small dams want to produce more

It’s 100% green electricity which can also be produced on demand, without depending for example on the sun and the wind. In the current context, with fears of running out of power this winter, hydroelectricity ticks all the boxes. It is even the leading source of renewable energy, with 58.4 TWh injected into the network last year.

But behind the large dams of EDF and Engie, the sector of small hydroelectricity, which represents approximately 2,300 installations is struggling. His professional union has just sent an open letter to the Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, to be able to produce more.

A shame, while the government has asked energy companies to find new room for maneuver for the passage of winter, which induces in particular the maximization of renewable production, recalls the mail.

Additional untapped potential

Small hydroelectricity represents an average of 6 TWh per year, or the equivalent of a large nuclear reactor, which is far from negligible. “Under current legislation, we have a potential of 3 TWh additional, which could be operational by 2030. But that would barely be enough to maintain our production, which has been falling steadily for ten years”explains Jean-Marc Lévy, the general secretary of France Hydro Electricity.

In question, the extremely tense relations between the sector and its supervision, in this case the water department of the Ministry of Ecological Transition, whose positions are judged “dogmatic and militant”. The opposition relates in particular to the principle of “ecological continuity of rivers” aimed at guaranteeing the circulation of fish and sediment, stemming from a European directive adopted some twenty years ago.

A highly regulated sector

An extremely sensitive subject. “France goes much further than what is planned in terms of regulations, in particular on the minimum flow to be reserved for rivers”, believes Jean-Marc Lévy. Amendments to lower it had thus been adopted in the Senate, in the bill on the acceleration of renewable energies, but they were challenged in committee at the National Assembly, which will examine the text on Monday, December 5.

France Hydro Electricity highlights the hostility of the powerful fishing and environmental protection federations but claims to have the support of local elected officials and the energy department, which depends on the energy transition ministry. It recalls the efforts undertaken, in particular on the installation of more efficient fish passes.

“We have to defend new projects against a water administration that does not want them on principle and says so publicly. That is problematic “, underlines the general secretary of France Hydro Electricity. A call for tenders is thus launched each year by the Energy Regulation Commission (CRE) for the construction of new capacities of around 30 MW, but the winners cannot start the work because they have not obtained an environmental permit.


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