Wake-up call

14 December 2000

The European Commission’s ALTENER programme is attempting to raise community awareness about the use of renewables. Gemma Newman reports

As the flood waters begin to recede across the UK and other parts of Europe, it is clear to everyone that climate change is no longer something we can ignore. The floods are a sign of things to come, and we were unprepared. But these may serve as a wake-up call for communities across Europe and encourage more people to contribute towards the European Commission’s (EC) Community Strategy and Action Plan, which aims to:

• Increase the market penetration of renewable sources of energy.

• Improve the security of energy supply.

• Reduce energy dependency.

• Reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet the Kyoto objectives.

To encourage the implementation process of the Community Strategy and Action Plan, the EC has launched the Campaign for Take-Off, which will run from 2000 to 2003. The campaign has been designed to involve key actors across Europe and invites participants to play a proactive role through the Renewable Energy Partnership (REP). The REP is a non-technical programme, which promotes the use of renewable energy sources in the European Union (EU). The partnership aims to encourage and enhance visible commitment between the EC and public authorities, industries and associations to promote the Campaign for Take-Off.

Action The community ALTENER programme is the main tool used to support and monitor the Community Strategy and Action Plan on renewables and promotional activities with the Campaign for Take-Off. The overall aim of the ALTENER programme is to help increase the use and market share of renewable sources of energy. Its specific objectives are:

• Implement and complement EU measures designed to develop the potential of renewable energy resources.

• Encourage harmonisation of products and equipment in the renewable energy market.

• Support pilot actions on infrastructure that will increase investor confidence, stimulate the use of renewable energy technologies and improve their competitiveness.

• Improve information dissemination and co-ordination at the international, EU, national, regional and local level, thereby increasing investor confidence and market penetration.

• Support targeted actions designed to speed up investment in renewable energy technologies and increase operational capacity for energy production from renewable energy sources.

• Implement the Community Strategy and Action Plan.

Each year, proposals for renewable energy projects are reque-sted and selected for financial support under the ALTENER programme. Proposals received under the 1998 call resulted in community support for more than 200 projects, many of which were directly linked to the Campaign for Take-Off.

The last call for proposals closed in November 1999 and the EC received 403 proposals for consideration under the ALTENER programme. The next call for proposals will be made by the end of 2000. Some of the projects currently under way are:

• European Small Hydro Atlas

• Guarantee of solar results — feasibility and pre-diffusion in Europe.

• A development plan for biomass in Ireland.

• Information exchange for biomass.

The main target of the ALTENER programme is a 150t reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2005. It is hoped that this target will be reached by:

• Doubling the use of renewable energy sources from 4% of total European consumption in 1991 to 8% in 2005.

• Trebling the production of electricity from renewable energy sources.

• Securing a biofuels market share of 5% of total vehicle fuel consumption.

ALTENER 2000 A number of innovative ALTENER supported projects were presented at this year’s ALTENER 2000 conference that was held from 23-25 October in Toulouse, France. Amongst the presentations, two projects specifically addressed the development of small hydro power and the environmental and social challenges that developers must overcome if small hydro is to play a part in the EC’s climate change strategy.

BlueAGE of Italy presented a paper on a ‘Strategic study for the development of small hydro power in Europe’. The study, which is still progressing, considers the growth of small hydro power generation in Europe over the next decade. An analysis of market conditions and economic potential for new as well as refurbished schemes has been carried out, as well as an analysis of non-technical hindrances.

The project found that the main hindrances to the development of new plants are:

• Environmental protection, related to a reserved minimum flow and the recreational use of water in certain countries.

• Economic, for the uncertainty on prices and the policy framework for renewable resources with ambiguity on the ongoing support to renewables.

• Bureaucratic, because of the length of the licensing process and the time to get authorisation from different bodies.

The study found that huge differences exist between countries regarding the problems they face with small hydro development. In some countries there is still potential to exploit small hydro, but environmental constraints due to water uses are strong and often impede development. In some cases, small hydro power is not considered to be a renewable source of energy that needs support as it is deemed competitive with fossil fuels due to its long tradition. The authors believe that an information campaign with local administrations could help to clarify some points on the economics of small hydro power schemes.

The study estimated that over 10,000MW of new small hydro power capacity could be installed across Europe from a technical point of view. However, when constraints are added which are mostly environmental, this potential is reduced by 50%. The authors claim that a policy to support the exploitation of small hydro power resources is needed in order to implement at least part of this potential.

They concluded that the following conditions are needed:

• Simplification of licensing procedures.

• Simplification of the procedures for the rehabilitation of abandoned sites.

• Creation of a stable regulatory framework.

• Implementation of a price system that takes into account the positive attributes of hydro power compared to fossil fuels.

Sensitive environments It is clear that a great potential exists for small hydro power development in Europe, particularly in fragile environments such as National Parks or wildlife reserves. It is a shame that this potential, which could contribute significantly towards pollution control is not being realised due to precautionary environmental pressure.

Ruth Stevenson of Wales-based renewable energy consultancy Dulas, presented a ‘Co-operative approach to appropriate hydro power development’ which, through the RAPPIDS (Realising the Potential for the Protection and Improvement of the Environment by Developing Small hydro power) project, attempts to tackle the conflicts arising from the development of small hydro schemes in sensitive environments like National Parks.

The study was conducted in three regions where conflict was found to be evident: Snowdonia National Park in Wales; Região Norte in Portugal; and Upper Austria.

The project was divided into three phases:

• Identifying the conflicts and areas of agreement.

• Identifying best practice and exemplary sites across Europe.

• Tackling the issues that were identified as contributing to the conflicts.

It was discovered that conflict over small hydro development was often the result of a lack of understanding and a lack of trust between developers and regulators. The study therefore focused on participatory and collaborative measures to overcome these problems.

The study identified the following conflicts:

• A lack of understanding of the issues surrounding small hydro and each party’s view on conservation of the environment.

• The use of precautionary ecological constraints by regulators due mainly to unknown effects of water abstraction.

• Cost implications of mitigation measures and extensive monitoring requirements for small hydro power plants.

• Lack of strategic planning at a regional level or even agreements of what might be an unacceptable site for developers to investigate in terms of environmental sensitivity.

But despite these conflicts, the study also identifies a number of issues developers and regulators agreed on:

• Small hydro plants can provide ‘clean energy’.

• Small hydro may have potential for community schemes.

• Early consultation is important.

• Best practice guidance is important.

The study examined a number of sites, which were identified as illustrating best practice. It found that it became clear to developers that best practice was reducing environmental effects by mitigation measures. But to regulators, best practice meant primarily choosing sites which were not environmentally sensitive. The project conducted a number of workshops to help improve the understanding of the environmental effects of small hydro; suitable small hydro development; and best practice guidelines.

The workshops achieved the following results:

• Improved knowledge and understanding of the impact and benefits of small hydro power.

• Best practice was examined and agreements made to collaborate in drawing up best practice guidelines in all three regions.

• Improved co-operation in all three regions between developers and regulators.

Most importantly, the project stimulated on-going action through an agreed strategy that was ‘owned’ by the different parties involved.

Both the BlueAGE and RAPPIDS projects found that bringing developers and regulators together when considering hydro power development strengthens the understanding of small hydro power and its effect on the environment, improving prospects for future development and the implementation of new projects. With the continuing support of programmes like ALTENER, the role small hydro can play towards the EC’s energy strategy will become more evident and understood.

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