Webinar SEA for Hydropower


Both rapidly growing energy demand in low- and middle-income countries and the energy transition towards renewable resources are undoubtedly contributing to the growth of the hydropower sector. How can new hydropower projects be developed in a way that best contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals?

In this webinar we discuss lessons learnt and recommendations based on an evaluation of SEAs for hydropower development in Asia and Africa. This is illustrated with presentations on an SEA for national energy planning in Viet Nam and an SEA for a regional catchment plan in Rwanda, both including hydropower projects.


  • Mr. Lothar Linde, an independent expert with over 15 years (SEA) experience in long and short-term projects for the Asian Development Bank, UNDP, the World Bank, and the African Development Bank.
  • Mr. Francois Xavier Tetero, former Head of Water Resources Management Department at the Rwanda Water and Forestry Authority where he led the management of water resources in Rwanda from 2017 to 2020.
  • Mr. Arend Kolhoff, Senior Technical Secretary of the NCEA with over 25 years of experience and a PhD in Environmental Assessment, particularly in developing countries. His current focus is on EA for energy planning and integration of climate change considerations in EA. 


Q&A during the webinar

Please note: the answers by the presenters are on a personal title and not representing official governmental authorities or financial institutions. 

GENERAL QUESTIONS – by Arend Kolhoff

Q: SEA for hydropower versus SEA for water/food/energy: what comes first? Water/food/energy should be starting point?

A: It depends on the plan that is benefiting from the SEA. In case of water basin plan all interests should be balanced. In case of a hydropower plan, the role of energy gets in general more attention than other interests.
Ideally a national energy plan supported by SEA should be followed by an SEA supporting integrated basin plans.

Q: Do you know any examples, when the SEA is conducted for programs/plans aiming at protecting the environment (for example for the National Environmental Action Program)? Do you think it is reasonable? Will it have any significant value added?


  • We have some examples where SEAs are conducted for programs / plans owned by the Min of Env. Most of the SEAs in which we are involved are supporting plans of other authorities and that is logic because they aim to integrate environmental issues in sector plans.
  • Several SEAs have been done in Namibia as part of land use planning exercises, where conservation has been a major component. Answer provided by Bryony Walmsley

Q: Of the many countries which have legislation requiring SEA, how many have actually developed Regulations for SEA? In my experience in Africa, very few.

A: We have developed a worldmap with an overview of countries where SEA is required. But not (yet) a complete overview which countries - in addition to their legislation - have developed SEA regulations. If a country has developed regulation and is part of our county profiles database, then regulations can be found their. 


VIETNAM CASE – by Lothar Linde

Q: I haven't heard you say anything on the environmental and social impacts of hydropower projects. Why?

A: That’s a misconception for the lack of time I had presenting this case. The entire SEA of the PDP 6 hydropower subsector was an attempt at a critical assessment of the environmental and social impacts of large hydro, expressed in high or low TPI values. Low TPI meant impacts outweighing benefits, and the 4 suggested alternatives to the base case (all large hydro built) were different levels of reduction of the large hydro candidate plants, gradually starting with those with lowest TPI. The limitation was that other fuel options couldn’t be evaluated at the same level during that pilot, and other RE and EE options neither – which would be required for a real assessment of alternatives. Bear in mind that this was a very early stage of SEA capacity development less than two years after it had become mandatory in VietNam.

Q: How was the dialogue with civil society given shape, and how credible was that dialogue in terms of real involvement and influence?

A: Dialogue with civil society was limited. This was partially due to time constraints (SEAs often commenced delayed with the PDP writing and had to “catch up” with the process to have an influence) and also because an SEA support can explain the benefits of civil society involvement but is not in the position to demand its implementation. In the case of VietNam the government was well aware of the impacts on communities though, as can be seen in the revisions of the PDP7 also as a result of the calculated health impacts, and the formalisation of the PFES decree was a means to establish benefits sharing with local communities. 

Q: How do SEA analyses compare with actual dynamics of hydropower development in VietNam?

A: This question could perhaps better be answered by the teams that are still actively engaged with MoIT on PDP, as my last involvement is also 7 years ago. I can put you in touch with the TL on the SEA PDP8 if desired.

Q: You talked a lot about the Ministry of Industry and Trade. Were other Ministries involved as well?

A: Yes, other ministries were involved, but in particular MONRE and MPI.

Q: It seems that the decisions on energy mix in VietNam were primarily driven by economics (including costs to health and climate). Hydropower often has significant SE impacts on people and rivers. What weight were these given?

A: I know that there is different opinions as to how far economics goes when it comes to environment and social/cultural issues. The SEAs looked at a wide range of SE impacts, including changes in water regime from dams affecting downstream water availability (e.g. agriculture), changes to fisheries, cots of resettlement. Health impacts is also a SE impact. The main experience was though that to convince PDP planners, impacts need to be costed, which is easier with some than with other impacts (for a lack of attributability and reference values that can be used in a value-transfer approach).

Q: Full' Stakeholder involvement in SEA process is a guarantee for successful implementation of projects, and no protests/issues with local communities?

A: No. That might be true for countries/societies with an empowered civil society. But that’s not the case globally. And civil society involvement on the paper might not always mean the feedback is properly recognized in the decisions taken, while at the same time a lack of involvement of civil society doesn’t mean a government doesn’t want to do the right thing for its people. I really think we need to differentiate here. On top, an SEA is not a tool to address broader governance mechanisms, that would clearly be too ambitious and, as indicated before, not necessarily lead to a better outcome.

Q: According to a paper by Roel Slootweg at the IAIA conference this year, large hydro dams can emit even more GHGs than fossil fuel plants, especially in the tropics. Was this taken into account when calculating the energy efficiency of the hydropower scenarios in VietNam?

A: Yes, the SEA of the PDP6 was actually a critical assessment of large hydro with suggestions to not implement high impact hpps (low TPI). Also, in the PDP7 revision you see a reduction in coal but not an increase in large hydro, but in other renewables including small hydro.

Q: In VietNam, when they replaced Hydropower with thermal power. Do the thermal plants have less TPI? In my mind thermal produces emissions? Can you comment on that?

A: The TPI was only done for HP under the SEA PDP 6. This is also what i highlighted as a major limitation – the alternatives propose a replacement of high impact large hydro (low TPI) with thermal energy, which wasn't actually evaluated as part of that SEA.
The SEA for PDP 7 and 7 rev did that including cost of thermal on health (pollution) and GHG emissions.
In PDP 7 revision, EE and RE solar wind and small hydro were increase, while thermal was reduced and large hydro (as a form of RE with higher impacts) was not expanded (but from my memory this was not an option anyways as the potential was maxed out and it was also not a real option to not do some of these candidate hp plants. The government did work on policy and practice to mitigate the impacts of large HP on communities and engage them in catchment management and benefits transfer – through the PFES decree and related provincial SEAs and studies, i can provide you with examples if interested.)


RWANDA CASE – by François-Xavier Tetero

Q: Has there been a measurable reduction in sediment discharge following the catchment restoration measures in the Upper Nyabarongo? Do you consider it cost-effective?

A: The monitoring of sediment discharge has started on some tributary rivers but it may take some time to see the results.

Q: I thought the SEA is more into basin level, not country level? Well in case the basin within the country then it is a special case. Otherwise, it is dependent on SEA and may not serve the goal. Can you comment on that?


  • The SEA was for one basin within the country and the consideration of SEA led to not only an extensive stakeholders’ engagement but also the consideration of multiple alternatives and this strengthened the buy-in of the plan by stakeholders at an early stage. In addition, this was an opportunity to maximise the complementary of both the IWRM and SEA processes which have a lot of similarities.
  • The Myanmar case is country level. Answered by Kate Lazarus author of the Myanmar case in the publication SEA for a sustainable hydropower sector.

Q: If indeed one of the results of [the Rwanda] SEA activity has been catchment restoration, then this is quite a positive achievement!"

A: Yes indeed, catchment restoration was part of the preferred alternative and the restoration process has already started.

Q: Is the example of Upper Nyabarongo considers the impact of the SEA on other countries that might be impacted? Or the basin is located inside Rwanda?

A: The catchment is an upstream catchment fully located in Rwanda. However, the restoration of this catchment will have positive impacts downstream even beyond the country’s borders.

Q: The purpose of the RBMPs is to propose actions that are aiming at prevention of negative environmental impact and improving environmental and social conditions in the basin. Action the plan is proposing in its essence is already pro-environmental and pro-preventive of problems. What is then the added value of conducting the SEA for RBMPs? preparation of the RBMPs already envisages the consultation process with stakeholders. The reason why I am asking this question is that in Georgia we have SEA legislation but not yet in place the RBMP approach (to be introduced in 2022). We conducted a pilot project for one of the draft RBMPs that has been prepared and saw very little added value of the SEA for RBMP, except maybe for the biodiversity related measures.

A: It is true that the plan was aiming at prevention of negative environmental impact and improving environmental and social conditions in the basin among others and that the IWRM process itself is a consultative process. 
However, the application of SEA provides some additional benefits in strengthening the planning process not only the consultation process but also through the introduction of multiple scenarios and alternatives. 
Also, the plan was not only focusing on environmental protection but also other aspects such as water storage development, irrigation development, water resources allocation, etc. which have a development aspect.

Both cases

Q: How long did it take to make the SEA of the plans?

A: VietNam: around 1 year each (roughly) - Rwanda: Almost 2 years

Q: From your different country experiences, how can governments best be incentivised and supported to actually lead/implement an SEA process and ensure inclusive participation of local community representatives?


  • VietNam: by showing not just the social and environmental impacts and their costs, but translating it into economically viable alternatives that align the governments development goals. If communities are part of such solutions (e.g. through Payment for Enviromental Services for Catchment Management of HP), there will be an increased interest by governments to increasingly involve them. But this is not a process that can be forced from the outside, and something that will change quickly.
  • Rwanda: the SEA process was fully led by the government and the process included the representation of the local community(water users representatives). The SEA was technically supported by NCEA.