For many years hydro opponents have gathered and distributed extensive information about the detrimental effects of hydroelectricity. Now the hydro industry has realised it needs to put accurate and balanced information in the public arena about the value of this renewable energy resource. Gary W Frey and Deborah Linke report

MANY of those in the electric industry know there is a need for accurate, balanced information about the value of hydroelectric power as a clean, reliable energy source for the twenty-first century. Opponents of hydro power development have created and published volumes of information, often critical of the resource. But what are the facts? Knowledgeable, objective people realise that any source of energy, even renewable energy, has a consequence; either technical, environmental or social/economic in nature. Hydro power is no different to any other renewable; only its consequences are different.

The Implementing Agreement on Hydropower Technologies and Programmes of the international-energy-agency (IEA), has recognised the need for balanced information and has recently implemented a programme on public awareness of hydro power. This initiative is designed to develop and bring to the public debate balanced information on a wide array of topics associated with hydro power.

Phase II of the Implementing Agreement on hydro power began in May 2000 and the executive committee has adopted public awareness as a strategic initiative. A strategic awareness annex has been created and is moving forward in developing and implementing public awareness of hydro power. The challenges to creating a public awareness network are significant. To meet those challenges participants have established four objectives.

1) Accurate information

Information developed must be accurate and defensible regarding the value of hydro power in the global energy picture. In general, the intent is not to persuade decision-makers but rather to demonstrate the value of hydro. Practitioners know that there are both positive and negative aspects to the technology. The key is to develop balanced information so that decision-makers (who must address all sides of an energy issue) have appropriate, objective information on which to base their decisions.

2) Global network

Hydro power is a global energy technology. While industrial nations have developed as much as 65% of their potential, many emerging nations have only brought 10% or less of their potential on line. In this new age of communication where information is just a click away, a global network on hydro power is a significant way of improving awareness.

Virtually every nation has access to the internet. Consequently, a global internet-based network represents the most efficient way to distribute information. Although still under design, the Implementing Agreement’s network will focus on identifying industry experts with appropriate skills and capabilities.

3) Co-ordination

Co-ordination among key interest groups will be necessary if the public awareness initiative is to be successful. The Implementing Agreement has sought to bring together some of the key participants in the global hydro power industry. A co-operative effort between IEA, the international-hydropower-association, the Canadian Hydropower Association and the international-commission-on-large-dams led to the development of a white paper in November 2000. The public awareness initiative sees opportunities for even more effective inter- organisational activities to tell the hydro power story.

4) Pro-active

The final objective for the Annex is being able to respond to emerging issues regarding hydro power.

Designing a public awareness initiative presents a broad array of challenges. How do you assure that your information is balanced? What areas of awareness do you concentrate on? How do you reach your intended audiences?

At its first workshop in Seattle, Washington, US, the annex identified four broad areas that it would initially concentrate on. These include education, the environment and social issues, engineering, and economics. The earliest products will be developed around these programme areas.

The final plan is still under development and a second workshop is scheduled for 27-28 March 2001 in Valencia, Spain. Initial study areas will concentrate on developing the actual public awareness network.

A second initiative will address environmental and social issues, with particular emphasis on the claims that hydro power-based reservoirs are significant contributors to global greenhouse gases. An assessment of environmental economic methods, including a life-cycle analysis of hydro compared to other forms of energy, will also be conducted.

The outcome of these studies is yet to be determined. Some likely ones include an enhanced website and other items in various forms of multi-media. A database of international hydro power experts is also being considered. At this point in the design of the annex other ideas are likely to emerge.

The Hydropower Agreement recognises that the success of the public awareness initiative depends on the degree of co-ordination, co-operation and interaction it receives from other components of the hydro power community. Organisations and individuals are encouraged to participate and offer their thoughts.