Andrew Scanlon reports on the Sustainability Guidelines and Compliance Protocol developed by the International Hydropower Association (IHA) to help highlight the valuable and sustainable benefits of hydroelectric power
Social problems, particularly relating to project-affected people (failed benefit-sharing, unsatisfactory resettlement, disrupted riparian activities, etc) and a range of environmental issues associated with some hydro power developments have been highlighted in recent years. Lobbying by international NGO groups such as the International Rivers Network have been successful in focusing attention on negative impacts. The valuable and sustainable benefits of hydro however have had little attention. Furthermore, the policy arena is scarcely aware of the commitment of the hydro power profession to follow good practice, to continuously improve and to embrace the challenges of sustainable development.
With the recent focus on negative aspects, it became clear to the international-hydropower-association (IHA) that a practical, hydro-specific mechanism was needed to demonstrate good practice. To meet this need, between 2001 and 2003 the IHA developed a set of Sustainability Guidelines and drafted a Compliance Protocol. In November 2003, the guidelines were adopted by the IHA membership, which spans 82 countries.
The Compliance Protocol, now in its consultative stage, is intended as a tool not just for the profession; its applicability for the objective evaluation of hydro extends to all who seek to demonstrate that schemes are well planned and well managed. This tool therefore offers a mechanism by which investment/reputation risk is reduced and responsible actions might be rewarded.
Sustainable energy systems
In Johannesburg, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD, 2002) stipulated in its Implementation Plan that hydro power of all scales should be included in the drive to increase the contribution of renewable energy throughout the world. Done well, hydro can be a cornerstone of sustainable energy systems as it:
• Allows greater utilisation of other renewable energy options.
• Is reliable, flexible and efficient.
• Does not consume finite resources.
• Has a high energy payback ratio.
• Produces only low levels of Greenhouse Gas emissions.
• Has long-lasting infrastructure.
• Often provides multiple use benefits, including water supply and flood mitigation.
Environmental issues need to be well managed, with benefits enhanced and impacts avoided, mitigated or compensated. Directly affected people also need to be treated equitably and share in benefits.
World Commission on Dams
The World Commission on Dams (WCD) published its final report in November 2000. The report concluded that water infrastructure projects, including hydro schemes, had ‘too often’ been developed at an environmentally or socially unacceptable cost. This WCD process has put the spotlight on the hydro power and the dam-building industries. There is disagreement on aspects of the detailed recommendations in the WCD report but members of the industry can agree with the Core Values and Strategic Priorities referenced in the report. The Core Values are equity, efficiency, participatory decision-making, sustainability, and accountability.
IHA Sustainability Guidelines
In a world increasingly concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, there are good economic and market incentives to have hydropower accepted as ‘green’ and sustainable. The IHA Sustainability Guidelines and associated Compliance Protocol provide a framework for good practice which is in accordance with the WCD Core Values.
Sustainable hydro power is achieved by developers and operators giving due consideration to the related social, environmental and economic aspects at all life-cycle stages of a hydro scheme. The inter-relationships and mutual dependencies of the social, environmental and economic aspects need to be recognised at an early stage. There are good economic reasons to manage social and environmental aspects up front. The initial outlay can avoid potentially much greater long-term outlays to address problems reactively. It would be far smarter economically to design a multi-level offtake structure for a reservoir prone to stratification and releases of de-oxygenated water, than to later try to retrofit one.
The Sustainability Guidelines set out basic principles that promote greater consideration of social responsibility, economic development and environmental protection. These span six elements – policy framework, the role of governments, decision-making processes, environmental aspects of sustainability, social aspects of sustainability and economic aspects of sustainability.
IHA Policy and Role of Governments
The first two elements outline the need for a commitment to sustainable development, good governance, eco-efficiency, and life-cycle analysis of alternative energy options. They highlight the need for hydro development to occur within national energy policies informed by strategic assessment processes.
Decision Making Processes
The section on decision making processes outlines key criteria when considering alternative energy supply options:
• Demonstrable need, evaluated against supplyside and demand-side efficiency measures.
• Resource depletion.
• Energy payback ratio.
• Economic viability over the life of the facility.
• Availability and cost of resources over the projected life of the facility.
• Appropriateness of the technology, levels of efficiency and service required.
• Additional or multiple use benefits.
• Poverty reduction through flow on benefits to local communities via employment, skills development and technology transfer.
• Carbon intensity and greenhouse gas emissions.
• Area affected (environmental footprint) and associated aquatic and terrestrial ecological impact.
• Waste products (emissions or discharges to air, water and land).
If hydro is proposed as part of the solution, criteria for alternative hydro development options are: Consideration of upgrading existing facilities; Maximising multiple-use benefits; Consideration of prioritising already developed river basins; Minimising the area flooded per unit of energy (GWh) produced; Maximising opportunities for, and not posing significant threats to, vulnerable social groups; Enhancing public health and / or minimising public health risks; Minimising population displacement; Avoiding exceptional natural and human heritage sites; Minimising impacts on rare, vulnerable or threatened species, maximising habitat restoration and protecting high quality habitats; Achieving or complementing community-supported objectives in downstream areas; and prioritising alternatives that have associated catchment management benefits and lower sedimentation and erosion risks.
The section on decision-making also outlines environmental assessment principles, safety requirements, and the importance of environmental management systems.
The last three sections focus on environmental, social, and economic aspects of sustainability respectively.
Over the past decade, there have been substantial improvements in our understanding of the impacts of dams on riverine environments, and particularly those associated with hydro developments. In line with this increased knowledge base, the management of environmental issues arising from hydro is undergoing rapid improvement. Targeted studies and monitoring programmes have identified viable mitigation options and provided long-term assessments of their effectiveness. Increased legislative and regulatory mechanisms have also driven these improvements. Changes in the approach to project planning and design have resulted in the maximisation of positive outcomes and the reduction in severity or avoidance of negative impacts.
The section outlines management consideration and mitigation options and strategies for a range of key environmental issues. These are: Water quality; Sediment transport and erosion; Downstream hydrology and environmental flows; Rare and endangered species; Passage of fish species; Pest species within the reservoir (flora & fauna); Health issues; Construction activities; and Environmental management systems
Hydro power schemes have the ability to significantly reduce poverty and enhance quality of life in the communities they serve. Access to electricity promotes new economic activity, improves health and education services, and provides a cleaner and healthier home environment. Hydro power infrastructure, such as reservoirs, also provides multiple-use benefits, particularly through increased availability, reliability and quality of fresh water supplies and reduced flood risks.
Local communities are impacted by the change associated with new hydro projects. To be sustainable these schemes need to recognise entitlements and share benefits with directly affected people. The goal should be to ensure that all individuals and communities affected by developments gain sustainable benefits.
This section of the Guideline details key considerations in managing social impacts, defines appropriate social outcomes for new hydro projects, and discusses strategies to achieve those outcomes.
There can be no sustainable development without the demonstration of sound economics and fair distribution of benefits. For this reason economic considerations are a central plank in the decision-making processes associated with hydropower projects. The efficient use of economic resources requires that the best options are selected, that options have been carefully evaluated, and that there is the minimum possibility that unforeseen costs could emerge in the future.
Governments need to ensure that the longer-term and less direct benefits of hydro projects are not overlooked in the planning process or penalized by short-term financing or tax regime requirements. With new developments, capital and operating costs should be taken into account over the lifetime of a project with a life-cycle assessment of project options forming an integral component of assessment processes. Direct and indirect costs and benefits should be identified, and where possible quantified in monetary terms.
Key principles associated with economic aspects of sustainability are discussed under the headings: Institutional framework; Identifying costs and benefits.; and Allocation of benefits.
To support the implementation of the IHA’s Sustainability Guidelines, a Compliance Protocol has also been drafted. The Protocol provides an assessment process to measure sustainability performance of new power developments and existing hydro operations. It contains three separate sustainability assessments
Options Assessment – Comparing the sustainability of alternative energy supply options at the early stages of new energy supply developments.
Evaluation of Hydropower Projects – Comparing the sustainability of alternative hydrop ower projects at the siting and design stage of a development proposal; and
Appraisal of Hydropower Operation and Management – Assessing the sustainability of existing hydro power schemes.
The Protocol relies on obtaining objective evidence to derive sustainability scores. It is intended to be a simple and easy-to-use approach.
An overall summary table of aspects and their scores is completed as an outcome of each assessment. Such a table can be used as a basis for comparative assessment. Two examples of specific assessments from the Protocol are given here.
The first example is from the section looking at new energy supply options
A1 – Aspect: Demonstrated need for the project
Assessments have been carried out by regulatory authorities or the proponent to demonstrate a need for the project. These assessments should include: evidence of likely future energy requirements, evaluation of a range of alternative options, (including practicable efficiency measures) to meet those requirements, and evidence that this project is the best option to meet those requirements (See Table 1)
The second example is from the section looking at existing hydro power schemes
C17 – Aspect: Community support (or lack of opposition) for reservoir level management and environmental flow regime
Measures the effectiveness of the reservoir level management and downstream environmental flow regime to meet agreed environmental and social outcomes. (See Table 2)