Hydropowering sustainability transformation: policy frames on river use and restoration in Finland



Hydropower, as a flexible energy source, has sparked renewed interest in the ongoing decarbonisation of the society. Simultaneously, a wider transformation of the socio-ecological system towards more sustainable practices of energy production is required. Our paper draws from the sustainable transformation theory and the concepts of transformability, hydro-social cycle, and aquatic regime to study a system of water governance and regulation in Finland. Our case study data consists of 16 semi-structured interviews and 207 news articles from Yle national broadcast company. We studied the policy frames to reveal how the water governance actors understand, view and make sense of future river use and restoration, and how they utilise the frames for strategic purposes. Results demonstrate that the future river use and restoration were framed by four modes of thinking: 1) hydropower as a ‘cultural trauma’, 2) restoring rivers and dam removal after hydropower construction and operation to improve ecological flows in rivers, 3) improving the social acceptance of hydropower and dam removal, and 4) improving the efficiency of the hydropower regime as a flexible source of power. Our paper shows that to enable pathways for socio-ecological-technical transformations of aquatic ecosystems further scientific scrutiny should be focused on reconciliation of the interest of river restoration, recreational uses of aquatic environments and the flexible energy function of hydropower in energy transition. Removal of migration barriers and small-scale hydropower plants and building fishways and bypasses are part of this transformation. Furthermore, the river regulation needed to give impoundment facilities the flexibility, causes changes in water levels which may be a potential source of conflict between riparian residents and hydropower operators. Therefore, more emphasis should be placed on water governance that recognises the local dynamics and interactions within the social-ecological systems.

Research Papers



How to Cite

Albrecht, E., Lukkarinen, J., Hakkarainen, M., & Soininen, N. (2023). Hydropowering sustainability transformation: policy frames on river use and restoration in Finland. Fennia - International Journal of Geography, 201(1), 47–64. https://doi.org/10.11143/fennia.120946