Difficult decisions for Scottish hydropower

Scotland is struggling to strike a balance between the need for clean energy and the desire to protect the ecosystems of its rivers and lochs.

The country’s geography lends itself to hydro-electric schemes but, according to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the low-carbon generation comes with a high ecological price tag.

There are 23 major hydro facilities operated by energy companies in Scotland and a further 74 small, privately-owned schemes.

The hydroelectric companies are being urged to review a new water consultation report that has the potential to influence the way water is used in the Scottish electricity generation sector.

A report looking at the impacts of dams and water abstraction, Significant Water Management Issues report was published by SEPA, highlighting the threats to Scotland’s water from user demands.

It also proposes actions and improvements necessary for sustaining the water environment.

According to the agency, these could affect the hydroelectric sector so it is important for the industry to have its say and get involved in consultation.

Dr Chris Spray SEPA’s director of environmental science, said: “Hydropower is an important source of renewable energy which helps to tackle greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland.

“Its impact on Scotland’s rivers and lochs, however, is significant; affecting freshwater plant and animal life as well as recreational uses such as fishing and canoeing.

“We are now at a stage when more than 15% of rivers and 40% of lochs are at risk of failing to meet the necessary environmental objectives because of hydropower.

“This is a very difficult balance to strike: Scotland needs renewable energy supplies but not at any price. We need to get the balance right in the development of new hydropower schemes, and in considering how to apply good environmental practice to existing schemes.

“We want to increase renewable energy generation whilst minimising the harm to the water environment itself and to other users of the water environment.

“The outcome of this consultation will help shape the way the water environment is regulated, cared for and monitored. This will both improve the environment and protect the interests of those who depend on it for drinking water, business and recreation.”

Anyone interested in having their say has until April next year to send in their responses.

These can be emailed to [email protected]

Sam Bond

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