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Rapid action, together – Luke’s calculator supports the turning point in hydropower

Roughly one sixth of Finland’s electricity production is based on hydropower. The majority of the production takes place in six river basins. On the flip side, hydropower strongly alters running waters. There are over 25 constructed river basins, and only three flow freely. Biodiversity loss and climate solutions, changes in judicial interpretation, and the activity of local inhabitants have led to a turning point, whereby the state of running waters is being improved via both private and public resources. The aim is to make waterways flow freely again, wherever possible. 

Hydropower calculator helps optimise worthwhile dam removals

Restoration of running waters has been largely based on ecological knowledge and perspectives. For hydropower producers, the important restoration impacts concern economics. Alongside consideration of ecological knowledge, there is also a need for integrating social sciene perspectives. Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) has integrated economic profitability calculations with societal dimensions concerning optimal hydropower allocation by developing a decision support tool called the ‘Hydropower Calculator’. The calculator supports the assessment of the profitability of investments in machinery renewal and different fish passage solutions on an organisational level. 

Vision must be co-constructed with stakeholders

The calculator is first and foremost a tool to facilitate discussion. It helps to create tangible scenarios of future production together with stakeholders. If production is shown to be profitable only until the next major investment, it pays off to set the hydropower plant on a retirement plan. The retirement plan is a controlled way to end production. Societal support helps in the transition.  

Luke has collaborated closely with participants of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland’s migratory fish programme (NOUSU). Calculator-facilitated discussions that take into account the views of hydropower facility owners and other stakeholders have helped to make effective use of societal resources. 

”The calculator supports tangible discussions on the economic impacts of different management options. All parties understand the language of economics, but for hydropower, it is at the core of all action,” notes senior scientist Antti Iho. 

The calculator ultimately supports joint restoration of running waters

The discussion supported by the Hydropower Calculator in conjunction with societal support has concretely contributed to deciding the future of numerous hydropower production sites. Ending production and restoring the running waters benefits the underwater nature. Work using the calculator is ongoing in a number of negotiations on restoring ecologically significant running waters. 

Luke’s multidisciplinary knowhow on running waters, strong research collaborations, and advancements on the three pillars of sustainability also offer future possibilities. Through these, societal dialogue can be strengthened by bringing together differing stakeholder perspectives, impact assessments, and the temporal coordination of actions. 

Photo: Erkki Oksanen