Argument: Dams cut emissions and fight main crisis: global warming

Issue Report: Hydroelectric dams


“Hydropower might be the renewable answer”. Times online. 27 April 2008 – Some experts claim we already have an abundant, untapped supply of green energy and the technological expertise to develop it. It’s not in the air – it’s in the water, something Scotland has in abundance.

Hydropower is a tried-and-tested method of generating electricity and is an area in which Scottish engineers traditionally excel. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was seen as a way to modernise the then remote Highlands. It was embraced by Tom Johnston, the Labour Scottish secretary, to bring heat and light into dark crofts and to provide skilled jobs in rural areas.

The schemes built under Johnston’s stewardship have lasted well. Almost 12% or 1.3GW of Scotland’s electricity comes from hydropower. It could be much more. Less than a third of the lochs and rivers identified as suitable for dams in 1944 have been developed. Only one significant hydropower plant has begun construction in Scotland in the past 50 years, at Glendoe, near Fort William. It is due for completion next year.

The Scottish Nationalist government has an even more ambitious renewables target than Westminster – 50% of electricity by 2020 without any help from new nuclear stations. So it is perhaps time for Alex Salmond to go back to the future and draw inspiration from Johnston.

Lester Snow, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said at the HydroVision 2008 conference: “Hydropower is going to play a key role in adapting to climate change. Governor Schwarzenegger has put California out front in shifting to clean power and reducing greenhouse gases and I believe hydropower is going to help keep us in the lead. Our State Water Project, for example, not only generates clean hydropower to pump water to our people, farms and industry, but provides flexibility to our grid.”[1]

Leslie Eden, president of HCI Publications, said at the HydroVision 2008 conference: “This is a time of tremendous development activity throughout the world, with more than 1,000 international hydro projects under construction, and projects totaling 238,000 megawatts being actively pursued. With the need for additional electric capacity and the growing emphasis on climate-friendly generation, hydropower continues to emerge as a key reliable, affordable, clean energy resource.”[2]

Bill Fehrman, president of PacifiCorp, the hydropower company that owns these Klamath dams, says replacing the power from dams “could result in adding combustion emissions to the environment.”[3]

Hydro-Québec, the world’s biggest producer of hydropower, claims that, “compared with other generating options, hydropower emits very little greenhouse gas…contributing significantly to the fight against climate change.”[4]