Hydroelectric power plants on the Schwarze Sulm River, Austria

Little electricity for much environmental damage: Defenders of the Schwarze Sulm River protest against the construction of hydroelectric power plants within the protected Natura2000 habitat.


During 2006 and 2007, the provincial authorities of Styria, Austria, gave permission to construct two disputed hydroelectricity power plants, located within the protected Natura2000 area “Schwarze and Weiße Sulm” [1]. While the power plants’ expected capacity is rather low (6,7MW [2]), the related environmental damage would be substantial. The stations are planned along Austria’s last and longest unspoiled river sections, free of anthropogenic influence [2;3] and characterized by typical natural habitats [4;8] as well as endangered and endemic species [3].

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Basic Data
NameHydroelectric power plants on the Schwarze Sulm River, Austria
SiteGaranas, Deutschlandsberg
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific CommoditiesElectricity
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsProject holders are DI Alfred Liechtenstein, Ing. Peter Masser, Ing. Karl Weingerl [3]. The operating company is Sulmkraft GmbH [9].

Technology is provided by the Andritz Group [9].

Investment size is reported to amount to around 20 million Euro [9].

The project is comprised of three small, closely related hydropower stations, one of them further used for drinking water provision. The expected capacities for TKW Seebach (combined drinking water and hydroelectricity station) and KW Schwarze Sulm amount to 800KW and 6.7MW, respectively [2].

The power plants are located within the Natura2000 habitat Nr.3 “Schwarze and Weiße Sulm”, covering an area of 221ha [4].
Project Area (in hectares)221
Level of Investment (in USD)around 22,000,000$
Type of PopulationRural
Start Date01/01/2006
Company Names or State EnterprisesDI Alfred Prinz Liechtenstein from Austria - forestry, hydropower
Peter Masser GmbH Forstunternehmen from Austria - forestry, hydropower
Sulmkraft GmbH from Austria - hydropower
Andritz Group from Austria
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersRettet die Sulm - SULM URI (Unabhänige Rettungsinititative); Arbeitskreis zum Schutz der Koralpe ; Die Grünen ; WWF ; Umweltdachverband ; Naturschutzbund ; the Breakery ; kajak.at – Flüsse voller Leben ; Global 2000
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Recreational users
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCourt decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Development of AlternativesThe central aim of the involved EJOs is to stop the project.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The final outcome is not yet clear
Sources and Materials

EU Water Framework Directive
[click to view]

Flora-Fauna-Habitat Richtline (Habitats directive)
[click to view]

Natura 2000 and Habitats Directive
[click to view]


[3] Paill, W., Komposch, C., Koschuh A., and Brandl, K., 2006. Erwartete Beeinträchtigungen des Europaschutzgebietes Nr. 3 "Schwarze und Weiße Sulm" durch die Projekte KW Schwarze Sulm und TKW Seebach". Report prepared for the Environmental Ombudsman of Styria. (accessed 09/03/2015)
[click to view]


[1] Website of the local activist platform to save the Schwarze Sulm: Rettet die Schwarze Sulm (accessed 09/03/2015)
[click to view]

[2] WWF and Riverwatch Factsheet on the Schwarze Sulm (accessed 09/03/2015)
[click to view]

[4] Natura2000 Steiermark website (accessed 09/03/2015)
[click to view]

[5] European Commission on the Schwarze Sulm court case against Austria (accessed 09/03/2015)
[click to view]

[6] WWF on the violence against Schwarze Sulm activists (accessed 09/03/2015)
[click to view]

[9] Website of Sulmkraft GmbH (accessed 09/03/2015)
[click to view]

[7] Oekobuero.at: Wasserkraftwerk Schwarze Sulm: Rechtliche Chronologie eines Skandals (Timeline of events and laws) (accessed 09/03/2015)
[click to view]

[8] Information folder on the Natura2000 habitat Nr. 3, provided by the Styrian government (accessed 09/03/2015)
[click to view]

Media Links

Video channel, "Rettet die Schwarze Sulm"
[click to view]

Euronews report on the case
[click to view]

Other Documents

Schwarze Sulm - a largely unspoiled ecosystem Source: http://www.wwf.at/de/schwarze-sulm-retten/
[click to view]

Protests against the construction of the hydropower stations Source: http://www.wwf.at/de/menu465/subartikel2597/
[click to view]

Protests Source: http://www.wwf.at/de/schwarze-sulm-retten/
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorA. Scheidel (ICTA-UAB) / arnim.scheidel "at" gmail.com
Last update10/03/2015