When it comes to the 4000 small hydroelectric power plants in Bavaria and the interests of their operators, you can rely on Minister for Economic Affairs Hubert Aiwanger (FW). “We won’t allow the federal government to endanger environmentally friendly hydropower in Bavaria,” Aiwanger rumbles. “Hydropower is a Bavarian parade discipline for clean energy. The traffic light must not turn off the water here.” The CSU member of the state parliament and chairman of the economic committee, Kerstin Schreyer, is also determined. She speaks of “a frontal attack on the Bavarian hydroelectric power plants”. Anyone who takes the energy transition seriously “must not sabotage hydropower at the same time”. The energy transition can only succeed “if hydropower is not slowed down”.
The reason for the irritation of the CSU and FW: In its new Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), the traffic light coalition wants to remove the feed-in tariff for new and modernized small hydropower plants from 2023. The reason given by Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) is the particularly negative effects of these systems on the water ecology. Habeck thus follows the arguments of numerous scientists. They have complained for years that small hydropower’s contribution to the electricity supply is minimal, while dams and dikes cut off fish migration routes for them and tens of thousands of fish die in turbines. In November 2021, 65 scientists therefore signed a memorandum from the renowned Leibniz Institute for Aquatic Ecology. Its central demand: the subsidy for small and very small hydroelectric power plants should be canceled without replacement. So now Habeck wants to follow the demand.
The yield of the small systems is manageable
Small hydroelectric power plants are systems with an output of up to 1000 kilowatts. Most of them don’t even have the performance of a small car. There are 4200 hydroelectric power plants in Bavaria. Almost 4000 are small systems. Together they produce almost a billion kilowatt hours of renewable electricity a year. That is enough to supply 340,000 households. What looks like a lot at first glance is put into perspective when you take a closer look. There are also 61 large hydroelectric power plants in Bavaria with a capacity of ten megawatts or more. They are on the Inn, Isar, Lech and Danube, but also on the Main. These 61 plants supply eight billion kilowatt hours of water power per year. This corresponds to the annual consumption of 2.5 million households. When it comes to strengthening hydropower, experts therefore advise concentrating on modernizing the large power plants.
Nevertheless, the operators of small plants never tire of emphasizing their importance for the power supply and climate protection. The chairman of the Association of Hydroelectric Power Plants in Bavaria, Fritz Schweiger, likes to emphasize that the plants, unlike solar and wind power, are capable of base load – i.e. supply electricity regardless of the weather. That too is only partially true. The amount of electricity from the Bavarian hydroelectric power plants – regardless of whether they are small or large – is slightly declining overall. Experts cite the climate crisis as the reason. Hydropower also suffers in the increasingly frequent periods of heat and drought because streams and rivers carry less water or sometimes even run dry.