Security: Combating Vandalism at Hydro Projects: Advice from Two Companies

Minimizing vandalism at hydro projects can be challenging. Two companies — Brookfield Renewable Power and North American Hydro — share their strategies and lessons learned about deterring vandalism.

Trespassing and vandalism can be common, recurring problems at hydroelectric facilities, particularly those in remote locations. And although there are many physical methods for deterring vandalism — such as fences, gates, and other barriers — perhaps the most effective methods involve educating the public and getting the community involved in efforts to reduce vandalism and keep parks clean. As Brookfield Renewable Power and North American Hydro have learned, these efforts can minimize vandalism and protect valuable resources associated with hydro projects.

Brookfield Renewable Power

In North America, Brookfield Renewable Power owns and operates 160 hydro facilities with a total capacity of nearly 4,000 MW. In the U.S. alone, Brookfield Renewable Power operates 100 hydro facilities in nine states, with a total capacity of nearly 2,000 MW. Many of these facilities are in remote locations, and the company has experienced isolated incidences of vandalism.

Brookfield Renewable Power uses a variety of methods to ward off vandalism and to keep the public safe around its hydro projects.

The first and most obvious method is to install physical deterrents, such as fences, railings, and other barriers. The company installs gates at facilities that allow public access during certain hours. For example, the gate at Falls View Park, which is adjacent to the company’s 38-MW School Street facility on the Mohawk River in New York, is programmed to lock at a specific hour. A siren sounds 30 minutes before the park closes to warn visitors.

Signage is another component of Brookfield Renewable Power’s security and public safety program. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the company increased signage at its hydro plants. The signs read “No Trespassing. Violators Will Be Prosecuted.” Brookfield Renewable Power believes that these signs, combined with the public’s increased awareness of post-9/11 security measures, have been quite effective in reducing trespassing.

Another effective deterrent to vandalism is video camera surveillance. Brookfield Renewable Power uses video cameras at many of its hydro plants, with good results. In 2008, teenagers vandalized the security cameras at one of the company’s hydro facilities. Company personnel sent the surveillance tape to the local police department, and the teens were apprehended. Word of the event spread through the local community, and the result was a drop in vandalism at the site.

A fourth effective approach for Brookfield Renewable Power is to educate the public about safety and security at its hydro facilities. For example, the company recently paid to place a public notice advertisement in a community newspaper near its 36-MW Stewarts Bridge facility on the Hudson River in New York. Signage and portable public restrooms at this facility were being vandalized. The ad asked for the community’s help to keep the day-use facility associated with this project clean and free of vandalism. In addition, the local towns posted this notice on their websites. Brookfield Renewable Power has since seen a decrease in vandalism at this location.

Finally, the company encourages employee involvement in the community. For example, Brookfield Renewable Power occasionally sends employees to local schools to provide children with an overview of safety rules at hydro facilities.

Many of the measures Brookfield Renewable Power takes not only reduce vandalism, they have an added benefit: allowing the company to monitor safety issues near its hydro facilities and remind the public how to stay safe while enjoying these recreational resources.

North American Hydro

North American Hydro (NAH) owns 47 small hydro projects, with a total capacity of 70 MW, in five states in the midwestern U.S. Many of these projects are located on small river systems in isolated areas.

Visitors to Falls View Park, associated with the 38-MW School Street hydro facility, can enjoy the beauty of the park without being concerned about vandalism. Brookfield Renewable Power uses a gate programmed to lock at a specific hour to deter after-hours visitors.

To ward off vandalism at its hydro projects, NAH employs a variety of methods. These include typical physical deterrents, such as barricaded windows and doors, gates, fences, barriers to vehicle traffic, signage, and strategic lighting. In addition, the company has prosecuted trespassers in the past, which had some effect as a deterrent.

NAH only employs video surveillance at two of its 47 hydro projects. At one of these projects, the company shares a web-based video system with a local lake association. Association members can remotely access and control one of the cameras to view the reservoir, adjacent boat launches, and other public areas.

However, for NAH, the most successful tool in combating vandalism at its hydro projects is a focus on public education. Since the early 1990s, the company has been proactive in providing a public education and awareness program in the community near its plants. This program involves educating local community members on the benefits of hydro (including that it is a renewable energy source), the recreational and environmental values provided by the plant, how electricity is produced using water, and safety in the water and around the plant.

NAH has provided this education in several ways, including personnel volunteering to speak at local schools as part of the science and energy curriculum, offering class field trips to the plants, and publishing articles in local newspapers. In addition, NAH typically offers annual plant tours to local community members.

In 2007, William Harris, co-owner of NAH, helped found the Renewable World Foundation. This is a non-profit public charity focused on education enrichment pertaining to renewable energy and environmental conservation. The foundation’s programs include classroom activities, educational tours of energy facilities, and outdoor conservation projects. NAH partners with the Renewable World Foundation to provide its classroom presentations and hydro plant tours.

The result of this public education and awareness program is fewer people trespassing, attempting to break in, or destroying property. In fact, as NAH has expanded this program at various hydro facilities, vandalism at these plants has decreased, from several incidents each year to nearly zero.

Educational tours of its hydro facilities allow North American Hydro to reduce vandalism and trespassing by highlighting the value and benefits that the hydro projects bring to people and their communities.

Backing up this public education effort is the company’s requirement that plant operating staff participate in community outreach at various levels. This is part of the job description for NAH plant operators and site managers. This outreach can include joining local lake associations and boating, fishing, and ski clubs. NAH personnel attend the meetings of these groups to build and maintain local relationships and a positive image in the local community. Having employees involved in this way conveys a local respect and awareness of the company and what it does, which silently combats vandalism.

Decreasing vandalism reaps rewards for NAH, including reducing the company’s liability concerns. NAH also can avoid spending a significant amount of time and money on increasing security measures, such as more gates, fences, signs, video cameras, etc. 

Mick Adams is security manager for Brookfield Renewable Power’s U.S. operations. Scott Klabunde is generation asset manager with North American Hydro. 

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