The Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol is a tool that measures hydropower projects across a range of social, environmental, technical and economic considerations. In this interview, Simon Howard, sustainability specialist at the International Hydropower Association, discusses how the protocol can add value. You can read the interview in full below.
If you are interested in using the protocol, you can contact the IHA sustainability team to find out how.
How is the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol different from an environmental impact assessment?
That’s a good question, but one with quite a straightforward answer. Environmental and social impact assessments tend to be regulatory requirements – something required by national law. Those studies would take place potentially over a year and be in a lot more detail than a protocol assessment.
An environmental impact assessment would need to establish a baseline for water, for fish, for biodiversity – that can only be done over quite a long period of time by a number of people, and the same for a social impact assessment.
Whereas a protocol assessment is a one-week health check of a project’s sustainability, so rather than being a long, drawn-out study, it’s a snapshot in time of how a project is performing.
A protocol assessment looks a lot more broadly at a project than an environmental impact assessment; it doesn’t just look at environmental topics, it would also look at the economic, the technical, financial and social aspects of a project.
You said that a protocol assessment takes a week, but aren’t there long protracted negotiations or studies before the actual on-site assessment?
No. We tend to spend a few months establishing a relationship with the project that we are going to assess through emails, potentially a meeting, and we then will review the project documents for around a week.
We will visit the site for around a week – maybe two weeks for a very large site – and then we will spend a week to two weeks writing up.
When we’ve written up, there will be a little bit of backwards and forwards with drafts to establish that the report is as accurate as possible. But you can see it as three intense weeks of work spread over a number of months.
What is the business case for doing a protocol assessment?
Today we’ve looked at projects from 3 MW up to 3,700 MW, but the protocol can be used on projects of all scales."
I think the business case for doing an assessment is now very strong. More and more developers are getting back to us with positive feedback about the way a protocol assessment helps them to reduce the risk associated with projects, helps them to manage
sustainability issues internally, and it also helps them communicate with their stakeholders on sustainability issues.
One area that is increasingly popular is improving access to finance by either by negotiating a lower rate because they can prove they have a more sustainable project, or highlighting to a potential investor that this is a project worth investing in.
Are protocol assessments independent?
All assessments are done by independent accredited assessors. The assessors are prohibited from assessing a project that they have any association with, or any conflict of interest
The project developer gets to review the assessment and correct anything that is not actually correct, but the judgements of the assessors are final.
For example, the assessor might say there is a problem with the project because they haven’t assessed the water quality in this area, and the developer might come back and say “you missed this report on the water quality, it is here”, so it isn’t in fact a problem.
At what stage of a project can the protocol be used?
The protocol has four documents, and each corresponds to a different stage of hydropower project. The first is the early stage tool and we use that to look at multiple projects, so we might be using it to screen ten projects to find one that is the best to go forward to the planning stage. It’s really an advanced hydropower-specific risk assessment tool.
The second is the preparation stage document, and that looks at a hydropower project in between the completion of any environmental impact assessment and the finalisation of the preparation before the project goes to construction, so when the management plans are being developed, additional research is being done and the project is being designed.
We then use the implementation stage tool for the project when it’s during its construction phase, and then we have an operation stage tool for the project during its operation. So the four documents cover every life stage of a hydropower project.
What size of projects can be assessed by the protocol?
Today we’ve looked at projects from 3 MW up to 3,700 MW, but the protocol can be used on projects of all scales. We are planning to visit the Itaipu project, which is over 12,000 MW.
If I’m interested in carrying out an assessment, what should I do?
To undertake an assessment you can contact any of the accredited assessors, or contact IHA and we will put in place all of the measures needed to undertake an assessment.
Some companies choose to have training on the protocol before they go on to do an assessment, while others might chose to go directly into an assessment.
A number of sessions at the 2015 World Hydropower Congress will explore how the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol can be applied. Find out more here. If you are interested in using the protocol, you can contact the IHA sustainability team to find out how.