Private Mini-Hydro: Energy Generation or Willful destruction?
February 10, 2017 – Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka: This is in response to the article published on Ceylon Today titled “Small Hydropower Developers Cry Foul” dated Sunday January 29 where Mr. Thusitha Peiris, Mr. Anil Makalande and Mr. S.B. Niyangoda of Mini Hydro Developers Association have made baseless allegations that Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka is a foreign funded NGO aiming to destroy the hydropower sector. Such accusations made through the media with no facts to prove are clearly an attempt to distort the facts and mislead the public. Rainforest Protectors of Sri Lanka is a volunteer based environmental organization supported and funded by concerned citizens of Sri Lanka who care about the country and to protect the last remaining rainforests and water rights for our future generations. It is not funded by foreign NGO’s and Mr. Peiris, Mr. Makalande, Mr. Niyangoda or any member of the Mini Hydro Developers Association or any related Government authority are welcome to look at our bank account and transactions if they are so concerned before making false allegations to mislead the public.
The protestors who participated on January 25 in front of Central Environmental Authority against mini-hydro mafia comprised volunteer activists, concerned citizens, and hundreds of villagers whose lives were affected adversely. The participants arrived of their own volition out of genuine concern to protect the water rights of villagers, farmers and wildlife. The Mini Hydro Developers Association’s move to ‘play the NGO card’ at this time shows their shocking desperation to protect business interests at any cost; we vehemently reject their allegation on behalf of our volunteer based organization and on behalf of those who unselfishly gave their time and energy to voice out against the destruction of Sri Lanka’s waterfalls, streams and rivers. Any development process should not be an ignorant one but a conscious one with a focus on sustainability. Therefore, as concerned citizens we are keen on ensuring the national energy policy of Sri Lanka is centered on ecologically sustainable energy, which would protect the water rights of the people and continuation of aquatic ecosystems.
While the Mini Hydro Developers Association claim that it is in their interest to protect the catchment areas, it is our understanding that they have not done any significant project to protect the catchment areas or the project sites. However, due to the growing protests by villagers against environmentally destructive mini hydro projects, in 2016 the Mini Hydro Developers Association carried out a greenwashing campaign at a project site giving heavy media coverage for same.
Actual contribution vs Perceived contribution of private mini-hydro
The Mini Hydro Developers Association, in an effort to paint a rosy picture about their contribution to the national grid recently stated that 7% (320 MW) of the total energy generation in the country is produced by private mini-
hydro plants, which is totally a false statement. The “Generation Performance” report by Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) for the year 2016, clearly indicates that the total contribution by the non-conventional renewable energy sector which includes mini-hydro, solar, wind and other renewable sources stood at just 8%. Based on the plant factor for the year 2016 which was no more than 25%, the total contribution by the mini-hydro sector to the national grid would not have exceed 2%. Most mini-hydro plants generate 1 MW or less which is just 0.02% of the national output. Increasing frequency and severity of droughts due to climate change and deforestation will further reduce these contributions in the coming years. It is very clear that mini-hydro is not the answer to the growing energy needs of the country but has only become a lucrative business for a few at the expense of dried up waterfalls, streams and rivers that once made Sri Lanka the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.
Ecological and Social Impact due to private mini-hydro
Mini Hydro plants have a severe negative impact on the environment, society, agriculture and tourism sectors. Several hundred kilometers of rivers are already running through concrete channels and tubes which has halted the continuation of riverine ecosystems, pushing many endemic species to extinction. Contrary to what the Mini Hydro Developers Association states, majority of the mini hydro plants are constructed in the most environmentally sensitive areas such as the Central Hills and Sabaragamuwa. These areas are the critical grounds for aquatic ecosystems and the hydrological cycle, that feed into the major reservoirs, rivers, streams and waterfalls in the country. Diversion of water away from the natural streams through concrete channels for several kilometers, near complete obstruction of waterfalls, construction of diversion channels within protected forest reserves such as Dellawa rainforest in Sinharaja rainforest complex, have all created an ecological disaster. In contrast to the claim made by Mini Hydro Developers Association which states that water diversion is between 100m to 1 km, at streams such as Anda Dola, a tributary of Gin Ganga in Galle District more than 6 km stretch of stream will go dry due to diversion of water for the construction of a mini-hydro plant. Releasing water several kilometers downstream cannot mitigate the severe ecological impacts and the continuation of the aquatic ecosystem. As a result of dried up rivers due to mini-hydro projects that obstruct the lateral flow, the springs, wells and other water sources for villagers have also dried up. Villagers no longer have the right to water for consumption and agriculture. Many endemic and endangered freshwater fish such as Barred Danio (Devario pathirana) and Ornate Paradisefish (Malpulutta kretseri) living in these waters also lose their habitat and are pushed towards extinction. In Belihul Oya valley within Nuwara Eliya District, more than 500 acres of paddy fields and hundreds of farmers are severely affected due to Deegalahinna, Medapitiya and Manakola mini-hydro projects. While the approvals given by Central Environmental Authority (CEA) and Irrigation Department state an unobstructed opening should be kept at all times to release a small amount of water downstream as environmental flow, many sites such as the Hulukelidola mini-hydro plant in Kalutara District has built controllable gates that open when Government officers come for inspection and close as soon as they leave. At other sites, these openings for environmental flow are being blocked to extract the last drop of water for the mini-hydro plant in order to maximize the profit at the expense of water needs of people and wildlife
Impact to waterfalls and Ecotourism due to private mini-hydro
Sri Lanka is said to have the highest waterfall density in the world with over 400 major waterfalls in this small island. In many countries, people travel hundreds of miles to see a waterfall. Although blessed with so many beautiful waterfalls, as a nation we have sacrificed more than 50 waterfalls already to mini hydro companies and can no longer attract tourists to these sites that would have generated valuable income to the villagers through eco-tourism. Some of the waterfalls targeted by mini hydro companies, such as the Handagiri Ella in Balangoda is a beautiful combination of more than 60 small waterfalls. These waterfalls not only act as beautiful scenery but also provide essential ecological services by filtering the water of pollutants and increasing the oxygen content thus giving life to the stream. Destroying such waterfalls is an ecological crime!
Violations and false reports related to private mini-hydro
State forest land adjoining Koskulana river forming the northern boundary of Sinharaja World Heritage Rainforest, has been clear cut of all vegetation for the construction of a mini-hydro project, which is a clear violation of the State Land Ordinance. At Anda Dola in Galle District, the weir at GPS coordinates (6° 20′ 32.9″N, 80° 26′ 39.7″E) and 2.5 km section of concrete headrace channel are both constructed within Dellawa Forest Reserve. Construction activities within a protected forest reserve are a violation of the Forest Ordinance of 1907 as amended and punishable by law. Further, the initial environment examination (IEE) report produced by the developer for Anda Dola mini-hydro project, has failed to include many endemic species whose habitat is this stream and surrounding forest. A report on this matter prepared by Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle and submitted to CEA points out that environmental and biodiversity information including species of fauna on many pages of the IEE report submitted by the developer are incorrect and missing many key species. Findings of widespread violations indicate systemic failure of the entire process in place for the assessment of mini hydro projects. It is, in effect, a breach of trust in the very institutions that gate-keep approvals, and fully justifies the public’s skepticism in them. The association’s claim that Sri Lanka’s mini hydro industry is an example to the world seems farcical against these multiple violations and false reports.
The Mini Hydro Developers Association does not seem to understand the difference between mini-hydro and micro-hydro, by claiming that mini-hydro projects existed 60 years ago. Whereas what existed several decades ago were micro-hydro projects that were built and operated as off-grid community projects typically with a generation capacity
less than 100 kW.
The daily electricity demand can be easily fulfilled with solar energy. While using latest energy backup technologies, even the night demand can be met with solar power. However, technologies such as wind and wave energy for which Finland Government has agreed to provide all the support could complement to fulfill the night-time energy demand. In addition, nearly 1000 metric tonnes of municipal waste collected in cities such as Colombo can generate upto 50 MW extra energy that can be used to fulfill the night-time demand. Such waste-to-energy projects can be setup in all major cities which would generate more energy than dozens of mini-hydro projects combined.
There are ecologically friendly, sustainable alternatives to meet the energy demand of Sri Lanka. Water flowing through small rivers and streams is a precious resource, and it plays a crucial role in the water cycle and the overall health of our forests. It should not be wasted for mini hydro projects averaging 1 MW that contribute just 0.02% energy to the national grid while aimed at maximizing profits for a few and leaving many farmers, villagers and wildlife with no access to water. Instead of throwing baseless accusations to a citizen driven volunteer organization engaged in protecting the rainforests and the right to access water, the individuals and companies investing in destructive mini hydro projects should switch their focus to Rooftop Solar and Waste-to-Energy alternatives which have a greater potential to generate energy to the national grid and the ability to increase capacity for a growing population.