/ OPINION: Glen Etive Hydro: a Symbol of Sacrifices to Come

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UKC/UKH Articles - on 08 Apr 2019
The lower terraces of the Allt a' Chaorainn Glen Etive's controversial hydro projects are a planning failure, and a symptom of environmental doublethink at policy level, says Texa Sim. Aside from the scenic impact, the evidence suggests they will also be bad news for the local ecology.

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BruceM - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

What is the expected maximum power output of the scheme (in MW) if completed?

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Pefa on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

That is the first I have heard about this action by the Highland Council and this campaign. I despair for our wildlife which we all owe a responsibility to protect and I thank you for being a voice for them Texa.

Why can't they just use the sea and wind farms for green energy without destroying life (green places and biodiversity) to help life?

Money probably.

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tjdodd - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to Pefa:

And what about the effect on ocean ecosystems of ocean based renewables? Do we ignore that?  There is evidence the effects may be positive but there are at least short term negative impacts as well and the longer term effects are still being researched.

There will always be inevitable trade-offs.  There is no such thing as the perfect energy generation method so we must balance as best we can.  This is not a specific comment in support of the Glen Etive schemes but in response to your comment that using ocean renewables has no consequences (that is my crude interpretation of what you are saying).

Ultimately the best approach is to reduce energy consumption as far as possible in the first place and then schemes like Glen Etive would not be needed.

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Craig Holden - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles: 

What options do Save Glen Etive have now? Is there any further procedure or petitioning that can follow up the exposure from of this article?

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timparkin - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to BruceM:

> What is the expected maximum power output of the scheme (in MW) if completed?

Just over 7MW for all of them...  Obviously quite a bit less because of variability. 

For this, the typical flow reduction is between 70 and 90%

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timparkin - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to Craig Holden:

> What options do Save Glen Etive have now? Is there any further procedure or petitioning that can follow up the exposure from of this article?

None, sadly. Unless there is an unprecedented intervention by the Scottish or national government

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Don Jebus - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to timparkin:

Is it worth starting an online petition to government (https://petition.parliament.uk/), not sure if that would be the right one for this issue being in Scotland (please excuse my ignorance)? Then again it's not the government seem capable of doing much at all at the moment...

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Eric9Points - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to BruceM:

> What is the expected maximum power output of the scheme (in MW) if completed?


20 MW IIRC.

I see someone else thinks 7. I recall 10 dams generating about 2MW each.

FYI a conventional power station usually generates 1220 MW and the UK power demand is maybe 50 GW.

Post edited at 11:27
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AliRLee - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to Pefa:

> Why can't they just use the sea and wind farms for green energy without destroying life (green places and biodiversity) to help life?

If you want to make offshore renewables work then be my guest, it'd make my life a lot easier!  Not supporting the project (quite the opposite) but it isn't just as simple as 'building more wind farms' or 'using energy from the sea'.  

20MW isn't a large amount of power but it should be relatively predictable and consistent.  This would be the same power output as approximately 9/10 offshore wind turbines, assuming 70% capacity factor for the dam and 40% capacity factor for a 3.6MW wind turbine.

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Eric9Points - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to AliRLee:

Or over 20 Glen Etives would be needed to replace 1 nuclear station which provides power at full capacity 24/7/365.

Don't understand your comments about offshore wind farms not working.

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summo on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to Eric9Points:

> Or over 20 Glen Etives would be needed to replace 1 nuclear station which provides power at full capacity 24/7/365.

That's not a bad return rate. No security issues, no long term radioactive waste to store, the carbon costs just to build a nuclear power station aren't exactly low.

Glen Etive is only partially attractive because of its bleakness and lack of diversity, caused by over grazing and deforestation. It's hardly an ecological beacon. 

If the uk is going to meet it's power demands in the future people need to make their minds up. There isn't a single power source that doesn't have an active protest group lobbying against it. 

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jamie84 - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to AliRLee:

RoR schemes have a typical annual load factor of 35-40%. Even in the wettest months the maximum monthly load factor is usually around 50%. Storage schemes might be able to reach 70%.

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Eric9Points - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to summo:

> Glen Etive is only partially attractive because of its bleakness and lack of diversity, caused by over grazing and deforestation. It's hardly an ecological beacon. 

I thought you lived in Sweden?

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deugar - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

Excellent article. 

One small edit. By "great flycatcher" I think you mean "pied flycatcher".

G

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summo on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to Eric9Points:

> I thought you lived in Sweden?

And.. I'm guessing you don't live in Glen etive, so it's not your back yard either? There is a lot of hydro here, 60-70Tw worth. It's on a par with nuclear they aren't seen as alternatives to each other. 

I just don't see what or how the UK expects to keep the lights on when it seems though it's opposed to all sources of production. 

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summo on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to deugar:

> Excellent article. 

> One small edit. By "great flycatcher" I think you mean "pied flycatcher".

> G

It's provocative, but vague with the facts. 

For example, What do sea eagles on Mull have to do with a Glen Etive hydro scheme?

Many of the birds listed might be globally threatened, but in Europe, the UK or Scotland could be exceedingly common. 

Pied flycatcher for example, lowest concern status in Europe. 

Or the infamous crest newt to slow every road project, rarer in mainland Europe so it has protected status, but two a penny in many parts of the UK. 

The devil is in the detail. 

Edit. I'd suggest a 28 species bird count in a Glen that has hills, valleys, rock, water is actually quite low and a sign of limited diversity. 

But fluffy birds and mammals are what people go for. What about plant, fungi, insect diversity. There should be a 1000 species in total in a truly diverse grid square. 

Post edited at 15:03
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Eric9Points - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to summo:

Ok, so I'll take then that what you actually mean is that no, you've never even been there.

On the other hand I've done every Munro surrounding the glen, I've climbed on the Etive slabs countless times since the age of 18, I've camped in the glen many times, I've walked pretty much the length of the river and been into most of the corries that overlook the glen. The last time I was there was about 6 weeks ago.

I recommend you visit Glen Etive some time. In my opinion, the opinion of someone who's been walking and climbing in Scotland for 47 years, it's one of Scotland's most beautiful glens.

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timparkin - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to summo:

If you take a look at the objections made, they weren't about objecting to RoR but about objecting to the placement of some of them, the contractual commitments to bring the land back to a decent state, the way the planning system works that places emphasis on locals who are often employed by the beneficiaries of the systems, the lack of democratic representation at community council level, the comparison of CO2 emissions and other environmental concerns between RoR and other forms of energy generation, the lack of investment in energy storage systems or energy conservation systems, the lack of benefits to the local communities from the placement of schemes, the lack of contractual obligation to return the land to its previous state once the systems are no longer functional/beneficial, etc etc. 

In fact there are only a very small subsection of the objectors who are objecting to all run of river schemes and the most local objector to the systems (me) is quite happy with the latest schemes installed even closer (I'm in Ballachulish. The Allt Nathrach scheme near Kinlochleven has been handled better than many in my opinion). 

Glen Etive is one of the most accessible 'wild appearing' land areas to the Central Belt of Scotland and at least two of these schemes will detract from that feeling of walking into the wild as you walk on atv tracks reconstructed from heavy plant machinery roads past heavily disturbed 5m wide swatches of peat where the pipe has been buried and onward past concrete intakes and penstock buildings. 

Allt Mheuran was one of the most beautiful rivers I know in the area and I think it's tragic that at least this one river couldn't be saved. (and I do think that reducing the 'flow' of a river by a typical 70-90% is effectively killing the nature of it). 

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timparkin - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to summo:

> Edit. I'd suggest a 28 species bird count in a Glen that has hills, valleys, rock, water is actually quite low and a sign of limited diversity. 

And here is another one of my objections. Using the current poor state of the land to underwrite further abuse... Should we just consign the areas of forestry commission monoculture to industrial concerns or should we think about the future potential of such land? Many of these schemes are being shoehorned in because "it's already such a state, no one will notice if we sneak a hydro scheme in".

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pauls911 - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

In all debates of this type, accuracy is important when presenting scientific data. As far as I can recall, the only animal driven to extinction in your lists is the Great Auk. 

All the other species listed have populations elsewhere (some even in Scotland or other parts of the UK&I) so by definition are not extinct.

This is not meant as an argument against the direction of your Opinion Piece, nor on the impact humans have on the global environment, just a comment on presentation and the use of data in argument.

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wbo - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to timparkin: none of that is in the article though.  I agree with Summo , the article is high on emotion, but extremely vague on detail.  And while Etive may, or may not be, a good solution, I'm none the wiser

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summo on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to Eric9Points:

> Ok, so I'll take then that what you actually mean is that no, you've never even been there.

You'd be wrong there, I've lived in Glasgow and in Edinburgh. It was on the door step so to speak. But it's not a pissing contest of who has done what, it's the actual environmental impact that matters. 

Post edited at 15:25
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summo on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to timparkin:

> And here is another one of my objections. Using the current poor state of the land to underwrite further abuse..

I didn't suggest that. I'd rather see much more natural re-forestation. 

My problem is the article tries to whip up public opinion by portraying it as some ecological haven. It isn't. 

With the right measures as part of the project, which I'm sure you are away of. Glen Etive could be more species diverse in 10 years time than it is now and there would be some power generation. 

The problem is across most of the uk uplands the UK population has been conditioned into thinking this scale of bleakness is actually natural and should be cherished. 

>  . Should we just consign the areas of forestry commission monoculture to industrial concerns or should we think 

Whataboutery.

Post edited at 15:33
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Steve Clark - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to Eric9Points:

> Or over 20 Glen Etives would be needed to replace 1 nuclear station which provides power at full capacity 24/7/365.

> Don't understand your comments about offshore wind farms not working.

Hinkley C will be 3260MW. That's equivalent 163 Glen Etives. 

You could fit a 20MW nuclear power station in a space smaller than a house. If in doubt, ask the navy. 

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Pefa on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to tjdodd:

Well said, I never thought of that. 

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Eric9Points - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to summo:

> You'd be wrong there, I've lived in Glasgow and in Edinburgh. It was on the door step so to speak. But it's not a pissing contest of who has done what, it's the actual environmental impact that matters. 


Yes quite.

You described the glen as bleak which suggests that either you've never been there or it was so long ago you cant remember enough about it to realise what the effect of the scheme will be on the glen.

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Pefa on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to summo:

You say it is bleak and deforested (good point) so how is damaging it any further going to help the wildlife that does live there?

It wont and there seems a good chance it would make it much more bleak and devoid of wildlife.Glen Etive is a very beautiful place I've been climbing on the slabs twice and the views are incredible so why ruin that ? 

Surely there are less beautiful places we can use + no one is saying they will re-forest it after they do all the construction are they so that is not relevant? 

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summo on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to Pefa:

If they replant a mosaic of native woodland upto the 600-700m I doubt you'd notice. Failing that, 5-10m of trees either side of all constructions would improve the habitat and shield them visually. 

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pauls911 - on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to pauls911:

And, on checking, the Auroch is extinct too. - Accuracy!

> In all debates of this type, accuracy is important when presenting scientific data. As far as I can recall, the only animal driven to extinction in your lists is the Great Auk. 

> All the other species listed have populations elsewhere (some even in Scotland or other parts of the UK&I) so by definition are not extinct.

> This is not meant as an argument against the direction of your Opinion Piece, nor on the impact humans have on the global environment, just a comment on presentation and the use of data in argument.

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Pefa on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to summo:

Yes good, in fact plant tons more trees but are they going to? I don't think so. 

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planetmarshall on 08 Apr 2019
In reply to summo:

> My problem is the article tries to whip up public opinion by portraying it as some ecological haven. It isn't. 

I think that's unfair, and hyperbole. The article concedes that Etive is no "ecological haven":

"There are many reasons for objecting to these three hydro schemes, but a misguided romanticism that paints Glen Etive as 'untouched' wild nature is not one of them. However, while Glen Etive, like the vast majority of the Highland region, is over-grazed and deforested..."

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noeldarlow on 09 Apr 2019
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

Although I love wandering around in Scotland's wild places I also have to recognise that the sense of wildness and scenic beauty is a feeling, a romantic ideal, something which is within us not something which exists in any external objective reality.

It would be wrong to try to put this before concrete environmental harm (anything which impacts the population sizes of the species in given area) and I really liked the fact that the article didn't mention views once and instead concentrated on the latter. Given the scale of the impacts of climate change, we must be prepared to make many compromises.

For example, after even a "small" mass extinction of 25% of species (a real possibility) biodiversity recovery times are measured in many millions of years. It takes a very long time for the complex networks of interdependency in a mature ecosystem to evolve - much longer than the expected lifetime of our own species. For all of the rest of human history those who come after us will have to live in a relatively denuded world.

Then there's the problem of global food supply. Agricultural systems are very tightly adapted to local climate conditions. Even small changes can have a big impact on productivity. Some types of change can mean the end for certain types of crops or animals. Food will get more expensive everywhere. In the poorest parts of the world we'll see more frequent and more severe famines with associated increases in mass migration and armed conflict.

This is the context in which we have to judge renewables developments. It could hardly be more grave.

We will have to accept a certain amount of local, temporary damage given the genuinely frightening scale of climate impacts. The key is to try to judge the costs and benefits of each individual proposal and so it's great to read an article with so much detailed knowledge.

The size of the Glen Etive projects isn't so much of an issue for me. Climate change can only be tackled in lots of little steps and anyone who has stood on a mountain top knows that every step they took to get there was as important as any other.

Post edited at 02:11
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niche on 09 Apr 2019
In reply to Eric9Points:

Completely agree with you.  A stunningly beautiful place. Just for anyone who is interested, Glen Kinglass which runs from Loch Etive east to Victoria Bridge, again an amazing glen, has planning for 4 hydo schemes but no one seems interested in saving it as all the attention has been focused on Etive.

Post edited at 14:25
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d18 - on 09 Apr 2019
In reply to UKC/UKH Articles:

The SNP Government actually encourage this sort of thing. Therein lies the problem.

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jonnie3430 - on 09 Apr 2019
In reply to d18:

All hail the SNP government for not listening to worthless whinges like this article. (Lynx, auroch, etc? Golden eagle significant impact because small dams and roads are built?)

Dear UKC, if you are going to publish a biased article, how about publishing one from the other side of the argument, otherwise you adopt the bias too.

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GForce1 - on 09 Apr 2019
In reply to noeldarlow:

Many good points.

Putting aside opinion on Glen Etive, my objection is that schemes like this are actually doing more harm than good. They achieve very little (if any) gain in terms of carbon reduction for substantial public money. Essentially these schemes, and similar ones, are little more than money making scams at public expense. You only have to look at the developer profile to see what is going on. For the money being wasted on schemes like these so much more could be achieved.

There is also the issue of extremely poor construction standards (having walked the length of several of these schemes and actually having experience as an engineer in their design). A quick review of the planning drawings shows a method of pipe trench construction completely irrelevant to the actual terrain - the works required will be far more extensive than shown due to rock head level.

We need to get back to a situation were schemes are planned and implemented for the public good, not for greed. By good I mean the right schemes in the right places.

For what it's worth I think the location of the two contentious schemes is at best inappropriate and at worst nothing short of ridiculous. One of them may not even be buildable! We will see. On the bright side at least someone will get rich(er).

Post edited at 22:22
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summo on 10 Apr 2019
In reply to GForce1:

Can you name a power source and location that the public will almost universally accept? I think the lights have to start dimming a bit in winter before people realise changes needs to be made quickly. 

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jonnie3430 - on 10 Apr 2019
In reply to summo:

Aye, water shortage is going to be bad if the public don't start accepting large scale water projects as well: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/water-drought-shortage-england 

We need a bit less focus on irrelevant and uninformed opinions.

Post edited at 08:46
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timparkin - on 10 Apr 2019
In reply to niche:

>  Just for anyone who is interested, Glen Kinglass which runs from Loch Etive east to Victoria Bridge, again an amazing glen, has planning for 4 hydo schemes but no one seems interested in saving it as all the attention has been focused on Etive.

I was interested but the problem isn't individual schemes, it's the planning system. Glen Etive was a perfect example of location, reputation and opportunity to perhaps raise awareness of the problem more than many of the other schemes that are being railroaded through (e.g. Loch Arkaig which had local objection and Highland Council objection and yet was approved at government level). Without this raised awareness it seemed that spreading the work across many schemes (and there many, many more being built or going through the approval process at the moment) would just diminish the chance of this happening. 

Sadly it seems that the policy is pretty much automatic approval and any rejection tends to be resubmitted with minor changes until objectioners tire.

 

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summo on 10 Apr 2019
In reply to jonnie3430:

> Aye, water shortage is going to be bad if the public don't start accepting large scale water projects 

Washing cars and watering plants with drinking quality water that people in many a parts of world would likely kill for. 

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GForce1 - on 10 Apr 2019
In reply to summo:

You are missing the point, wind, hydro, nuclear can all be acceptable in the right place. The schemes in Glen Etive, and similar schemes, are at best a damaging distraction and at worst a waste of resources that could be better spent elsewhere. Never mind striking a balance between carbon reduction and local environmental damage.

The whole industry is hijacked by get rich quick schemes that prey on the fact that they are not subject to proper scrutiny. Back in the days of the CEGB schemes were built for the national interest. We now have an industry that is completely geared to making money, verging on the outright corrupt. As an example thoughout the UK many hydro schemes were in recent years reduced in capacity so as to qualify for extra subsidy.

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summo on 10 Apr 2019
In reply to GForce1:

So you can't name a power source and location 99% would be happy with? 

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GForce1 - on 10 Apr 2019
In reply to summo:

The schemes in Glen Etive are not useful power sources. Have you ever been involved in the design of a power station?

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summo on 11 Apr 2019
In reply to GForce1:

> The schemes in Glen Etive are not useful power sources. Have you ever been involved in the design of a power station?

Strangely enough no. What you might call my expertise or at least my quals. partially rest in the natural sciences, geology, natural resources, environmental science etc.. (I did do a year of pure physics too, so could no doubt get my head around the math if needed).

But I know that if people want the lights to work in 50 years time they need to stop objecting to all sources.

I also know whilst many will say Glen etive is pretty, using values we've been conditioned to attach to barren land since Victorian times, in a realitive sense Glen etive is not species diverse or an ecological haven and could with the right measures be improved as part of this project. 

Post edited at 05:52
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Ridge - on 11 Apr 2019
In reply to Steve Clark:

> You could fit a 20MW nuclear power station in a space smaller than a house. If in doubt, ask the navy. 

Shame SMR development seems to have died a death in the UK. You could have 160 of those up and running long before a working EPR design.

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Jimbo W on 11 Apr 2019
In reply to GForce1: et al

> The whole industry is hijacked by get rich quick schemes that prey on the fact that they are not subject to proper scrutiny. Back in the days of the CEGB schemes were built for the national interest. We now have an industry that is completely geared to making money, verging on the outright corrupt. As an example thoughout the UK many hydro schemes were in recent years reduced in capacity so as to qualify for extra subsidy.

Knowing a few people who work in hydro (but not in this company, Dickins), they are not profiteers, indeed those I know include climbers, walkers and environmentally minded people who care very much about mitigation and work hard with SNH and owners on environmental value. Yes these projects need to be incentivised if they are to be attractive to landowners and when the state refuses to be a developer for the greater good. Yet large scale schemes of the past gave landowners a great deal of money, cost workers lives and people were promised free electricity they never got. As a friend who works in large renewable projects said when looking at this Etive scheme, we could put something much bigger in there. Perhaps that would have been better? Though the overall environmental damage would likely be far greater. Besides, with the FiT now ended, preaccreditation complete and potential hydro across Scotland well scoured (unless storage becomes far more affordable and grid issues are resolved) there will be few if any new run of river schemes after whichever of the current planning permitted schemes get developed. Until, that is, we wake up to climate breakdown and pure rational need drives large scale hydro development, and indeed, as others have said, also the need for much greater water storage even here in Scotland.

As Summo and others have said, one issue here is that these areas are ecological deserts, which does not mean they should be an environmental free for all, does mean what few species are there need protected, but does also mean that some perspective is required when tick riddled grouse are by far the most abundant bird species you are likely to find around many Scottish hydro sites. In contrast to the need to protect specific species under threat, in pure carbon terms, the biomass and trophic chains supported in these areas are small and with mitigation really shouldn't be undermined. So what is the evidence that Scottish run of river hydro delivered under the water framework directive and under the purview of SNH and SEPA have been such an environmental failure?

I do strongly agree the opportunity for environmental improvements are huge, and there has been an opportunity missed in forcing landowners to not just mitigate, but improve areas of development with a much wider surrounding curtilage. However, this is a failure of what is demanded by legislation, regulation, and a lack of sufficient incentives, where only a little EU funding is available for woodland regeneration and peat bog restoration. I know hydro developers have restored peat bogs when proximate to hydro developments, which is a huge carbon plus, and also advise landowners of the importance and incentives available. Yet these actions are crucial at scale, not just for biodiversity but for carbon fixation and reestablishment of meaningful trophic chains. Therefore, far more incentives or state intervention are needed. We also need to cull deer or introduce top predators and stop grouse farming too. I hope these thing happen through state action or incentives, but then I also hope people who care about the environment, as all people commenting here seem to, stop getting on flights to climb and walk abroad and realise that that sort of carbon theft from our kids should have stopped long ago.

Post edited at 10:04
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timparkin - on 11 Apr 2019
In reply to Jimbo W:

> So what is the evidence that Scottish run of river hydro delivered under the water framework directive and under the purview of SNH and SEPA have been such an environmental failure?

http://saveglenetive.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Run-of-River-Hydro-Schemes-Scottish-Highlands-March-2019-DJ.pdf

This is worth looking at to get a perspective on how much many of these developers care about mitigation etc. 

The truth is that the landowner  leases the land under fixed contract, the developer gets a fixex price contract from a supplier and the supplier works within this. There isn't really a lot of leeway for above the line mitigation. There are also no real advocates for the land in question. 

Out of interest, Glen Etive could have had a much bigger scheme with a lot less environmental impact by using the river Etive itself and there would be zero wild land damage and very little effect on the main flow of Etive itself. Plus he intake and buildings could be well hidden and roads already available.  Why this isn't an option is probably to do with landowner issues. 

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GForce1 - on 11 Apr 2019
In reply to Jimbo W:

Sorry completely disagree. I have been directly involved in the design of schemes to reduce the capacity of existing hydro. Developers and operators are very cynical. Have you walked over some of the recently constructed schemes in the Highlands? Some are a complete disgrace, even from an engineering standpoint.

+1 timparkin

summo - maybe you should leave power station design to engineers?

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