example, would be ecologically more sensible. The issue should not be treated in black and white, says Kaspar Schuler, Executive Director of CIPRA International. “In the position paper, we provide a differentiated list of the conditions that politics and business have to consider. The document also brings together numerous requirements from the protocols of the Alpine Convention as well as recommendations from various experts, because only an energy turnaround, implemented in a considered manner, is environmentally compatible and ecologically sustainable in the long term”.

Five demands

The hydropower position paper contains five concerns that must be addressed before new hydropower plants are built:

1. Politicians and industry should plan well ahead in order to save as much energy as possible in advance instead of producing and marketing more and more kilowatt hours.

2. Existing hydropower plants must be renovated and superfluous power plants removed before new ones are built. The last freshwater pearls must be protected at all costs. These represent the last intact rivers and river sections and the mountain streams that have not been sacrificed to energy production.

4. So-called “small hydropower” is only useful for local needs in isolated locations. It does not belong in regional or national energy planning.

5. It is important to expand knowledge and cooperation on hydropower utilisation and water protection across national borders, because Alpine rivers know no borders either.

The position paper on hydropower use also contains detailed explanations of the demands and a wide range of background information.


Sources and further information: (en)