The Big Impact of Small-Scale Hydropower

  • Nick St.Oegger

Over 3500 hydropower dams are planned or in various stages of construction around the Western Balkans, which contains some of the last untouched river systems and truly wild nature in Europe. The majority of these projects are so called "small hydropower" installations, with an energy output of less than 10 Megawatts. Despite their name, small hydropower installations often leave a large impact on the surrounding environment and ecosystem, in some cases diverting up to 95% of a river's flow to run through nearby turbine stations, leaving little of the natural flow and especially endangering species of migratory fish. The impact of climate change and increasing drought conditions often magnify these effects, reducing the already limited capacity of these dams to produce electricity. In Albania, indiscriminate construction of small hydropower dams has resulted in lasting damage to wild areas, including in several national parks that should enjoy protected status. The landscape is scarred by construction of access roads and pipelines that stretch over mountains, bleeding once wild river valleys completely dry. Opposition to many of these projects by local populations have resulted in years of protracted legal battles, court decisions that haven't been enforced, as well as threats, intimidation and violence against the most outspoken activists. While the Albanian government has declared an end to small hydropower projects that would negatively affect important natural sites and populations, construction is still taking place throughout the country in rural areas where locals have little knowledge of their rights or the ability to exercise them. These photos, shot for a collective of NGOs behind the Save the Blue Heart of Europe campaign, aim to capture the destructive impact that small hydropower is having in Albania and throughout the Balkans.