(June 8, 2010) Solutions to solve global warming may actually cause more environmental damage.
A sneaking suspicion that large, environmentally-damaging dam projects would be one of the major beneficiaries from the global warming movement is quickly becoming a reality. According to a report from Reuters, Zhang Guobao, the head of China’s National Energy Administration, says the country needs to speed up construction of large dam projects if it wants to achieve clean energy targets—to cut the amount of carbon dioxide produced for each unit of national income by 40-45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels—it touted at the December meeting in Copenhagen.
“For new hydropower projects to play a role in China’s move toward energy saving and emission reduction in 2020, their [large dams] construction must be started before 2015,” he said.
“Considering current hydropower capacity, projects under construction, and building cycles, China needs to start building around 120 gigawatts (GW) of hydropower projects in the six years through 2015.”
China currently has 197 GW of hydropower generating capacity, which, according to Reuters accounts for 23 percent of its total installation. Coal remains the country’s largest source of electricity, accounting for more than 75 percent.
Zhang is also deputy head of the National Development and Reform Commission, which is in charge of approving large energy projects.
Zhang says that hydropower approvals have come to a virtual standstill due to environmental, resettlement, and management concerns. Since 2007, only 14.07 GW of hydro electricity has been approved—amounting to less than 5 GW each year. It is time to pull back on these concerns, he argues, and recognize that every energy source has positive and negative effects. Each one “should be weighed in an overall way.”
But if dams were weighed in an “overall way,” it is hard to imagine they could survive the scrutiny, even on global warming terms.
As just one example, researchers have found that during the summer months, when the Three Gorges is partially drained, much of vegetation that turns to marshland emits methane—with the Pengxi River, a branch of the Yangtze River upstream of Three Gorges, emitting 6.7 milligrams of methane per square metre per hour. The researchers were denied access by government officials to the hydro station to study the amount of methane emissions from dam’s turbines, which some scientists believe could be the biggest emitter of them all.
And as alternatives to high-efficiency, gas-fired combined cycle plants, hydro dams are poor performers. According to a report by Probe International, if Three Gorges’ $30 billion price tag had been invested in gas-fired combined cycle plants, China could have displaced at least two and a half times as much coal as Three Gorges could—without the enormous, and seemingly perpetual problems of landslides, polluted water, massive resettlement and destruction of fish stocks, to name just a few of the costs.
Building dams to address global warming concerns is clearly wrong-headed, says Patricia Adams of energy and environment watchdog Probe International. “It is an especially bitter pill for those whose environment is destroyed by a hydrodam to be told it is necessary in order to save the environment” she adds.
Probe International, June 8, 2010