Small Hydropower Plants on Sarantaporos, Aoos and Voidomatis rivers, May 2024 

Small Hydropower Plants on Sarantaporos, Aoos and Voidomatis rivers, May 2024 

  • ΕΛ

by
Thymios Dimopoulos, GIS Specialist – Architect/MedINA,
Dimitris Papageorgiou, Project Manager/MedINA
Alexis Katsaros, Executive Director/MedINA and
Konstantina Spiliopoulou, Freshwater Policy Officer/MedINA
Editing: George Dimitropoulos, Urban Planner and Fundraising Officer/MedINA

The term “small hydropower plant” may sound like a small-scale installation with little or no impact on the landscape, river ecosystem and human communities. But what is the scientists’ opinion and how easy is it to identify the benefits of building such projects?

In an effort to answer these questions and propose solutions for the case of the Aoos River Basin, which has attracted the interest for the construction of many small hydropower plants (SHPs), MedINA is seeking answers based on scientific research. We recently attended the Free Flow Conference in Groningen, the Netherlands, to learn about new trends and proposals for the management of the world’s rivers and to share our knowledge with a wide range of scientists and experts in the field. As was made evident during the conference, and as reflected in EU policies and legislations, the scientific community emphasizes the need to restore the connectivity of river ecosystems, improve their water quality, protect and conserve ecological formations in good condition.

Whereas efforts to restore fragmented river ecosystems have been underway in the US and the rest of Europe for at least two decades, revising the notion of SHPs as renewable energy sources, removing obsolete dams and modifying others to facilitate ecological connectivity, in the Aoos, and in Greece in general, fragmentation is intensifying with the continuous planning and construction of new SHPs.

Considering the current threat posed by the development of SHPs for the Aoos river basin, we continue our efforts by closely monitoring the developments and present below the current licensing status, by collecting and analysing data from the Geospatial Map of the Regulatory Authority for Energy (RAE), the Decentralised Administration of Epirus – Western Macedonia, the Electronic Environmental Register, the aepo. ypeka.gr platform, the Municipalities of Zagori and Konitsa, the website of Diavgeia and active citizens of the area.

Ι. Current licensing status of SHPs in the Aoos River Basin

Following our previous articles, in Μarch, July and November 2023, we look at the number of SHPs and their licensing status, according to the data collected from RAE. A detailed description of the licensing process and stages can be found in our March 2023 article. The graph below presents the situation in March, July, November 2023 and May 2024.

Figure 1. Total number of SHPs by licensing stage, according to RAE data for March, July, and November 2023, and May 2024.

The total number of SHPs in the Aoos river basin, currently in different licensing stages, according to RAE data, is fifty-one (51), of which four (4) have received an operating license, one (1) an installation license, thirty-three (33) a production license and thirteen (13) are under evaluation (Figure 1 and Map 1). This number has increased by three (3) applications compared to November 2023. The changes refer to installation licenses, which have decreased by one (1), and the applications under evaluation, which have increased by four (4). The installation license that appears to have been automatically terminated according to the RAE data (geospatial map and tables) is the one at Vourkopotamos stream. This particular SHP has a recently amended EIA (2022) and therefore we do not know why it has been removed from the RAE data.

Regarding the production licenses, one (1) was revoked (self-termination) and one (1) new was issued. The revoked one concerns a 0.99 MW project, previously licensed at the Katarraktis stream in the municipality of Perivoli. The one (1) new production license concerns a 0.5 MW SHP at Klidonia at the border of the municipalities of Zagori and Konitsa. As for the applications under evaluation, in addition to the one that received a production license in Klidonia, eight (8) applications remain in the same status, and five (5) new applications were filed – two (2) of which in the Vourbianitiko stream, of 0.3 MW and 0.29 MW respectively. Of the rest, two (2) applications, of 0.23 MW and 0.28 MW, were filed near Marditsa in the municipality of Konitsa and one (1) was filed in the municipality of Zagori, on a tributary of Voidomatis.

The total capacity (installed and planned) decreased from 57.42 MW to 54.71 MW.

As can be seen from Table 1 below, cross-referencing the RAE data with the coordinates of decision YPEN/DD FPB/115155/3787 of the Director General of Environmental Policy of the Ministry of Environment and Energy (Government Gazette B’ 6679/2023), which designated part of the Aoos river basin as a Protected Landscape and Protected Natural Formation, a total of fifteen (15) SHPs fall entirely within this area: one (1) existing with an operating license, eight (8) with a production license and six (6) under evaluation. An additional five (5) SHPs are located on the boundaries between parts of the Aoos river basin covered by two different protection regimes, those of the Northern Pindos National Park or Natura 2000 sites and the Protected Landscape and Protected Natural Formation.

Map 1: Overall status of SHPs in the Aoos River Basin by licensing stage. Data from RAE (05/2024).

II. Production licenses with Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Approvals

According to the data presented in a previous article on the production licenses that have received an EIA, five (5) SHPs have secured an operation and installation license. Data from the Electronic Environmental Register and Diavgeia show that six (6) more SHPs have secured an EIA as category A2 projects from the Decentralised Administration of Epirus – Western Macedonia. In addition, the Vourkopotamos SHP, which has an EIA, appears to have its production license expired, as mentioned above.

Map 2: Eleven (11) licensed SHPs in the Aoos river basin: four (4) with operation license, one (1) with installation license, six (6) with production license and EIA Approval. (05/2024)

Summarising, there is currently a total of eleven (11) licensed SHPs within the Aoos river basin (Map 2). Of these, five (5) are located in the area designated as a Protected Landscape and Protected Natural Formation (Table 1).

Table 1: Overall status of SHPs in the Aoos River Basin in relation to their licensing stage, EIA Approval and protection status of their location.

1Entirely within the area designated as Protected Landscape & Protected Natural Formation.

III. Current situation in Aoos – with the eyes on the international scientific community

The situation regarding the licensing of planned SHPs may appear relatively stable in terms of production, installation and operation licenses, but the investment interest in SHPs has not ceased, as shown by the new applications under evaluation. At the same time, the status of applications seems to be constantly changing, with changes in capacity and in project operators names. These developments are far from positive, as the institutional protection of the Aoos as a whole still has gaps and shortcomings, rendering any effort to provide comprehensive protection against pressures and emerging threats problematic. As we mentioned in a previous article, the lack of a ministerial decision setting out specific development control regulations and restrictions within the newly established Protected Landscape and Protected Natural Formation, renders this designation essentially inadequate, leaving the pristine character and ecological integrity of the area exposed to anthropogenic interventions of degradation.

Picture 1: Water abstraction of the small hydropower plant in Nerotrivi stream, Municipality of Konitsa. The absence of sufficient ecological flow is evident, resulting in the drying of the natural streambed downstream of the water intake (03/2024).

The need for institutional protection is imperative given the current pressures on the river as a result of the problematic operation of existing SHPs which degrade its ecological connectivity. Specifically, during the months of March and April, two (2) SHPs with operation licenses in the Aoos river basin were found to be operating without complying with the minimum requirements for ecosystem conservation as defined in the respective EIAs. The SHPs of Vourkopotamos stream (Community of Agia Paraskevi, Municipality of Konitsa) and Nerotrivi stream (Community of Distrato, Municipality of Konitsa) do not ensure the required ecological flow, i.e. the unimpeded flow of part of the water within the natural bed of the respective streams, leaving them marginally dry downstream of the point of abstraction. In particular, the amount of water flowing towards the natural bed was negligible, making it clear that it was far from the minimum required. The poor operation of these SHPs is alarming in terms of their impact on biodiversity and natural hydrological processes both locally and cumulatively across the river network, raising questions about the operating conditions of the other two (2) SHPs within the Aoos river basin, but also for the responsibilities of the competent bodies in terms of compliance with the approved EIA terms.

Greece is called upon to align with the approaches being developed in the European Union and to promote policies supporting the free flow of rivers, which provide invaluable ecosystem services. By averting the creation of additional barriers, we can ensure the sustainability of these vital resources. MedINA will remain committed to supporting sustainable and science-based solutions to protect the Aoos river basin and its unique ecological and cultural heritage.

Sources:

  1. Decentralised Administration of Epirus – Western Macedonia. https://www.apdhp-dm.gov.gr/
  2. Diavgeia portal, May 2024. https://diavgeia.gov.gr/
  3. Dimopoulos T., Papageorgiou D., Pappa A. (2023). Small Hydropower Plants on Sarantaporos, Aoos and Voidomatis rivers, November 2023. https://med-ina.org/small-hydropower-plants-on-sarantaporos-aoos-and-voidomatis-rivers-november-2023/
  4. Dimopoulos T., Pappa A. (2023). Small Hydropower Plants on Sarantaporos, Aoos and Voidomatis rivers, July 2023. https://med-ina.org/el/small-hpps-aoos-position-july23-gr/
  5. Dimopoulos T., Sakellarakis F.N., Pappa A. (2023). Small Hydropower Plants on Sarantaporos, Aoos and Voidomatis rivers, March 2023. https://med-ina.org/small-hpps-aoos-position-july23-eng/
  6. Electronic Environmental Register, May 2024. https://eprm.ypen.gr/
  7. Energy Register: Map of RES projects (2024). https://www.energyregister.gr/
  8. European Environmental Agency, May 2024. https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/data/eea-coastline-for-analysis-2/gis-data
  9. Geospatial Map of the Regulatory Authority for Energy (RAE), May 2024. https://geo.rae.gr/
  10. Ministry of Environment and Energy/ DD FPB/115155/3787 “Characterisation of part of the Aoos River basin as a protected landscape and protected natural formation” (Government Gazette 6679/B/27-11-2023).
  11. Online platform for posting EIA Approvals, May 2024. aepo.ypeka.gr

Featured image: Sarantaporos River, running free, a few hundred metres before meeting the Aoos. Around 20 SHPs are planned upstream of this section © D. Papageorgiou/MedINA.

This article was developed in the framework of the projects “Ri-Connect: the Aoos River as a transboundary ecological corridor”, implemented by MedINA and funded by PONT, and “Aoos/Vjosa campaign”, coordinated by EuroNatur, implemented by MedINA and funded by Holdfast Collective.