Social And Environmental Costs of Hydropower Underestimated

New study by researchers from Michigan State University shows that dam construction involves higher environmental and social costs than previously estimated. 

A lot of developed countries have stopped building large-scale dams and have switched to smaller hydropower installations but developing countries such as Brazil are still investing in large dam construction.

These countries have not accounted for the environmental impacts of large dams, which include deforestation and the loss of biodiversity, or the social consequences, such as the displacement of thousands of people and the economic damages they suffer. These effects should be computed in the total cost of such projects. Worse still, these projects ignore the context of climate change, which will lead to lower amounts of water available for storage and electricity generation.

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The above analysis overlooks the powerful dams built at what I term, for want of a better word, "displacement points."  A classic example is the huge Hydro-Quebec power dam at Beauharnois, just upstream from Montreal.  There, the entire flow of the St. Lawrence River is directed through 38 generators, producing just massive amounts of power.  Beauharnois is where the St. Lawrence River drops downward through rapids,  I think the elevation difference is about forty feet or so. That does not sound like much, but remember that all the water draining from the five Great Lakes goes down the St. Lawrence, so that is one mighty river.  Such installations are known in engineering-speak as "run of river" power dams, and do not require the "displacement of thousands of people" nor "deforestation."

Another great example of a displacement point are the numbers of power turbines installed on both sides of the Boundary between the USA and Canada at the Niagara Falls.  There is a control dam built upstream in the actual Niagara River, but that was done more to reduce the flow over the Falls and slow down the rate of rock erosion.  No deforestation, and no displacement of peoples, yet Niagara Falls produces stupendous amounts of hydropower for both Ontario, Canada, and New York, NY.  Indeed, the industry in both Buffalo and Niagara Falls was and is all dependent on cheap power from the Falls. 

The idea of our Original Poster is that dams require the filling and flooding of a big valley behind the dam.  But as you can see, run of river projects avoid that.  And before you think that all spots for run-of-river installations are gone, I invite you to look at the terrain at Kinshasa, Congo, where the entire Congo River drops majestically over rapids in a seething froth of turbulent water.  And from Kinshasa downstream, there are several other rapids sites capable of yet further bits from the Congo River apple. Lots of power there.

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While investigating into Nuclear Power Insurance , I had read , that operators of Hydro-Power would not be insured to dam breaks , that would release such massive amounts of water into deep valleys , that a wave rinding through these could possibly drown 10 thousands of people .

 

Would need to search for that specific topic ...

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38 minutes ago, Karl V said:

While investigating into Nuclear Power Insurance , I had read , that operators of Hydro-Power would not be insured to dam breaks , that would release such massive amounts of water into deep valleys , that a wave rinding through these could possibly drown 10 thousands of people .

 

Would need to search for that specific topic ...

That is correct.  In the USA, those big dams are typically owned by a government unit.  Those units  remain immune from suits for damages, under the theory of "sovereign immunity."  In turn, that stems from Old England, where the King sits by the grace of God, thus the King can do no wrong (thus the King cannot be sued for damages).   If you are a private dam operator, then you can be sued for damages - which usually are catastrophic.

The last big private dam that broke was upstream from Johnstown, Pennsylvania,it was built by a private country club of steel executives.  I think is was made of piled-up earth, or "earthen dam."  When it let loose, it created the great "Johnstown Flood," a wall of water rushing down at over 25 mph, just swashing everything in the valley below, both with the force of water and with all the accumulated debris,including boulders and trees.  Lots died, of course.  I think it was around 1938.   The Country Club pled "Act of God" to get away from legal liability.  Today, there is no way that anyone could plead Act of God and escape liability. 

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(edited)

On 1/11/2019 at 7:08 PM, Brian W said:

New study by researchers from Michigan State University shows that dam construction involves higher environmental and social costs than previously estimated. 

A lot of developed countries have stopped building large-scale dams and have switched to smaller hydropower installations but developing countries such as Brazil are still investing in large dam construction.

These countries have not accounted for the environmental impacts of large dams, which include deforestation and the loss of biodiversity, or the social consequences, such as the displacement of thousands of people and the economic damages they suffer. These effects should be computed in the total cost of such projects. Worse still, these projects ignore the context of climate change, which will lead to lower amounts of water available for storage and electricity generation.

I would think that climate change would increase the amount of water available as it increases ocean level rise and temperature. Rain primarily comes from ocean water evaporation so the increased liquid water and temperature would increase cloud cover and rain through evaporation and transpiration https://water.usgs.gov/edu/watercycletranspiration.html

Edited by ronwagn

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