Hydropower has the ability to not only have a minimal impact on river ecosystems, but to actually improve them as well. For example, some hydropower plants help cool rivers through reservoir releases and regulates the temperature of a warming river, which might otherwise threaten ecosystem health.
If you’re not current on the sustainability accomplishments of the modern hydropower industry, there’s one organization working hard to change that. The Low Impact Hydropower Institute (LIHI), 2018 non-profit winner of The Cleanie Awards®, is the only certification program for hydropower operations that have minimal impact on the environment. In 2019, the organization certified more than 10 new projects and recently announced its 160th certificate.
Historically, the environmental and hydropower movements have been at odds, but LIHI has successfully brought both camps together to enable hydropower plants that balance power generation and river impact. Using consistent standards and data-based analysis, LIHI helps build trust between communities and companies providing a critical source of clean power.
LIHI has also helped hydropower companies communicate more clearly and credibly about asset performance and impact, leading to a more informed and transparent engagement between stakeholders.
Looking ahead, LIHI plans to review two aspects of its program – certifying new dams (those built after 1998 that are currently ineligible for certification) and extending the certificate term. The organization conducts such reviews with public input to strengthen the program.
“Our underlying goal is to improve river systems where hydropower is present,” said Shannon Ames, Executive Director of LIHI. “We do this by recognizing and rewarding hydropower that meets our science-based criteria for protection of the environmental, cultural resources and recreational access to the rivers.”
As a sign of how powerful the LIHI standard has become, it has become commonplace for developers of new hydropower (at existing dams) to state a goal of getting LIHI Certified after construction. “Considering LIHI Certification as a design outcome is a real shift,” said Ames.
States like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Delaware, as well as the Green-e REC program, EPA’s Green Power Partnership, and even corporate buyers recognize LIHI Certification as a way of reaching various goals or achieving credits. Additional revenues from credits enable hydropower owners to continuously invest in protecting the fragile river systems where they operate.