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Conflicting goals in European environmental and energy policy

Construction of the Dumitra HPP in the Jiu River Valley National Park, one of the last unobstructed rivers in the Southern Carpathian Mountains. Credit: Calin Dejeu

Hydropower is renewable, but most are not environmentally friendly. A study led by the Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) shows how the expansion of hydropower in Romania goes against EU environmental policy goals. Hydropower conflicts with the requirements of the Flora Fauna Habitats Directive (Natura 2000) and the European Water Framework Directive (WFD). About half of Romania’s existing and planned hydropower plants are located in nature conservation areas. These are mostly small power plants, contributing only 3% of Romania’s electricity generation, but threatening biodiversity. Therefore, researchers warn that Europe’s energy policy needs to be urgently aligned with the goals of the EU’s biodiversity strategy. Otherwise, there is a risk of significant loss of freshwater biodiversity and the EU Green Deal goals will not be met.


Compared to other European countries, Romania still has many natural and near-natural freshwater, which are hotspots for biodiversity.At least 545 hydropower plant (HPP) has been built so far and more will be subsidized. In the geographic distribution overview, researchers show that 49% of existing and planned power plants are in EU flora and fauna habitats or other protected areas. 17% of HPPs should be harmed as they were built in near-natural or natural river systems with “very good” or “good” ecological status under the European Water Policy Framework Directive. There is none.

“It is true that European guidelines basically specify the following requirements: Hydroelectric power plant EU Flora-Fauna-must be located in a habitat. Unfortunately, however, there is a lack of implementation of these requirements. Hydropower For example, plants are uneconomical if they are equipped with fishways that function to meet environmental requirements. Unfortunately, the legally binding nature of hydropower plant environmental requirements is controversial in both new and existing hydropower plants, “said Martin Pusch, co-author of IGB research. Explains the basic problem.

Fish such as brown trout and European bullhead are strongly affected

The hydropower plants surveyed have a significant impact on fish populations both upstream and downstream of the dam. For example, diversion of water from the main course, as a barrier to movement, and through river regulation. The research team compared the current populations of brown trout and EU-protected European bullheads at 32 monitoring sites in the Carpathian Mountains with reference data collected prior to the construction of the HPP. “62 percent of the river upstream and downstream lost one or both. Fish species Comparison with the reference period. Currently, 38% upstream and 19% downstream are deficient in one fish species, and 24% upstream and 43% downstream are deficient in both fish species expected there. This is a horribly negative result, “emphasized Gabriella Costea, the lead author and former IGB researcher of the study.

In particular, the mass outbreak of small-scale hydroelectric power plants has become a problem.

The hydropower boom in Romania is primarily due to the implementation of the European Renewable Energy Directive, which is accompanied by subsidies for the construction and operation of the HPP. As a result, many small HPPs with capacities up to 10 MW have been built, but they make little contribution to energy production. Energy production from these 500 or more small plants accounts for only 3% of total energy production. During construction, environmental standards were often not fully considered. “Environmental impact assessments are carried out on very large hydropower projects in Romania, but rarely on small projects, and in the few cases where these reviews are conducted, their quality is relevant. It’s far from meeting the standards of the European Directive, “explained Martin. Push.

Many other HPPs are currently in the planning or construction stage. Particularly controversial is the construction of the Dumitra HPP in the Jiu River Valley National Park, one of the last unobstructed rivers in the Southern Carpathian Mountains. This HPP construction permit has been revoked by the Bucharest Court of Appeals. This is because it is expected to adversely affect the protected habitats and species of this EU Flora-Fauna-habitat. However, the National Environmental Protection Agency does not want to accept this legally binding ruling, so in the end it wants to carry out a new environmental assessment to get a building permit.

“But this issue is not unique to Romania and Southeastern Europe and needs to be fundamentally elucidated. The EU has urgently succeeded in its environmental and energy policies to resolve a serious contradiction in purpose. It needs to be consistent. It’s almost unattainable with current regulations. Fortunately, it could switch to a renewable energy supply and preserve or regenerate most streams and small rivers in Europe. Martin Pouch summarized. ..


Rethinking hydropower for energy and environmental sustainability


For more information:
Gabriela Costea et al, Romanian Hydropower Plant Review: Distribution, Current Knowledge, Impact on Headwater Fish, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Review (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.rser.2021.111003

Quote: Small hydropower plants do more harm than profit: Conflicting goals in European environmental and energy policy (31 May 2021) are 31 May 2021 https://phys.org/ Obtained from news / 2021-05-small-hydropower-good-conflicting-goals.html

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Conflicting goals in European environmental and energy policy

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