Hydro Energy is actively working to protect animal and plant life in connection with the company's power plants and facilities. A new EU directive may raise the bar further, requiring Norway to maintain a proper chemical and ecological standard in all bodies of water by the end of 2021.
To fulfill all the requirements, Hydro has recently completed a review of the company's management of biological diversity and created a plan for meeting environmental objectives in the future.
With power plants in the Røldal/Suldal, Eastern Telemark and Indre Sogn regions of Norway, in addition to Otra in the south and partly-owned plants in the middle of Telemark, all of Hydro's regulated watercourses and reservoirs are located in and around national parks and protected areas.
In accordance with its concession conditions, Hydro Energy operates all power plants in a way that ensures proper water levels in reservoirs and meets minimum water discharge in rivers. In addition, Hydro stocks more than 85,000 trout and salmon fingerlings each year in rivers, lakes and the ocean - in Sogn these small fish even come from Hydro-operated fish farms.
Since the Water Framework Directive was incorporated into the EEA Agreement in 2009, with its requirements for a healthy water environment through integrated and sustainable water stewardship, Hydro has cooperated with the relevant stakeholders and public authorities to build up the knowledge needed to prepare action plans to meet environmental goals and prevent deterioration in water quality.
"Government orders and environmental requirements are often referred to negatively by business owners. However, proper management and more and better knowledge of the ecology of water systems can also lead to better decisions that benefit us as a power producer," says Hilde Vestheim Nordh, head of HSE and corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Hydro Energy.
She notes that there is some uncertainty surrounding the consequences the Water Framework Directive and new action plans may have on the power industry. Some suggest that the imposition of an increased minimum water discharge or restrictions on adjustments to reservoir levels could reduce hydro power production in Norway by up to five to ten TWh per year.
On the contrary, research from the Fortun River supports a continuation of the current regulation, for the sake of the salmon in the river. "The knowledge acquired here suggests that increasing water discharge in the river could in fact worsen conditions for salmon rather than improving them," says Nordh.
In order to mitigate the negative effects of greatly reduced water discharge in the river below its intake and dams, Hydro has implemented something called habitat adjustment measures in a number of rivers to take care of the organisms living in the water and to create water pools after new power plant developments. Last year Hydro completed such a series of small dams or weirs in the Måna River through the center of Rjukan.
Construction access roads in the mountains are often turned over to the public after a power plant is built, in cases where there are no restrictions on driving or snow plowing in the interests of wildlife, such as wild caribou.
Deposits of excavated material from tunnels are registered and supervised, and if needed, these deposits are removed or replanted to maintain a high environmental standard. On the other hand, some deposits must be conserved, where they are protected as cultural heritage sites.
Hydro does not expect dramatic changes in the requirements for its watercourses. "Hydro is in a somewhat special situation compared with other electricity companies because we as a private operator do not have perpetual concessions," says Hilde Nordh. As examples, she names the concessions in Tyin and Fortun/Granfaste.
The Tyin concession from 2001 is so new that changes are unlikely at this time. Here it is already possible to set requirements for a minimum water discharge and Hydro has 10 years of fish surveys documenting the condition of fish in the river. In Fortun/Granfaste, work has now started on an application for a new concession period after 2017. By implementing and maintaining measures for salmon in the river it is unlikely that an increase in water discharge in the river will be requested.
There are also no major changes expected in the Røldal/Suldal watercourse, with the possible exception of improvements to conditions for fish in some of the small rivers flowing into Suldalsvatn Lake. This may involve building better habitats for fish, but would not involve reducing water discharge.
In Telemark County the Møsvatn concession expired in 2003. An application for a new concession was submitted in 2002 but is still under consideration by the authorities. Here all the conditions have been studied, input from the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) is known and the Water Directive will not affect the outcome of the case.