Members of the European Parliament in the ITRE Committee
Brussels, 11 July 2022
Dear MEPs in the ITRE Committee,
We urgently draw your attention to the last-minute amendments 22 and 107 (please see
text in annex I) and ask them to reject them when voting on the amendments for the RED
III due to two important reasons.
First, any amendments for the reason of biodiversity and nature protection in view of
hydropower needs to be followed via the normal legislative procedure under the below-
mentioned legal nature protection related acts. It has as no legal place in the RED III.
The issue of sustainability of the use of hydropower and the impact on rivers is already
laid down in numerous European and national regulations, such as the Water Framework
Directive, the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive. Sustainability issues are well
established in national planning and permitting legislation, which often transposes specific
EU nature legislation.
It would be a systemic error, despite existing established environmental and sustainability
criteria in EU and national law to directly discriminate against small hydropower via the
Renewable Energies Directive which objective is to promote and accelerate the
development and deployment of renewable energies. The above-mentioned Directives are
lex specialis to regulate questions on the use of water bodies and the influx on water
The European Commission correctly did not evaluate any nature protection issues on
hydropower under its Impact Assessment for the review of the Renewable Energies
Directive. Therefore, such serious intervention against renewable energies, in this case on
small hydropower, cannot be included as an amendment in the very Directive on the
promotion of renewables, the RED III.
The proposed last-minutes amendments would create legal insecurity for the whole
legislative act since they have not been evaluated by the Commission’s Impact
Assessment and since nature and biodiversity in respect to the use of rivers and all
waterbodies clearly fall under the discretion of established specialised EU legislation.
Second, if these amendments which falsely accuse small hydropower as being harmful to
biodiversity and environmental protection were adopted, they would initiate the end of the
European small hydropower sector.
Amendment 22 regards small hydropower plants as a major threat against biodiversity.
Numerous scientists demonstrate the complexity and specific richness of the biodiversity
of hydroelectric facilities. For centuries, small hydroelectric plants have established their
own ecosystems, known as ecotones. Their reservoirs constitute refuges for biodiversity
in the face of climate change, particularly during extreme events (low water levels).
While some argue that “energy-related pressures and hydroelectric facilities are the
greatest threat to these important ecosystems”, 41% of water bodies in France for
example that include a hydroelectric facility are in good or even very good ecological
status, and the ecological status of these water bodies deteriorates from upstream to
downstream as soon as other anthropogenic pressures are encountered.
The list of scientific articles about small hydropower and the environment in annex II of
this letter demonstrates that small hydropower and latest environmental mitigation
measures and management practices are compatible with EU environmental goals,
especially with regard to a good ecological status of water bodies, ensuring river continuity
and fish migration as well as biodiversity protection.
EU stakeholders have invested billions of Euros in upgrading existing plants with
environmental mitigation measures, showing their commitment and support to the
ecological requirements of the Water Framework Directive and demonstrating that small
hydropower and environment go hand in hand.
Almost all small hydropower plants have been equipped with migration devices based on
the best available techniques. The “guarantee of a minimum ecological flow, the measures
allowing the efficient and effective migration of fish upstream and downstream” (cf.
amendment 107) is a reality.
To ensure river continuity and enable up and downstream movement of migratory fish
species and breeding, new management systems for existing small hydropower plants
stop the plant during the time of fish migration. Releasing water through the gates attracts
migratory fish species such as salmon to pass the plant during their up and downstream
migration. An example for these measures is the plant Anundsjö in Sweden. This is
combined with by-pass mechanisms for fish and sediment such as natural fishways past
the plant, fish ladders as well as guaranteeing minimum ecological flows.
Small hydropower plants also create new habitats for rare and precious water plants and
waterfowls. With its ditches and dammed water areas small hydropower plants even form
diverse and structurally rich additional fish habitats. Small hydropower plants enrich water
bodies with oxygen and clean rivers from all sorts of waste floating in the water. One small
hydropower plant in Austria for example collects between 7-10 kg of plastic waste
The recently developed first shaft hydropower plant in Southern Germany allows fish to
freely pass over the power plant on their migration downstream as the turbine is
concealed in a shaft in the riverbed. Despite these mitigation measures, this small
hydropower plants produces electricity for 900 villagers nearby.
In the 27 EU Member states, small hydropower (SHP) plants, defined as less than 10 MW
of installed capacity, provide annually 13 million households with electricity from
renewable energy and significantly contributes to the EU’s decarbonisation by saving CO2
for energy production. In France for example, small hydropower produces 7 TWh per year,
which is more than the production of a nuclear reactor.
The role for small hydropower in the new European energy systems goes far beyond the
production of renewable electricity. Its increasingly important purpose lies in providing
energy system services, flexibility to facilitate the integration of large amounts of variable
renewable energy sources (VRE) into electricity grids and local reliability of supply. The
multi-purpose functions of small hydropower plants provide protection against floods and
help to mitigate droughts. Based on the experience during the war in the Ukraine, small
hydropower can supply critical infrastructure with electricity in thousands of bigger and
smaller places around EU Member states.
Small hydropower is an increasingly inherent part of combined local renewable energy-
based energy and flexibility systems often paired with community power since hydro
power is the most traditional community power enabler in Europe. Taking it away from
European local communities by these amendments would be a blatant injustice.
In times of urgent needs to decarbonise the EU and to reach greater energy independency
from energy imports, Europe needs to use all forms of renewable energy, including small
hydropower. And in view of a critical supply-demand balance for the next winters, it is not
reasonable to sacrifice such a well-established decentral and sustainable source of
Prof. Dr. Dörte Fouquet
Spokesperson of the EREF Small Hydropower Chapter