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Renewables Yes! Big Hydro No!

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Summary in Japanese

Renewables Yes! Big Hydro No!
Twelve Reasons to Exclude Large Hydro from Renewables Initiatives

This summary of the report, "Twelve Reasons to Exclude Large Hydro from Renewables Initiatives," has been prepared for distribution at the International Conference for Renewable Energies, Bonn, June 2004. This summary has been endorsed by 247 groups and networks in 61 countries.

Funds to reduce the climatic and other environmental impacts of energy production and consumption, to advance sustainable development, and to increase energy security should be used for the promotion of "new renewables." The most important "new renewables" are modern biomass, geothermal, wind, solar, marine energy, and small hydro (<10 MW) compliant with the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams (WCD).

Below are 12 key reasons why hydropower projects should be excluded from global efforts to promote renewable energy:

1. Large hydro does not have the poverty reduction benefits of decentralized renewables

Large hydro is capital-intensive and dependent on large centers of demand and long transmission lines. In contrast, "new renewables" can be built in small, geographically dispersed units of capacity, minimizing transmission costs and power losses, and spreading out economic development benefits. Delivering modern energy services to the quarter of the world's population currently without access to them requires a massive effort to expand decentralized renewables. Promoting large hydro will only distract funding and attention from this effort.

2. Including large hydro in renewables initiatives would crowd out funds for new renewables

Large hydro plants are among the most expensive infrastructure projects on the planet. Including subsidies for them in renewables schemes could consume the bulk of special funds, leaving little left to promote "new renewables."

3. Promoters of large hydro regularly underestimate costs and exaggerate benefits

Dam promoters have regularly underestimated the economic costs of large hydropower projects as well as the numbers of people requiring resettlement or compensation for lost lands, homes, and sources of livelihood. While costs are on average far higher than predicted, large hydropower dams often generate less power than promised.

4. Large hydro will increase vulnerability to climate change

Large hydro developers do not currently take into account the hydrological impacts of climate change. This means that dams are being built with designs that do not allow for the new extremes of drought or floods that global warming is predicted to cause. This has serious implications for dam performance - particularly that droughts will sharply reduce hydropower generation - and safety.

5. There is no technology transfer benefit from large hydro

Global renewable funds and carbon trading mechanisms are supposed to facilitate the transfer of new technologies from Northern to Southern countries and to provide the support needed to increase production and bring down unit costs of these technologies. These arguments do not apply to large hydro, which is already a mature technology and well established in Southern countries.

6. Large hydro projects have major social and ecological impacts

According to the World Commission on Dams (WCD), large dams are responsible for the evictions of 40-80 million people, with many of the displaced receiving no or inadequate compensation. Millions of people have also lost their land and livelihoods, and have suffered because of downstream and other indirect impacts of large dams. Large dams are a major factor in the rapid decline of riverine biodiversity worldwide.

7. Efforts to mitigate the impacts of large hydro typically fail

Many impacts of large hydro go unacknowledged or underestimated, and measures to prevent or reduce their impacts frequently fail. Even when people are recognized as eligible for resettlement they rarely have their livelihoods restored. There is a similar abysmal record of failed efforts to mitigate the environmental impacts of large dams.

8. Large hydro promoters oppose measures to prevent the construction of destructive projects

The WCD has developed criteria for water and energy planning which could prevent destructive dams from being built, encourage better alternatives, and reduce the impacts of existing projects. But since following these criteria would mean building fewer dams, hydro proponents such as the World Bank and International Hydropower Association have attacked the credibility of the WCD and lobbied to prevent the application of its recommendations.

9. Large reservoirs can emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases

Rotting organic matter in hydropower reservoirs causes emissions of methane and carbon dioxide. While there is still much scientific controversy over how to measure hydropower emissions and compare them with emissions from fossil fuel plants, it appears that hydro projects with large reservoirs in the tropics can have a greater climatic impact per unit of power generated than fossil fuel generation.

10. Large hydro is slow, lumpy, inflexible and getting more expensive

Because of their huge size and site-specific requirements, large hydro projects take longer to build and are more expensive than other types of power plants. While large hydro plants take on average around six years to build, wind turbines and solar panels can start delivering benefits and repaying loans within months of entering construction. The World Bank has found that the costs of hydropower capacity are steadily increasing because the best sites for hydro have already been exploited.

Large hydro plants by definition add capacity to power grids in large "lumps," while power demand usually grows gradually. "Lumpy" capacity additions can mean power shortages before the new capacity comes on-line, then costly over-capacity once the new plant is available.

11. Many countries are already over-dependent on hydropower

Large hydro contributes more than half of the total electricity supply in 63 countries, almost all in the global South and ex-Soviet Union. Many of these hydro-dependent countries experience drought-induced blackouts and energy rationing, a problem that is expected to be exacerbated by climate change. Yet it is in these countries where the bulk of new large hydro capacity is planned.

12. Large hydro reservoirs are often rendered non-renewable by sedimentation

Dam reservoirs are depleted over time by sedimentation, a problem that eventually seriously impedes or ends the ability of a hydro plant to produce electricity. The great majority of annual sediment loads are carried during flood periods. The higher intensity and frequency of floods due to global warming are therefore likely to increase sedimentation rates and thus further shorten the useful lives of reservoirs.

"Twelve Reasons to Exclude Large Hydro from Renewables Initiatives" was co-published by International Rivers Network (IRN) and the following organizations:

Campaign to Reform the World Bank (Italy), CDM Watch, CEE Bankwatch Network, Energy Working Group of the Brazilian Forum of NGOs and Social Movements for the Environment and Development, European Rivers Network, Friends of the Earth International, Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG), Network for Advocacy on Water Issues in Southern Africa (NAWISA), Oxfam America, Rios Vivos Coalition, Rivers Watch East and Southeast Asia (RWESA), and the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (SANDRP).

(c) 2002 FoE Japan.  All RIghts Reserved.

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