Hydropower Protocol Aims To Put Big Dams On Sustainable Footing

Christiana Sciaudone, Rio de Janeiro
Friday, June 17, 2011

Originally published on Recharge News

The hydropower industry has unveiled new guidelines designed to reduce the impact of major dam projects on environmentally sensitive regions.

The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol aims to help project developers and governments make an early judgement on the environmental, economic and social effects of large projects, and minimise conflicts with local populations.

The International Hydropower Association is part of an industry council set up to oversee the use of the protocol, which is backed by environmental group WWF.

The nonprofit group International Rivers, however, calls the measures "weak, in that they do not require developers to comply with national legislation nor with international policy standards."

WWF water security leader Joerg Hartmann says the complex process of large dam building can pit environmental and economic interests against each other.

"But we can mitigate the conflicts if we thoughtfully and thoroughly assess potential environmental, economic and social impacts.

"For companies, it is a mechanism to avoid expensive projects that provoke needless conflict and fail to deliver predicted returns."

The protocol was unveiled at the International Hydropower Association Congress in Brazil, the focus of global controversy over the 11GW Belo Monte dam in the Amazon rainforest.

It was developed over three years with input from utilities, government agencies, banks, and environmental and social groups.

Hydropower is expected to grow strongly in Brazil and across Latin America as fast-growing economies look to clean-energy sources to meet rising power demand.