Associated with being green, clean and small-scale, small hydroelectric power (SHP) projects generally enjoy a positive image. In India SHP promises answers to issues such as meeting a growing electricity demand, facilitating lucrative investment opportunities, and climate change considerations. The features of being green, clean and small-scale have contributed to the assumption of SHP as an essentially uncontested technology. Empirical studies questioning this assumption are scarce. Research on SHP has so far remained rather hypothetical and policy-level-focused. This article investigates the social acceptability of small hydroelectric plants in India by empirically looking at how people engage with these plants. It thereby underlines the importance of studying technologies in their local context. Based on a detailed case study analysis of two SHP projects in Karnataka, India, the article shows how SHP projects are contested on the local level. The engagement of local people played a crucial role in the contestation of the plants and led to significant and unexpected outcomes and effects. The article highlights the importance of having a broader perspective in the development of SHP that goes beyond a mindset of technological fixes. This includes taking account of existing water infrastructure and a broader range of water users. The article shows that the implementation of SHP projects does not take place in a void. Rather, complex existing physical and social realities on the ground matter for the development and performance of SHP.