Hydro for Wales – will the environment agency stop it?

I am convinced not.

However there have been hold-ups and frustration with the regulations imposed by the agency.

Hold-ups have been up to 3 years, 2 to provide all the information to the agency, eg counting fish over the year, and wait for their response, and one to order the generating equipment.

This is galling when there is the risk of feed in tariffs disappearing on the chariot of fire on which they descended from govt.

The exciting bit, for me, is that it is easy to influence events, I am finding. Our environment group responded to the EA consultation on making it simpler to get hydro, or I responded on their behalf and am invited to London Westminster this month to hear and discuss their proposals. The group wanted this reported, as they are paying my fare. We welcome views and suggestions from anyone in Wales, especially transition organisations.

Back to the wonderful complexities of the issue.

Make no mistake, hydro is the Cinderella of renewables, least regarded, least invested in but the real princess of the bunch. The reasons are all obvious: Water is most energy dense, water flows steadily, is easy to access for repairs and installation. Hydro generators last 100 years, or used to! The life of PV and wind kit is calculated at 20 years.

We need two kinds of power, bread and butter constant for eg lights, water-pumps and computers (bread and butter to me anyway) and special purpose – manufacturing, power tools which can be used intermittently when there is the power. Hydro brings home the bread and butter, is the full time worker, getting time off during droughts when her fancy sister pv generally stands in.

But hydro has and can cause problems more serious than lack of power! In the middle ages the rivers and streams of Britain teemed with fish, then watermills were installed everywhere without regard for the fish that fed the peasants. Weirs blocked their spawning grounds, streams suddenly dried up when sluices opened, fish were killed in water wheels, their numbers dropped and sea fishing took off.

In addition to risks for fish there are risks of floods upstream when water is impounded, and depriving people downstream of flows, or their chance of hydro. So hydro cannot be installed willy nilly, regulation is reasonable. Which is more important fish-rich rivers or lit up houses? There is only one right answer, even if people haven’t got it.

The EA didn’t mean to stop hydro by taking 2 years to give an answer, they were just unprepared for the surge of applications. Hence the consultation on getting it simpler. The Welsh Environment Agency has decided to do it differently to England and make it simpler still. However we don’t know how soon their simple plan will leave the table and be on the streets, or the waterways.

One reason people don’t rate hydro is that very few people live at the bottom of waterfalls. Low flat rich land and cities go together. Rocky mountains, hydro potential and sparse habitation go together. What few have noticed is that people have legs, mountains, tides, winds don’t. I was in North Wales slate country and so jealous, they had it all, land for food, slate and forests to build, towering waterfalls for oodles of power. The residents of all backgrounds seemed blind to their enormous luck, there wasn’t a transition movement in sight!

Feed in Tariffs and their solidity. They arrived dripping gold, and some leapt to the opportunity, Now they may waver or shrivel in the October spending review, they could disappear or shrink at any time, and are predicted to in less than 3 years when their review is scheduled.  Hydro feed in tariffs have been swathed in uncertainty from the start. Which equipment is ceritified? None certainly, which installers certified? one or two for Wales, a few more for Scotland. Arguments are ongoing. The trade don’t want certification required for equipment, as old kit works and lasts better than new. Again I was arguing this point with the woman in charge of writing the regulations at Ecobuild 2009. She accepted I had valid points and said it was useful to her deliberations. It would be gratifyng that one can have an influence on policy by arguing at a stand in a show, but it really demonstrates how arbitrary and incompetent the process is.

Vicky Moller
01239 820971
Hapus i gyfathrebu’n Gymraeg neu yn Saesneg.
Happy to communicate in Welsh or English

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