Mattia Celio is program manager at the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), Economic Cooperation and Development Division. Mattia spoke to us about the importance of early stage assessment for sites with hydropower potential, the role of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, and the initial implementation of the tool in Ghana.
What are the most important environmental and social considerations at the very early stages of development?
It is vital that early stage assessments are carried out on sites which have been identified as having hydropower potential and will be considered for future development. These early stage assessments allow for the identification of ‘framing conditions’, characterising potential hydropower projects from the outset.
Understanding these conditions allows developers to make informed decisions on which sites to prioritise, and to consider ways to minimise social and economic impacts when developing sites.
The importance of gaining sufficient knowledge of the site from the outset makes applying a tool, like the early stage tool of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, so important. It helps developers to identify any environmental and social considerations from the start, permitting them to proceed with the development accordingly.
Environmental considerations include upstream and downstream impacts, notably based on the predictable extent and natural features of the flooded area and its surrounds, as well as the characteristics of existing watercourses.
More specifically, environmental issues and risks may pertain to biodiversity, critical habitats, water quality or minimal stream flows. Social risks may include, among others, socio-economic impact on residents, the likelihood of resettlement, loss of livelihoods, or land and water conflicts.
What is the potential impact later on in a project if it is poorly planned?
A project that does not take sustainability into account can sometimes lead to projects being halted, or only partially completed; this is because it can provoke instances of environmental, financial, legal or political issues.
How can the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol help address the early issues?
The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol offers a systematic methodology for addressing hydropower sustainability. The Protocol is designed around four tools corresponding to the different stages of project development – before commencement (the ‘early stage’), during project preparation, between the awarding of construction contracts and project commissioning, and during operation.
During the implementation of early stage assessments, certified protocol assessors conduct in-depth analysis of proposed hydropower sites based upon sustainability criteria. Almost simultaneously, consultations are undertaken and training is conducted with senior stakeholders. From this perspective, the involvement of stakeholders is a declared objective of the hydropower sustainability tool.
The protocol offers an alternative to feasibility studies based on other methods, providing a common language and a rigorous standardised approach"
The protocol offers an alternative to feasibility studies based on other methods, providing a common language and a rigorous standardised approach that can be applied throughout hydropower projects. Furthermore, the protocol is specific to hydropower and goes into great detail regarding hydropower sustainability.
Why was Ghana chosen for the initial application of the tool?
The primary reasons for choosing Ghana was the still undeveloped hydropower potential of the country; SECO’s already established support in the development of Ghana’s power sector; and the desire to implement the early stages of the protocol in an African Country.
Besides, the authorities in Ghana were very supportive of the initiative and have continued to be so ever since. We are really looking forward to the assessment results and to the discussions they will generate.
After applying the tool in Ghana, early stage assessments will also be conducted in another country which is yet to be defined.
What do you hope are the outcomes of the session on early stage sustainability at the World Hydropower Congress?
I believe that the World Hydropower Congress provides a unique platform for presenting and discussing the work done by the protocol in Ghana and, more generally, the approach adopted for the early stage tool. My hope is that the tool will be profitably discussed through the presentations given by the panellists and contributions from the audience.
As demonstrated by the principle underlying the process that led to the definition of the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, as well as the architecture of its governance structure, it is important to hear, consider and learn from stakeholder opinions.
The Economic Cooperation and Development Division of SECO plans and implements economic and trade policy measures to support developing countries, Eastern European and the Commonwealth of Independent States, as well as the new member states of the European Union. Find out more here