Sri Lanka’s small hydropower industry came out strongly against the negative theories and myths that plague the industry, despite it showing tangible evidence that such negativities have
Small Hydropower Developers’ Association (SHPA) Secretary Prabath Wickramasinghe said the small hydropower industry is faced with numerous problems due to the issues created by the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in particular, none of which are factual.
“There are delays in obtaining various government approvals due to the unreasonable and baseless allegations by these NGOs and the reluctance of government officials to give their consent due to the pressures exerted on them by these interested parties.”
He listed some of the issues the SHPA has been grappling with. Firstly, mini-hydropowers (MHPs) harm the fish in streams and negatively impact the ecosystem.
“This theory has no scientific evidence as no postaudit has been conducted on the subject to quantify such impacts. While the construction is in progress, there will admittedly be an impact, which is a hallmark of development, but this is relatively low when compared with the other development projects.”
He added that the existing regulations imposed by the Agriculture Department and Central Environmental Authority (CEA) are all complied with, including the height of the wier being less than three meters and sufficient environmental flow to be released to the downstream of the wier for the protection of aquatic life.
“Freshwater streams are impacted much more by other factors, including the use of weedicides, pesticides and fertilizer by farmers, which are washed into streams, the dumping of garbage into waterbodies and use of dynamite to catch fish,” said Wickramasinghe.
Another factor he brings up is that the impact from MHPs are localised with the overall impact to aquatic life, if any, is less than one percent, given that of the 15,000 kilometres of rivers and streams in Sri Lanka, MHPs use less than 200 kilometres, which is just 1.3 percent.
There’s also the allegation that MHPs clear forest land for construction, which Wickramasinghe says is a negligible area.
“Of the 180 MHPs, only approximately 15 are in forest areas, utilising just one hectare or less – this from a forest cover of 1.86 million hectares. The other development projects including plantations, shifting cultivation, firewood collection, house construction, infrastructure and roads took 490,000 hectares of forest, while the MHPs used only 15 hectares, which is 0.0031 percent. It is apparent, that 99.997 percent of the deforestation that has taken place due to development is not related to our industry.”
He adds that even to bring the impact up to one percent, 4,885 projects would have to be located in forest lands, where currently only 15 are operating.
Wickramasinghe also highlighted that there are no MHPs are in environmentally-sensitive areas, as the approvals are not granted for projects in these locations.
He reiterates that each MHP is a legal body, incorporated in Sri Lanka with offices located at the site and most often
“Our teams are all responsible individuals working for responsible organisations. It is easy then for these companies to be targeted by NGOs, publicising baseless information. For example, in the mass destruction of fish, can NGOs take action against farmers for using fertilizer and pesticides that run into streams or the illegal dynamite fishing? They won’t because of the huge backlash in the case of farmers and the inability to find those responsible for dynamite fishing. But when it comes to a company, it is very easy to point fingers with baseless information.”
The MHP industry in Sri Lanka, since its inception in 1996, now has a total of 169 projects producing 337.77 MW and has been named by the World Bank as the best-performing project of its kind. It has also become the sought-after role model by countries in Africa and South Asia as well as the World Bank.
“There has been a saving of Rs.19 billion on foreign exchange given the industry’s contribution to the national grid with a generation of 4,000 in direct employment for 4,000 and 5,000 indirectly,” said Wickramasinghe.
Thus, Wickramasinghe stated the naysayers should look at the industry objectively, both from the fact that the industry is contributing not only foreign exchange via projects being emulated overseas and by contributing to the national grid by reducing the quantity of imported fossil fuel being used but also the fact that it produces a cleaner and greener energy that is ecologically sustainable.