Monday, December 23, 2013

Civil society letter calling on US not to support Inga 3 Dam

[On December 16, USAID announced that the US government is considering
financial support for the Inga 3 Dam on the Congo River. In response,
seven US civil society groups in a letter to Secretary of State called
on the US government not to support the controversial project. The
letter is pasted below, and is also available at]

USAID Support for Grand Inga Phase A Project

Dear Mr. Secretary,

We understand that USAID is considering financial support for Phase A of
the Grand Inga Project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (also
referred to as Inga 3). We believe the United States government should
not support this project, for the following reasons:

Benefits will bypass the local population:

We note that the bipartisan Electrify Africa Act encourages USAID to
prioritize "the deployment of technology and grants to expand
electricity access for the poorest segments of the population." Inga 3
is in direct conflict with this mandate.

After donors have invested billions of dollars in the construction and
rehabilitation of the Inga 1 and 2 dams, more than 90 percent of the DRC
population remains without access to electricity, and 85 percent of the
country's electricity is consumed by high-voltage industrial users.
Building on the model of Inga 1 and 2, Inga 3 will completely bypass the
local population and generate electricity for the DRC mining sector and
the South African export market.

Project will likely deepen the resource curse:

It is no coincidence that the DRC, a country rich in natural resources
but poor in governance, has been beset by corruption and civil wars for
decades. In spite of repeated promises, the country's governance has not
improved in any significant way in recent years according to
Transparency International. The project to rehabilitate Inga 1 and 2 has
been mired in endless delays and cost overruns. Inga 3 will generate
revenues in a highly centralized fashion. It is likely that the project
will be affected by rampant corruption, and may further entrench the
country's resource curse.

Environmental risks are neglected:

The Inga 3 Dam will likely impact the endemic fisheries of the Congo
River. Maybe more importantly, the project - and the Grand Inga scheme
at large - will block sediments and may thus interrupt carbon
sequestration in the Congo Plume, one of the world's largest carbon
sinks. For this reason, a peer-reviewed article has warned that "plans
to divert, store or otherwise intervene in Lower Congo River dynamics
are truly alarming."

Inga 3 is a stepping stone towards the Grand Inga scheme, and the DRC
government has repeatedly stressed that the project is part and parcel
of Grand Inga. In spite of this, there are no plans to carry out a
cumulative impact assessment for the scheme or an integrated basin
management plan for the Congo River. This does not express willingness
to learn from the mistakes of past dam building.

Better options are available:

The International Energy Agency has found that 70 percent of rural areas
in developing countries are best electrified by mini- and off-grid
renewable energy solutions. This is particularly true for countries such
as the DRC that have vast territories, low population densities and
underdeveloped central grids.

Decentralized renewable energy technologies benefit under-served
populations, reduce the likelihood of resource conflicts, and usually
have a negligible environmental footprint. They have become commercially
competitive, but their deployment is still being hampered by market
failures. We submit that USAID and Power Africa should focus their
support on the decentralized renewable energy solutions of the future,
not the failed development models of the past.

Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Peter Bosshard and Dr. Rudo Sanyanga
International Rivers

Joshua Klemm
Bank Information Center

Randy Hayes
Foundation Earth

Maurice Carney
Friends of the Congo

Karen Orenstein
Friends of the Earth US

Daphne Wysham
Institute for Policy Studies

Ben Collins
Rainforest Action Network

cc. Dr. Rajiv Shah, Administrator, USAID

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Friday, December 20, 2013

Good news: Clean energy breakthroughs in 2013

13 Major Clean Energy Breakthroughs of 2013

 DECEMBER 18, 2013 

While the news about climate change seems to get worse every day, the rapidly improving technology, declining costs, and increasing accessibility of clean energy is the true bright spot in the march toward a zero-carbon future. 2013 had more clean energy milestones than we could fit on one page, but here are thirteen of the key breakthroughs that happened this year.

1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down. Helped along by the Department of Energy's loan program, Solana's massive 280 megawatt (MW) solar plant came online in Arizona this October, with one unique distinction: the plant will use a 'salt battery' that will allow it to keep generating electricity even when the sun isn't shining. Not only is this a first for the United States in terms of thermal energy storage, the Solana plant is also the largest in the world to use to use parabolic trough mirrors to concentrate solar energy.

2. Electric vehicle batteries that can also power buildings.

Nissan's groundbreaking 'Vehicle-To-Building' technology will enable companies to regulate their electricity needs by tapping into EVs plugged into their garages during times of peak demand. Then, when demand is low, electricity flows back to the vehicles, ensuring they're charged for the drive home. With Nissan's system, up to six electric vehicles can be plugged into a building at one time. As more forms renewable energy is added to the grid, storage innovations like this will help them all work together to provide reliable power.

3. The next generation of wind turbines is a gamechanger. May of 2013 brought the arrival of GE's Brilliant line of wind turbines, which bring two technologies within the turbines to address storage and intermittency concerns. An "industrial internet" communicates with grid operators, to predict wind availability and power needs, and to optimally position the turbine. Grid-scale batteries built into the turbines store power when the wind is blowing but the electricity isn't needed — then feed it into the grid as demand comes along, smoothing out fluctuations in electricity supply. It's a more efficient solution to demand peaks than fossil fuel plants, making it attractive even from a purely business aspect. Fifty-nine of the turbines are headed for Michigan, and two more will arrive in Texas.

4. Solar electricity hits grid parity with coal. A single solar photovoltaic (PV) cell cost $76.67 per watt back in 1977, then fell off a cliff. Bloomberg Energy Finance forecast the price would reach $0.74 per watt in 2013 and as of the first quarter of this year, they were actually selling for $0.64 per watt. That cuts down on solar's installation costs — and since the sunlight is free, lower installation costs mean lower electricity prices. And in 2013, they hit grid parity with coal: in February, a southwestern utility, agreed to purchase electricity from a New Mexico solar project for less than the going rate for a new coal plant. Unsubsidized solar power reached grid parity in countries such as Italy and India. And solar installations have boomed worldwide and here in America, as the lower module costs have driven down installation prices.
5. Advancing renewable energy from ocean waves. With the nation's first commercial, grid-connected underwater tidal turbine successfully generating renewable energy off the coast of Maine for a year, the Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) has its sights set on big growth. The project has invested more than $21 million into the Maine economy and an environmental assessment in March found no detrimental impact on the marine environment. With help from the Department of Energy, the project is set to deploy two more devices in 2014. In November, ORPC was chosen to manage a wave-energy conversion project in remote Yakutat, Alaska. And a Japanese delegation visited the project this year as the country seeks to produce 30 percent of its total power offshore by 2030.

6. Harnessing ocean waves to produce fresh water.

This year saw the announcement of Carnegie Wave Energy's upcoming desalination plant near Perth, Australia. It will use the company's underwater buoy technology to harness ocean wave force to pressurize the water, cutting out the fossil-fuel-powered electric pumps that usually force water through the membrane in the desalination process. The resulting system — "a world first" — will be carbon-free, and efficient in terms of both energy and cost. Plan details were completed in October, the manufacturing contract was awarded in November, and when it's done, the plant will supply 55 billion litters of fresh drinking water per year.

7. Ultra-thin solar cells that break efficiency records. Conversion efficiency is the amount of light hitting the solar cell that's actually changed into electricity, and it's typically 18.7 percent and 24 percent. But Alta Devices, a Silicon Valley solar manufacturer, set a new record of 30.8 percent conversion efficiency this year. Its method is more expensive, but the result is a durable and extremely thin solar cell that can generate a lot of electricity from a small surface area. That makes Alta's cells perfect for small and portable electronic devices like smartphones and tablets, and the company is in discussions to apply them to mobile phones, smoke detectors, door alarms, computer watches, remote controls, and more.

8. Batteries that are safer, lighter, and store more power. Abundant and cost-effective storage technology will be crucial for a clean energy economy — no where more so than with electric cars. But right now batteries don't always hold enough charge to power automobiles for extended periods, and they add significantly to bulk and cost. But at the start of 2013, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory successfully demonstrated a new lithium-ion battery technology that can store far more power in a much smaller size, and that's safer and less prone to shorts. They used nanotechnology to create an electrolyte that's solid, ultra-thin, and porous, and they also combined the approach with lithium-sulfur battery technology, which could further enhance cost-effectiveness.

9. New age offshore wind turbines that float. Offshore areas are prime real estate for wind farms, but standard turbines require lots of construction and are limited to waters 60 meters deep or less. But Statoil, the Norwegian-based oil and gas company, began work this year on a hub of floating wind turbines off the coast of Scotland. The turbines merely require a few cables to keep them anchored, and can be placed in water up to 700 meters. That could vastly expand the amount of economically practical offshore wind power. The hub off Scotland will be the largest floating wind farm in the world — and two floating turbines are planned off the coast of Fukushima, Japan, along with the world's first floating electrical substation.

10. Cutting electricity bills with direct current power.

Alternating current (AC), rather than direct current (DC) is the dominant standard for electricity use. But DC current has its own advantages: its cheap, efficient, works better with solar panels and wind turbines, and doesn't require adaptors that waste energy as heat. Facebook, JPMorgan, Sprint, Boeing, and Bank of America have all built datacenters that rely on DC power, since DC-powered datacenters are 20 percent more efficient, cost 30 percent less, and require 25 to 40 percent less floorspace. On the residential level, new USB technology will soon be able to deliver 100 watts of power, spreading DC power to ever more low voltage personal electronics, and saving homes inefficiency costs in their electricity bill.

11. Commercial production of clean energy from plant waste is finally here. Ethanol derived from corn, once held up as a climate-friendly alternative to gasoline, is under increasing fire. Many experts believe it drives up food prices, and studies disagree on whether it actually releases any less carbon dioxide when its full life cycle is accounted for. Cellulosic biofuels, promise to get around those hurdles, and 2013 may be when the industry finally turned the corner. INOES Bio's cellulosic ethanol plant in Florida and KiOR's cellulosic plant in Mississippi began commercial production this year. Two more cellulosic plants are headed for Iowa, and yet another's being constructed in Kansas. The industry says 2014′s proposed cellulosic fuel mandate of 17 million gallons will be easily met.

12. Innovative financing bringing clean energy to more people. In DC, the first ever property-assessed clean energy (PACE) project allows investments in efficiency and renewables to be repaid through a special tax levied on the property, which lowers the risk for owners. Crowdfunding for clean energy projects made major strides bringing decentralized renewable energy to more people — particularly the world's poor — and Solar Mosaic is pioneering crowdfunding to pool community investments in solar in the United States. California figured out how to allow customers who aren't property owners or who don't have a suitable roof for solar — that's 75 percent of the state — to nonetheless purchase up to 100 percent clean energy for their home or business. Minnesota advanced its community solar gardens program, modeled after Colorado's successful initiative. And Washington, DC voted to bring in virtual net metering, which allows people to buy a portion of a larger solar or wind project, and then have their portion of the electricity sold or credited back to the grid on their behalf, reducing the bill.

13. Wind power is now competitive with fossil fuels. "We're now seeing power agreements being signed with wind farms at as low as $25 per megawatt-hour," Stephen Byrd, Morgan Stanley's Head of North American Equity Research for Power & Utilities and Clean Energy, told the Columbia Energy Symposium in late November. Byrd explained that wind's ongoing variable costs are negligible, which means an owner can bring down the cost of power purchase agreements by spreading the up-front investment over as many units as possible. As a result, larger wind farms in the Midwest are confronting coal plants in the Powder River Basin with "fairly vicious competition." And even without the production tax credit, wind can still undercut many natural gas plants. A clear sign of its viability, wind power currently meets 25 percent of Iowa's energy needs and is projected to reach a whopping 50 percent by 2018.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

IDA 17: The World Bank’s $52 Billion Test

The World Bank's $52 Billion Test
By Peter Bosshard
International Rivers, December 17, 2013

At a meeting with donor governments in Moscow, the World Bank raised a
whopping $52 billion for its fund for the poorest countries today. The
governments ignored critique about the Bank's role in degrading
ecosystems and impoverishing local communities, but their decision can
still be reversed. Civil society groups will have an opportunity to
weigh in on whether the World Bank deserves the public support with
which it just has been entrusted next year.

The World Bank needs to raise funds for the International Development
Association (IDA) every three years. The $52 billion it raised today are
a slightly higher amount in real terms than what it raised in 2010.
While Western governments reduced their support for the IDA fund
somewhat, new donors such as China made up for the shortfall.

President Jim Kim promised today that the World Bank would increase its
efforts in "working toward gender equality, fighting climate change, and
making growth more inclusive and equitable" through its IDA projects.
Other people need to assess whether the fund's health, education and
other projects match this lofty rhetoric. As we have pointed out before,
in the energy sector, the World Bank continues to focus on big dam and
fossil fuel projects, not on renewable energy solutions that expand
energy access for the poor. The biggest energy project under the current
IDA round is a transmission line that will export electricity generated
by the devastating Gibe III Dam from Ethiopia to Kenya. The World Bank
has already identified the Inga 3 Dam, a mega-dam that will supply
electricity to mining companies and export markets but leaves
power-starved rural communities in the dark, as a model project for the
new IDA round.

Through the Power 4 People campaign, civil society groups have called on
governments to shift $1.6 billion - the share of funds that IDA has
traditionally spent on destructive energy projects - from the World Bank
to institutions that support clean local energy solutions for rural
communities. We have sent letters to governments and organized an online
action to support this appeal. When the government delegates arrived for
their meeting in Moscow earlier this week, they were welcomed by a
courageous protester from the Rivers without Boundaries coalition who
asked for donations for mega-dams in a Santa Claus costume. An opinion
piece in the Moscow Times and other activities by partner groups around
the world supported our action.

For now, the civil society call has fallen on deaf ears and the World
Bank has achieved its fundraising goal. Next year, parliaments will have
to approve the financial pledges which their governments made in Moscow.
By then, the World Bank will need to turn its lofty rhetoric into
practice. We will be able to judge whether its new energy projects heed
the lessons of past mistakes or follow a business-as-usual approach,
whether the Bank prioritizes the demands of energy-intensive industries
or the needs of poor rural communities, whether it focuses on mega-dams
and fossil fuels or the clean local energy solutions of the future.

At a time when an exciting range of climate-friendly energy solutions is
available, we can put the World Bank's $52 billion fund to the test.
With every project decision it takes the Bank will tell parliaments and
the public at large whether it deserves the support that governments
have just have pledged. Civil society groups should work with
parliaments to hold the Bank to account.

Peter Bosshard is the Policy Director of International Rivers.

This is International Rivers' mailing list on the role of international financial institutions in promoting large dams.

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West Africa hopes new hydropower dams will cut poverty, climate risk

(Of course, it's just as likely that these dams will increase both poverty and climate risk!)

West Africa hopes new hydropower dams will cut poverty, climate risk

Date:17 Dec 2013
Source(s):Thomson Reuters Foundation, AlertNet (AlertNet)

By Elias Ntungwe Ngalame

Yaounde, Cameroon – West African states in the Niger River Basin are seeking to tackle climate risks and reduce poverty by constructing three hydropower dams in the next five years.

In late November, the Council of Ministers of the Niger Basin Authority (NBA), meeting in Cameroon's capital Yaounde, endorsed an environmental and climate action plan for sustainable management of the scenic basin and its rich natural resources, which have come under threat from climate change.

The projects include a 102 megawatt (MW) hydropower dam at Fomi in Guinea, a 25 MW hydropower plant in Toussa, Mali, and the 565 MW Kandadji dam in Niger. These aim to boost hydro-electricity and irrigation, reduce desertification and flooding, and improve economic activities across the region.

"The West African region is facing urgent problems of food security, rural poverty and climate change that demand answers in the form of investment and infrastructure. We need to give a push to these three multi-purpose hydropower dam projects as a sustainable solution that involves the region's largest river," NBA executive secretary Collins Ihekire said in a statement at the Yaounde gathering.

The NBA is the coordinating body for the 4,200 km-long (2,600-mile) Niger River, bringing together the governments of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Nigeria.

The NBA also agreed to rehabilitate three hydropower plants at Kainji, Jebda and Lagdo, as well as multiple run-of-river hydropower stations, optimise water storage, set up irrigation schemes for an additional 1 million hectares (2.5 million hectares) of land, and increase hydropower production to 1,000 gigawatt hours per day.

"Integrating future climate change adaptation and mitigation into our development action plan will enable...sustainable management of our water resources, to better the livelihood of the over 106 million population in the area," said Emmanuel Nganou Djoumesi, Cameroon's minister of the economy, planning and regional development, at the closing of the Yaounde meeting.


The decision to reinforce climate and environmental protection in the basin comes after a series of World Bank-funded studies to assess climate risk in the area.

The research concluded that "the impacts of climate change on minimum water flow in the river are potentially severe", according to an NBA report. "Rain-fed agriculture in the area is vulnerable to climate change. Crop yields have reduced by more than 15 percent in the last five years due to increase in temperature by more than 2 degrees."

This has undermined food production, especially in the Sahel region, which includes NBA member states like Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, which have high rates of child malnutrition, the report said.

As well as generating electricity for surrounding areas, the new dams will also boost production of crops like rice and vegetables, and alleviate the impacts of climate change, authorities say.

"The Fomi multi-purpose dam in Guinea will not only provide hydroelectric power, but its reservoir will create opportunities for fishing. Areas around the reservoir will also be suitable for raising cattle and other types of livestock as well as for agriculture. The new body of water will also provide a habitat for aquatic birds," the NBA report said.

The $384 million project will enable regulation of water levels in the Niger River, benefiting countries downstream by making irrigation possible during the dry season, the NBA says.

The Taoussa dam in Mali - estimated to cost $38 million - is slated to generate electricity for Burkina Faso and Niger, and could eventually provide irrigation for nearly 140,000 hectares.

The largest of the three dams in terms of power generated, Kandadji in Niger, will cost around $236 million.

Funding for the three dams is being provided primarily by the World Bank and the African Development Bank.


But environmental experts say their planned construction raises concerns.

Samuel Nguiffo, coordinator of the Centre for the Environment and Development, a Cameroon-based nongovernmental organisation, acknowledged that Africa needs energy for its development, but said the social and environmental price of constructing big dams is often too high.

"People have to be displaced, communities along the project area have to sacrifice their land and livelihood for little or no benefits, and the natural environment (is) destroyed," he said, citing a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature that said Kandadji dam would displace some 38,000 people along the river.

Inequitable distribution of benefits can also sometimes spark conflicts that call into question the overall value of many dams in meeting water and energy needs, he added.

In 2012, Wetlands International, a Netherlands-based NGO, said the huge reservoir required for the Fomi Dam would need to be filled during the wet season, lowering the peak of the river water, and considerably shrinking the size of the seasonally inundated area of Mali's Inner Niger Delta.

Plans to expand upstream irrigation schemes for rice, sugar cane and cotton production would also exceed river capacity from March to May, posing serious downstream problems, it said, urging governments in the region to consider alternative energy sources.

"Sustainable energy options, such as solar power may be better long-term options to invest in than hydropower. The revenues of hydropower dams in this dry area of Africa are rather marginal but the corresponding impacts of reduced water availability are huge," Wetlands International said on the sidelines of the 2012 World Water Forum.

This week, civil society organisations called on the World Bank – which is asking donor governments to replenish the International Development Association (IDA), its fund for the poorest countries – to stop financing large-scale dam construction.

The Bank plans to support a new generation of controversial mega-dams, including the Inga 3 Dam on the Congo River, from the IDA fund, advocacy group International Rivers said in a statement.

"Poor rural communities will pay the price for a new generation of destructive mega-dams, but will be the last to benefit from the electricity they generate," said Peter Bosshard, policy director for International Rivers.

Elias Ntungwe Ngalame is an award-winning environmental writer with Cameroon's Eden Group of newspapers.

Additional information

Monday, December 16, 2013

Nigeria: Intrigues Delay Nigeria's Biggest Hydro Project

Nigeria: Intrigues Delay Nigeria's Biggest Hydro Project

All Africa, 16 December 2013
By Nuruddeen M. Abdallah

High level intrigues involving powerful interests in the Presidency are causing delays in executing the Mambilla hydro-electric power project, sources involved told Daily Trust.

The Mambilla project, which was initiated in 1982, is targeted to have the capacity to generate 3,050 megawatts, which will make it the biggest single hydro-power station in Nigeria.

Despite various reviews and changes of consultants, sources in the government said, the project is being stymied because "powerful interests in the Presidency are scrambling to hijack the contract for companies of their cronies and associates."

The Mambilla hydro, located in Taraba State, was contracted at the sum of $3.2 billion (equivalent N508 billion) to the China Gezhouba Group Company Limited (CGGC) and another Chinese consortium, Sinohydro.

Daily Trust learnt that the proposed structure of the contract stipulates that Sinohydro would cover 70 per cent of the project while CGGC would execute the remaining 30 percent.

But sources involved with some of the details said the key factor delaying the project is a clash of interests involving Presidency officials as well as some powerful former leaders.

Tortuous history

The Mambilla hydro has had a torturous history dating as far back as 1982 when Messrs Bennie and Partners prepared the first feasibility studies for the project.

Sources close to the project told Daily Trust that the first scope of the project was 2,600 megawatts and it was handled by a German consulting firm, Lahmeyer around 2005.

Lahmeyer did extensive engineering studies and came up with project scoping and bill of quantities.

But since March 2011, a new project consultant, Coyne et Bellier, a hydro division of Tractebel Engineering of France, was brought to replace Lahmeyer.

Between 2004 and 2006, tenders were placed and bids were received for Lot 1, which was the civil and hydraulic segment.

In 2006, CGC/CGGC won the lot 1 tenders for about $1.4 billion, and by May 28, 2007, the contract was signed.

Also, between 2006 and 2007, Lot 3 was advertised by the Ministry of Power. Tender was harvested by early 2007 but was never evaluated, a source told Daily Trust.

The Lot 2, which has the electro-mechanical segment, comprising turbines, pumps and generators, was left alone and "till date nothing happened to that," the source said.

Suddenly in 2009, the Ministry of Power cancelled Lot 1 contract given to CGC/CGGC.

Since then, the project has been reviewed and re-scoped from the original concept by the new consultant, which is said to be backed by Vice President Muhammad Namadi Sambo, sources said.

The endless intrigues

The French project consultant, who is said to have been paid more than N2 billion, has been insisting that the project should be awarded as a "turnkey" project and not in 3 lots. This means that it should one single contract.

On the other hand, the CGC/CGGC, which is backed by the Chinese government, is bent on restoring the sanctity of the first contract of Lot 1.

It was gathered that the vice president's group, spearheaded by a Nigerian diplomat in China, has been putting pressure on the power ministry to hand over the whole project on a turnkey basis to Sinohydro, without going through tender.

The CGC/CGGC, it was learnt, is not leaving any stone unturned in reclaiming its earlier contract, to the extent of threatening that there would be no funding from the Chinese authorities for Mambilla at all.

A truce, it seems, was reached between the CGC/CGGC and Sinohydro as the contract was awarded to the two consortia to be undertaken on a build, operate and transfer concession agreement, at the cost of $3.2billion, with the Federal Government contributing 15 percent of the sum as its counterpart funding.

Sinohydro Corporation and China National Electric Engineering Corporation (CNEEC) are already executing the Zungeru hydro power project in Niger State, which would generate 700 megawatts at the cost $1.3 billion.

Speaking to Daily Trust, a former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Babangida Nguroje, who hails from the Mambilla area, expressed concern over the delay of the project.

"Though money has been appropriated for the project, nothing is taking place at the site now. The project is still at the preliminary stage," he said.

Nguroje said the people of the area are tired of hearing excuses being given for the delay of the project, which include that the design was not done right.

"The Federal Government should come and finish this project for the benefit of our community, and the country at large," the former deputy speaker said.

Ministry silent

Daily Trust severally went to the Federal Ministry of Power in Abuja seeking for comments as to the status of the project and why it was taking long to take off, but the efforts were not successful.

For almost three weeks, the ministry's spokesperson Kande Daniel kept on assuring this newspaper that the ministry would respond but that she needed time. The response never came by the time of going to press last night.

An official at the Chinese embassy in Abuja provided this response to our enquiries: "We have noticed that Mambilla Hydroelectric Power Project, upon completion, could relieve power shortage that Nigeria is currently experiencing, and thus is of great significance to the economic and social development of Nigeria.

"The Chinese companies are willing to be engaged in the construction of the project. We hope the parties concerned could solve relevant legal issues and left-over problems in an appropriate way, so as to create favorable conditions for the star-up of the project."

Turkana crisis: It's where mankind was born. Now mankind is killing it, experts say

(In addition to the article below, here is a blog  I posted on the situation:

It's where mankind was born. Now mankind is killing it, experts say
Lake Turkana is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A new hydroelectric dam threatens to destroy it.

Tristan McConnell
December 14, 2013 
NAIROBI, Kenya — In the rugged and remote expanse of land that spreads across the border between Kenya and Ethiopia a modern dam is killing an ancient lake.

Lake Turkana is the world's largest "desert sea," a vast turquoise ocean in an unremittingly harsh place of wind, heat and dust.

Its waters keep the cattle of semi-nomadic pastoralists alive in times of drought and its fish feed the people.

It is one of the origins of mankind where, according to the fossil record, the earliest human ancestors rose up on two legs and began to walk, and it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yet it is threatened with extinction by Africa's largest hydroelectric dam which is already around three-quarters built and likely to be completed in 2014.

The Gilgel Gibe III Hydroelectric dam on the Omo River in southern Ethiopia will be 243 meters high. The project is expected to generate up to 1,860 megawatts of energy, and to supply enough water to irrigate 150,000 hectares of agricultural plantations.

The dam is key to the economic future that Ethiopia's leaders have mapped out for their country. But experts say it will also destroy Lake Turkana just across the border in Kenya.

"The result could be another Aral Sea disaster in the making," writes Sean Avery, a Nairobi-based hydrologist in a new report published by the Africa Studies Centre at the University of Oxford.

The Aral Sea in Central Asia was one of the world's largest lakes until Soviet irrigation projects diverted the rivers that fed it, reducing the lake to a tiny fraction of its original size.

For its part, Lake Turkana is slightly salty and shallow.

Only 30 meters deep on average, Avery predicts water levels could fall by 20 meters, turning the lake into two separate, outsized puddles — one fed by the remnants of the Omo, the other by the smaller Kerio and Turkwel rivers.

Salinity levels are expected to rise as the surface area shrinks, making the lake unlivable for fish, hippos and crocodiles and undrinkable for cattle and people.

"Lake Turkana depends on the Omo River for 90 percent of its water," said Ikal Angelei, director of Friends of Lake Turkana who was awarded the 2012 Goldman Prize in recognition of her efforts to save the lake and the livelihoods of the people who depend on it.

"If you reduce the freshwater coming in you change the chemical composition of the lake," she told GlobalPost. Up to 300,000 people rely on the lake to survive, she added.

Ethiopia's government says that once the Gibe III dam is filled up in two and a half years, a constant stream of water will be permitted to flow down the Omo valley and into Lake Turkana.

But Angelei said this will not solve the problem.

"It's the natural increases and decreases in water flow that allows the ecosystem to survive," she said.

Fish breeding cycles as well as seasonal farming on the river's floodplains require times of high and low water.

"The regulation of the natural hydrological river flow cycle will permanently alter the present flood plain's ecology, with catastrophic consequences," wrote Avery.

Avery's report also stated that 30 percent of the Omo's flow was to be diverted for the irrigation of huge new agricultural plantations.

Ethiopia's government had kept the plantation plans secret until New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch revealed details of the scheme in a report published last year.

The rights group accused the Ethiopian government of "arbitrary arrests and detentions, beatings, and other violence" as it forced indigenous people off their lands to make way for state-run sugar plantations, irrigation canals and processing factories.

"Ethiopia's ambitious plans for the Omo valley appear to ignore the rights of the people who live there," said the report's author, Ben Rawlence.

Angelei says the dam threatens people's rights in Turkana too. Kenya's government has done nothing to defend them.

The governments of both countries have contentious relations with pastoralist people who are frequently derided as backward and uncivilized.

Their very existence is seen as an affront to the sophistication, modernity and forward-leaning economies that the centralized authorities in Addis Ababa and Nairobi seek to project.

The pastoralist people frequently carry guns and disdain the sedentary life of towns and cities, preferring to move with their animals through the wilds.

Despite the expected impact on its people, successive Kenyan governments have raised only muted objections to the dam.

A parliamentary resolution in August 2011 called for construction to be stopped.

But the resolution was not acted on and was then quietly shelved when, 11 months later, the World Bank provided a $684 million loan for the building of a 1,000 kilometer transmission line that will allow Kenya to benefit from the power generated.

Angelei and others hope the scenario they envisage is a worst-case projection, but fear it is also the most realistic.

"Lake Turkana is a [UNESCO] protected area but it's not being protected. It's a safe zone in drought periods, it supports fishermen and pastoralists, it has traditional and cultural value and is the cradle of mankind, but it is being ignored," she said.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

World Bank Funding Challenged Over Support for Mega-Dams

World Bank Funding Challenged Over Support for Mega-Dams
International Rivers, December 15, 2013

As the World Bank makes an effort to raise billions of dollars for its
IDA fund, civil society groups are calling on governments to shift their
support for energy projects from the Bank to institutions that
prioritize clean local energy sources for the poor.

The World Bank will ask donor governments to replenish the International
Development Association, its fund for the poorest countries, at a
conference in Moscow on December 16-17. The Bank plans to finance a new
generation of controversial mega-dams, including the Inga 3 Dam on the
Congo River, from the IDA fund.

Ahead of the fundraising party in Moscow, civil society groups are
calling on donor governments to shift $1.6 billion - the amount IDA has
traditionally spent for destructive energy projects - from the World
Bank's IDA fund to institutions that support clean local energy
solutions. Civil society groups are supporting the call with petitions
and advocacy work as part of the Power 4 People campaign. Groups will
also organize a protest at the World Bank meeting in Moscow on December 16.

"Poor rural communities will pay the price for a new generation of
destructive mega-dams, but will be the last to benefit from the
electricity they generate," commented Peter Bosshard, the Policy
Director of International Rivers. "We forced the World Bank to pull out
of destructive dams through pressure on its donor governments in the
1990s, and if necessary, will do it again."

Sena Alouka, the Executive Director of Jeunes Volontaires pour
l'Environnement in Togo, said: "Shifting resources from the World Bank
to institutions that support solar, wind and micro-hydropower will send
a message that the Bank's big-is-beautiful philosophy is no longer
acceptable. It will also provide additional funding for projects that
reduce energy poverty while protecting the climate and local ecosystems."

Eugene Simonov of Rivers without Boundaries said: "It is highly symbolic
that the World Bank fundraiser takes place in Russia, which follows the
Bank's model of building large export-oriented energy projects. The
Russian government just completed the disastrous Bogushansky Dam on the
Angara River and plans to build up to ten dams in the transboundary Amur
basin for exporting electricity to China. Investing in decentralized
green energy sources would benefit the people of the Amur basin much more."

The International Energy Agency found that 70 percent of rural areas in
developing countries are best electrified by mini- and off-grid
solutions based on solar, wind and micro-hydropower. Yet from 2008-13,
the World Bank spent less than 10 percent of its loans for energy
projects on the expansion of access to electricity for rural
communities. The proposed increase in support for mega-dams will worsen
this imbalance. The Inga 3 Dam for example will serve export markets and
the mining industry, not the 99 percent of Congo's rural population who
have no access to electricity.

The NGO call is supported by advocacy efforts in Germany, the
Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Russia and the United States. The
petition to donor governments can be signed at

Further information:

• International Rivers briefing paper
• Huffington Post blog: A New Approach to the Global Power Crisis
• Power 4 People campaign

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cambodian Villagers Petition Chinese Embassy to Scrap Dam Projects

Cambodian Villagers Petition Chinese Embassy to Scrap Dam Projects
Radio Free Asia, 12 December 2013

Villagers living along Mekong River tributaries in northeastern Cambodia protested in front of the Chinese embassy in the capital Phnom Penh calling on the authorities to scrap three proposed China-backed dam projects, citing environmental and other concerns.

Villagers from riparian communities along the Sesan, Sekong and Srepok rivers presented a petition to the embassy detailing the plight of the 75,000 people they say could be directly affected by the proposed dams, representatives told RFA’s Khmer Service.

The petition called on Chinese Ambassador Bu Jianguo to “stop Chinese companies Hydrolancang International Energy and Hounan Group from building the 400 megawatt Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam,” which is to be built in conjunction with Cambodian conglomerate Royal Group.

The petition—collated by the 3S Rivers Protection Network, which represents those threatened by the dams—called on the Chinese authorities to also scrap two proposed, 300 megawatt dams in Ratanakiri.

They are the Lower Sesan 3 dam to be developed by China’s Sinohydro Resources and the Srepok 3 dam undertaken by Huadian Hong Kong Co. Ltd.

The petition also called on Ambassador Bu to “meet with villagers to learn about the impacts from the hydropower dams.”

Recent studies suggest the Lower Sesan 2 project in Stung Treng could displace 5,000 people and adversely affect 100,000 more through a more than 9 percent drop in fish stocks in the Mekong Basin.

Villagers campaigning against the dam have expressed concern about compensation for villagers displaced by the project, which they say would also destroy protected forest areas, kill rare fish, and negatively impact local ethnic minority culture.

Srepok River representative Tan Cheang told RFA that the Chinese environmental attaché had met with villagers to accept the petition and assured them that the embassy would investigate the villagers’ claims.

“The officials said that they will work to resolve the issue, but that the government had already granted the companies’ licenses,” Tan Cheang said.

“We want a meeting between the companies, embassy officials and the villagers. [The embassy officials] said that they will conduct studies at the sites and if there are potential impacts they will resolve the issues with us.”

Embassy officials informed the villagers that if they could not find a resolution to the dispute, they would ask the companies to meet directly with the riparian communities, Tan Cheang said.

Villager representatives said that they had also petitioned Cambodia’s National Assembly, or parliament, to resolve the dam disputes, but had received no response. However, National Assembly spokesman Chheang Von told RFA that the assembly had not received any petitions on the issue.

Impacts outweigh benefits

Hoy Soth, a representative for villagers living near the Lower Sesan 3 dam site said the villagers don’t want any dams “because the environmental impacts outweigh the benefits” such as access to electricity.

“The first impact will be our eviction, the second is that the dam will cause the fish stocks to decline and the third is that we will lose our cultural traditions,” she said, adding that a local indigenous spiritual ceremony held on the river would be affected by the dam.

She said that a hydropower dam that had been completed across the border in nearby Vietnam already affects their daily living standards.

The Cambodia Daily quoted Meach Mean, coordinator at 3S Rivers, as saying that the Chinese companies should exercise social responsibility and pull out of construction.

“We think that whenever the Chinese companies reconsider and withdraw from the construction of hydropower dams, the construction by a local company solely will never be able to start,” he said, adding that Sinohydro and Huadian had reportedly completed environmental and social impact assessments to build the dams in Ratanakiri.

Land-clearing preparations for the Lower Sesan 2, which were started in March, were suspended by the government in October.

But the Cambodia Daily quoted Puth Khoeun, a representative of Srekor commune in Stung Treng’s Sesan district, as saying that the halt in clearing appeared to be temporary.

“It seems the company is just taking a break for a while since machinery and workers are still staying at a wood warehouse built about 1 kilometer (half a mile) away from the commune office,” he said.

Reported by Zakariya Tin for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

India-China agree to exchange information on Brahmaputra basin

India-China agree to exchange information on Brahmaputra basin

The Hindu, 12 December 2013

Union Water Resources Minister Harish Rawat on Thursday said India and China have agreed to share information on the hydro power projects activity being undertaken in the Brahmaputra river basin following Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Beijing.

Delivering the inaugural address at the two-day conference on  "Promoting Hydro Power: A Counter Strategy against rising fossil fuel prices" organised by IPPAI in New Delhi, Mr. Rawat said a new beginning had been made with the decision to exchange information between New Delhi and Beijing and India would like to take this further.

"Prime Minister took up the issue of sharing of waters. China has agreed to share only hydro information. We have made a beginning and we would like to take it ahead. In Brahmaputra, nearly 85 per cent of the water emanates from India. We are able to tap only 5 per cent of it. We are also working on inter-basin water transfer in India," he added.

Mr. Rawat said setting up of multipurpose dams in the Brahmaputra would help reduce floods and provide for many benefits. Wherever appropriate sites are there, we should set up big hydro, he added. Acknowledging that major problems are faced with regard to environment, security, land acquisition, he said the UPA II government has set up a high powered committee and the Cabinet Committee of Investment (CCI) to monitor big projects.

"I have issued instructions to the Central Water Commission (CWC) to bring down the clearance time for various projects to one-third of the existing timeframe," he said.

Feng Yanan, India Representative, Sino Hydro Group said that as a Chinese company they could not work on hydro projects close to the border. He said they had constructed 40 per cent of the work in the Three Gorges dam in China. “Chinese Banks could extend cheap loans for some of the hydro projects in India and Indian companies should work with them in joint ventures,’’ he added.

Harry Dhaul, director general, IPPAI said hydro power was of great importance in India and should be the obvious choice as it is climate-friendly, firm power with almost zero variable cost.

Listing out the advantages of the hydro power, he said, "Hydro power tariff becomes significantly lesser than coal based tariff over time; hydel plants have a much longer life as compared to coal fired plants; there is no strain on transport infrastructure for regular movement of fuel and saves precious foreign exchange."

Time for a New Approach to the Global Power Crisis

A New Approach to the Global Power Crisis
Peter Bosshard
Huffington Post, 12/12/2013

As you read this, a power outage is affecting much of Africa and South
Asia. After hundreds of billions of aid dollars have been spent on
energy projects, 1.4 billion people continue to live in a state of
permanent blackout. Development finance has focused on big power plants
that destroy the environment and bypass the rural poor. This week civil
society groups are making a push for a new approach to the global energy

The Grand Inga Dam on the Congo River exemplifies the traditional
top-down approach to the energy sector. With a capacity of 40,000
megawatts and a cost of 80 billion dollars, the project could provide
electricity to 500 million African consumers through the world's vastest
transmission network. Its promoters say that it could end Africa's power
outage in one fell swoop towards the end of the next decade.

The World Bank has already expressed an interest in funding the Inga 3
Dam, the first stage of the Grand Inga scheme. It has identified Inga 3
as a model project for the energy sector in Africa and South Asia. The
Bank is currently trying to raise billions of dollars in government
contributions for its IDA fund, from which it plans to finance the Inga
3 Dam.

Before governments pledge their energy dollars to the World Bank's IDA
fund, they should think again. If the Grand Inga scheme ever gets
completed, it can provide 500 million consumers with 80 watts at a cost
of 160 dollars each. High-quality solar lanterns combined with cell
phone chargers currently sell for less than one third of this price - 15
years before Grand Inga turns on any lights.

Like wind and micro-hydropower projects, solar home systems don't rely
on expensive centralized grids to supply energy to rural communities.
Millions of them are already being installed throughout Africa and South
Asia. The price of such technologies would drop much further if the
World Bank or any other sponsor ordered 500 million systems.

With power projects, it is not just the benefits to consumers that
matter, but the impacts on society at large. The Grand Inga scheme would
rely on imported technology, and would employ a few hundred technicians
to operate its power plants. In addition, thousands of guards would be
required to protect plants and 8,000 miles of transmission lines from
terror attacks and pilferage. An order of 500 million solar home
systems, in comparison, could create hundreds of thousands of productive
jobs throughout the supply chain.

Social impacts don't end with job creation. Transparency International,
the anti-corruption watchdog, has identified large public works as the
most bribery-prone economic sector - more corrupt in fact than oil or
weapons trading. The Democratic Republic of Congo has a sorry history of
grand corruption in infrastructure projects, and its existing Inga 1 and
2 dams are suffering from huge cost overruns. In comparison,
decentralized energy solutions are at a scale that can be managed and
controlled by the fledgling institutions of fragile states.

Why, then, are the World Bank and other financiers promoting the complex
and expensive Inga project? From a self-interested perspective banks
find it easier to finance billion-dollar projects with limited overhead
than cheap and effective supply chains for poor consumers. Maybe more
importantly, poor African farmers serve to justify the mega-dams, but
they are not their intended beneficiaries.

The Inga 3 Dam, which the World Bank has designated as a model project,
will supply electricity to the Congolese mining industry and South
African cities, not the rural poor. Industrial consumers need
centralized power stations, not decentralized renewable systems. Even
the transmission lines of the Grand Inga scheme will carry electricity
at such a high voltage that they cannot supply power to the regions they
bisect at affordable rates.

Donor governments will meet in Moscow on December 16-17 to pledge their
contributions for the International Development Association, the World
Bank fund for the poorest countries. These negotiations offer an
opportunity to change course. Governments should shift their support for
energy projects from the World Bank to institutions such as the new
Green Climate Fund and the Energizing Development consortium, which are
better placed to promote clean local energy solutions that benefit the
poor. They also need to establish strict guidelines and standards at the
new climate fund.

Civil society groups are calling for a change of course in global energy
finance through a global petition, advocacy work and a protest in
Moscow. Their approach has worked before. In the 1990s the World Bank
pulled out of mega-dams after governments threatened to cut their
contributions over destructive projects in India and the Amazon. Public
pressure then saved many precious ecosystems and local communities from
destruction. In the meantime, better alternatives have become readily
available. You can sign the global petition at

[Visit for more information and
to sign a petition on the topic.]

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nepal gov't addresses concerns of Chinese hydropower project contractor

Nepal gov't addresses concerns of Chinese hydropower project contractor
Xinhua News Agency
11 December, 2013


The government of Nepal has addressed the demands and concerns expressed by the Chinese developer of the West Seti Hydropower Project in South Asian country, the Investment Board of Nepal (IBN) said on Wednesday.

The IBN, an agency to commission hydropower projects, said it has also received written commitments from relevant ministries towards addressing the issues raised by CWE Investment, a subsidiary of the China Three Gorges Corporation, one of China's largest hydropower developers.

CWE Investment is developing the 750 MW West Seti Project in power-hungry Nepal.

The Chinese company in the first week of October asked the IBN to take care of a number of issues directly linked with the project construction including land acquisition, resettlement of project affected people, the transmission line plan and the power purchase agreement rate.

"The IBN and the ministries including the Ministry of Land Reform and Management, Energy Ministry and Finance Ministry have agreed to resolve the issues demanded by the project developer," IBN Joint Secretary Mukunda Poudel told Xinhua.

He said his agency has received a written commitment from the mentioned ministries, except for Finance Ministry. In the commitment, the ministries have outlined their roles during the project construction and promised to fulfill them at any cost so as to ensure the implementation of the project.

The project to be developed under the financial and technical assistance of the Chinese government is expected to cost a total of 2 billion U.S. dollars.

The Exim Bank of China has agreed to offer soft and commercial loans worth 1.6 billion U.S. dollars for the construction of the project.

"We will receive the commitment letter from the Finance Ministry this week. Compiling all of the commitment letters we will correspond with CWE next week asking the contractor to get ready for project development," Poudel added.

CWE Investment has been seeking government commitment in the above mentioned areas for the last two months while the Nepal government has not been able to resolve the issue. As a result, the company and the IBN have not been able to develop a working plan for the project, which also prompted doubts against the successful implementation of the project among the stakeholders.

"West Seti is a crucial project for Nepal. Since the Nepal government is committed to play a supportive role in every aspects of the project development, we request the developer to begin work soon with full morale and without fear of anything," a high ranking official at the Prime Minister Office said in condition of anonymity.

According to a memorandum of understanding signed by the Nepal government and CWE Investment in August 2012, the project would be completed by 2019. However as construction has not begin, there are speculations that the project might not be completed as planned.

The government of Nepal has enlisted West Seti as a top priority project, hoping this mega hydro project can be a remedy to this Himalayan country where people suffer from power cuts up to 16 hours a day during the winter season.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Death of Lake Turkana Near - New Report

Kenya: Death of Lake Turkana Near - New Report

A section of women in the Elmolo and Rendile village that overlooks Lake Turkana having a chitchat as they embark on their chores. The lake provides a source of livelihood for the communities many of whom are fishermen

2013 could be the last year Kenyans have to see Lake Turkana in its natural state because beginning next year it will gradually reduce, and eventually reduce to two small lakes, after Ethiopia completes construction of the massive Gibe III dam

Lake Turkana may be reduced to two small lakes once Ethiopia completes its massive irrigation project and dams on River Omo, a new study says.

The lake receives 90 per cent of its water from River Omo but the Ethiopian government plans to divert up to 50 per cent of that water to irrigate sugarcane plantations near the Kenyan border.

"The lake level will inevitably drop 20 metres or more ," says the report, What Future for Lake Turkana?

It was released last week by the African Studies Centre at the University of Oxford.

Kenyans will start to feel the pinch next year when Ethiopia completes the massive Gibe III dam and begins to fill it up.

Experts say the dam's reservoir will take three to five years to fill. After that half of River Omo's water will go to irrigate plantations in the lower Omo valley.

This means 2013 could be the last year Kenyans have to see Lake Turkana in its natural state because beginning next year it will gradually reduce and will be regulated by Ethiopians.

Turkana is Kenya's largest lake and the world's largest desert lake.

"Ultimately, the lake could reduce to two small lakes, the northern one fed by the Omo, and the southern one by the Kerio and Turkwel rivers," says Sean Avery, the lead author of the report released last week.

Avery is a civil engineer and hydrologist who has lived in Kenya since 1979.

The report is the latest of similar studies that have been ignored by both Kenyan government and donors financing the controversial project.

Angry activists say more than 300,000 Kenyans who directly depend on Lake Turkana will lose their livelihood and may start to fight for scarce resources.

"We are calling on the government of Kenya to respect the rights of its people and halt its involvement in power purchases from Gibe III Dam," said Ikal Angelei, founder of Friends of Lake Turkana.

Gibe III will be Africa's biggest hydro-electric power project and will produce the equivalent of the entire electricity generated in Kenya.

The government has agreed to purchase power from the dam beginning 2016 and has even secured a Sh37.5 billion World Bank loan to build a high-voltage power line from the controversial dam to Kenya.

The bank, when approving the loan last year, said it was convinced the project will not harm the environment.

"It will expand access and lower the cost of electricity supply to homes and businesses across Kenya and help to reduce thermal power emissions in Kenya, a clear benefit to the region's environment," said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region in a statement.

The move has been heavily criticised by environmental groups across the world.

The Oxford reports says the World Bank has not carried out any study on the impact.

In 2004 the Bank had dismissed the Lake Turkana's importance, stating: "...While most of the lake lies within Kenyan territory, that is a sparsely inhabited semi-desert pastoralist region with no significant use of the lake's waters. It should therefore be relatively easy to negotiate 'no objection' from Kenya should that be required for multilateral/bilateral funding."

Avery says the Bank undertook no significant ecological and socio- economic studies of the lake before it made these pronouncements.

A separate report released in January by US-based environmental lobby International Rivers says it is difficult for Kenya to pull out of the electricity purchase deal.

"Many believe that official Kenyan government support has reflected an unfortunate combination of military/diplomatic pressure from Ethiopia, financial arrangements with key Kenyan leaders, and fear of the legal consequences of breaking electricity purchase contracts," says the paper titled East Africa's "Aral Sea" in the Making?

The Oxford report says hydroelectric dams do not consume water once in operation but they permanently regulate river flows.

"The filling of dam reservoirs will cause temporary drops in the water level of Lake Turkana and, once in operation, the dams will permanently regulate river flows," it says.

So what will deal Lake Turkana the mortal blow is the massive irrigation project that will follow Gibe III.

Ethiopia has already began evicting more than 250,000 of its own people to irrigate the 245,000 hectares of sugar plantations in the lower Oromo Valley near Kenya.

The country wants to become a sugar superpower but Angelei says it is "notoriously unsympathetic to its citizen concerns."

The eviction has attracted outcry and the government has reportedly drafted more than 2,000 soldiers downstream of the dam and most of the Omo valley is now off limits to foreigners.

"The Kuraz scheme alone will require over 30 per cent of the Omo flow as a minimum and this rises to nearer 40 per cent when the 'remaining' area is included," Avery says in the final report.

He adds that the total abstracted water could easily reach over 50 per cent of Omo River.

"The potential reduction of inflow to Lake Turkana is therefore huge, and far greater than previously reported," he says.

Veteran archaeologist Dr Richard Leakey says the project could easily kill the lake. "The only remaining thing is when. This is a global disaster in waiting. Lake Turkana is going to dry up," he said.

The dried up lake might have greater consequences than loss of livelihood by fishermen. "Lake Turkana's lake bed holds salts deposited over thousands of years. What will be the consequence when these are exposed by the receding lake, and then blown onto pastures and farms by the lake's strong winds? " says the report.

The Oxford study says the discovery of vast underground water in Turkana is not helping the dying lake.

"Recent reports by Unesco of vast underground aquifer finds west of Lake Turkana might be thought to diminish the importance of the potential demise of the lake," it says.

The aquifers have enough water to supply all Kenyan needs for the next 70 years, according to Radar Technologies International, the company that confirmed the water's existence.

One of the aquifers is to be the "new Lake Turkana" because its storage volume is equal to that of Lake Turkana ."

The Nairobi-based UN Environmental Program is currently trying to broker a deal between between Kenya and Ethiopia to save the lake.

Activists and researchers say the move is welcome but might be late because Gibe III is 75 per cent complete.

"It is a matter of the utmost urgency, " Avery says.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Reservoir emissions: a quiet threat to expanding hydropower

Reservoir emissions: a quiet threat to expanding hydropower

Henry Gass, E&E reporter

ClimateWire: Friday, December 6, 2013

Hydropower is a frequent target for criticism. Regardless of your views on global warming, turning a serene stretch of river into an artificial lake humming with electrical equipment can make you unpopular, and the announcement of any new hydropower project is often swiftly followed by outcries over habitat disruption and community displacement, among other concerns.

But hydropower's clean energy bona fides are rarely questioned.

In fact, hydropower reservoirs do generate carbon emissions, and some scientists think these emissions could be substantial -- maybe enough to cancel out the system's green benefits.

Steven Bouillon, a carbon cycles researcher at the University of Leuven in Belgium, said the magnitude of emissions depends on the design of the reservoir. Bouillon is leading research in Africa to quantify emissions from inland water systems, including reservoirs.

Hoover dam and Lake Mead
Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, the reservoir behind it. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

"We're quite convinced that for certain reservoirs, the effects on greenhouse gas emissions locally will offset the benefits of clean energy production," he said.

When reservoirs are built -- for hydropower or other purposes -- the grass, vegetation and trees submerged underwater begin to slowly decompose, releasing the carbon dioxide they had been storing through photosynthesis for centuries.

How much of this carbon dioxide actually gets "outgassed" into the atmosphere is a product of several factors. The gas can bubble to the surface of the reservoir and escape; it can be released as the water passes through a dam's hydroelectric turbines; and it can be released farther downstream. Some gas could also never make it out at all, buried in sediment in the reservoir or farther downstream, or carried all the way out to the ocean.

The size of the reservoir can make a difference. Shallow reservoirs with a wide surface area can emit more, because they've flooded more carbon-rich land, which can easily escape as gas out of the shallow water. Conversely, deep dams with a small surface area have much lower emissions.

The methane problem

Methane -- a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 -- may be a bigger concern, however.

Submerged vegetation emits some methane naturally, but stagnant reservoir water can also create an oxygen-deprived layer of water at the bottom of the lake, and this anoxic environment can turn some of the decomposing carbon into methane instead of CO2.

And to make matters worse, many hydropower stations draw water from the bottom layers of reservoirs to generate electricity, all but ensuring a portion of the methane gas is emitted downstream or as it passes through hydroelectric turbines.

A June 2012 commentary article in the journal Nature Climate Change claimed that the carbon emissions from all of Brazil's hydroelectric reservoirs were equal to or greater than the annual emissions of São Paulo, the country's largest city.

Richard Taylor, executive director of the International Hydropower Association, said these reports exaggerate reservoirs' role in the natural carbon cycle. Indeed, the world over, carbon stored in forests and vegetation routinely seeps through groundwater into rivers and then outgases into the atmosphere (ClimateWire, Nov. 21).

"You have a natural system going on, unrelated anthropogenic activities going on," Taylor said. "We know we can measure emissions on the surface of a reservoir, but the story is much, much more than that."

With carbon constantly cycling through water and forest systems, and constantly flowing in and out of the atmosphere, do reservoirs really change anything? Or do they just emit carbon gas that would've found some other way into the atmosphere?

1 long-term study, mixed results

There has been only one study chronicling pre- and post-flood emissions from the same hydroelectric reservoir, a seven-year study of the Eastmain-1 dam in northern Quebec. Cristian Teodoru, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Leuven, led the team that spent three years monitoring emissions from the landscape before it was flooded at the end of 2005. They then spent four more years measuring emissions from the flooded landscape.

Teodoru and his colleagues found that in its first post-flood year, the reservoir was a large net source of CO2 but a much smaller source of methane compared with pre-flood levels. In subsequent years, however, net carbon dioxide emissions declined steeply, while net methane emissions remained constant or increased slightly.

Another concern raised by scientists is that, while these emissions may decline over time, the big spike in outgassing early on is much higher than emissions from fossil fuel generation and could take decades to recover from.

Taylor, who's read the study, described the methane emissions as so small they're "negligible." But in its paper, Teodoru's team ultimately concluded that "the reservoir will continue to emit carbon gas over the long term at rates exceeding the carbon footprint of the pre-flood landscape."

Teodoru said net emissions from reservoirs could be even greater in tropical and subtropical climates, since the bacteria in the water breaking down the carbon-rich vegetation work faster in higher temperatures. Northern reservoirs, including Eastmain-1, are also frozen for much of the year, he said, stifling potential emissions.

"If you compare the same surface in Canada to one in Brazil, you'd have totally different emissions," Teodoru said.

The tropics and subtropics could also soon see a hydropower boom. Scientists believe up to two-thirds of the planet's hydropower capacity is still undeveloped -- the majority of it in the Southern Hemisphere -- and forecast hydropower capacity to double by 2050.

With so many factors contributing to the natural carbon cycle, Taylor said research has yet to fully conclude what impact reservoirs have on this cycle.

He also argued that some research up to now has been flawed. Many studies investigating carbon emissions from reservoirs use the Balbina Dam in Brazil as a case study. The dam is wide and shallow, and it's been shown to emit more methane than most coal plants.

Ways to build lower-emitting dams

Taylor called the dam an outlier, with a uniquely poor design and location contributing to exceptionally high emissions. Balbina has a 250-megawatt generating capacity yet has the same surface area as the deeper Itaipu Dam, whose 14,000 MW capacity is second in the world to China's Three Gorges Dam.

Balbina, Taylor said, is "atypical, yet the most intensively studied project on greenhouse gas emissions."

That said, there are steps hydropower developers can take to minimize reservoir emissions.

Developers should try to avoid building dams near major carbon sinks, for example, and should install an off-take system that draws water from the upper levels of the reservoir, not the methane-rich lower levels, Taylor said.

The International Hydropower Association has developed a sustainability assessment protocol that looks at more than 20 topics from the project planning stage to construction and production where emissions could be prevented.

"As we learn, we will evolve that practice," he said. "Certainly, we would look at water quality. If that's well-managed, I think the greenhouse gas issue's well-managed."

Ultimately, Taylor said he hopes the industry can move past this issue and focus on other things, saying he thinks the industry is "very tired of being the butt of this."

"All renewables work together, and the storage of energy in hydro reservoirs is key to the increased utilization of renewables," he said.

"We're managing [emissions] the best we can," he added. "I can't say there's going to be a perfect solution, but I don't see that as the most pressing issue."

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Memories of Nelson Mandela

Memories of Nelson Mandela
By Peter Bosshard, International Rivers
December 5, 2013

Nelson Mandela, who passed away today, was one of my very few personal
heroes. Through the World Commission on Dams report, his life-long
commitment to human rights dignity briefly shone a light on our own
modest work.

When I was a young activist in the Swiss anti-apartheid movement, Nelson
Mandela's heroic struggle and sacrifice offered inspiration and
determination. Every year we celebrated the birthday of the incarcerated
freedom fighter with defiant parties in the heart of Switzerland's
financial center, which sold much of the apartheid state's gold. In 1990
we undertook a joyful pilgrimage when Nelson Mandela visited Geneva for
a meeting with anti-apartheid activists shortly after he was released
from prison.

My respect for Madiba (as Mandela was known among his admirers in South
Africa) deepened when I had the chance to read his epic autobiography,
Long Walk to Freedom, and visit his prison cell on Robben Island. I was
captivated by his perseverance through decades of oppression, and
appalled by the senseless waste of human talent and hope for his country
through 27 years of incarceration. Most of all, I was touched by the
personal strength of an activist who managed to uphold his principles
when there appeared to be no hope, and who showed magnanimity for this
oppressors by refusing to become, as he put it, a "prisoner of hate".

In November 2000, Nelson Mandela honored the launch of the World
Commission on Dams report in London with his presence. The independent
Commission had been chaired by South Africa's former water minister
Kader Asmal, and its ground-breaking report espoused the same insistence
on human dignity and political inclusion that marked the life-long
struggle of the two ANC comrades.

Not by coincidence, the most important contribution of the WCD report to
the global dams debate was its focus on the rights of all affected
parties. The report states: "[This approach] is based on an
understanding that no party's rights will extinguish another's. In fact,
where rights compete or conflict, negotiations conducted in good faith
offer the only process through which various interests can be
legitimately reconciled."

As we celebrated the launch of the WCD report in London, Nelson Mandela,
who had by then retired from political life, clearly enjoyed the
opportunity of traveling the world in freedom. In his speech, he paid
tribute to the Commissioners for their "invaluable guidance" and spoke
to "the careful use of our collective life support systems, the rivers
entrusted to us as stewards of nature."

Even if it is only a tiny part of his legacy, I am grateful for the
spotlight that Nelson Mandela put on rivers and dams through the WCD
report. The freedom fighter has passed away, but his life continues to
be a monument to human strength and conviction. Rest in peace, Madiba.

[Nelson Mandela's speech at the launch of the WCD report is available at]

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Pay as you go Solar in Africa

Pay-as-You-Go Solar Energy Finds Success in Africa
Selling solar energy on an installment plan is an affordable alternative to kerosene fuel

By David Wogan

A creative way of selling solar energy is gaining traction in sub-Saharan Africa: customers can pay as they go.

Only one in six rural inhabitants in sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity. For households living off the grid, kerosene lamps are the primary lighting source�an expensive technology that is also unsafe, because kerosene is flammable as well as poisonous when inhaled or ingested. TheWorld Bank estimates that breathing kerosene fumes is the equivalent ofsmoking two packs of cigarettes a day, and two thirds of adult females with lung cancerin developing nations are nonsmokers. �The poorest people in the world are not just paying a bit more for their energy, they�re paying a disproportionate amount�, says Simon Bransfield-Garth, CEO of Azuri Technologies, a solar services firm based in Cambridge, England.

Across the U.S. and U.K. electricity from a utility costs between 10 to 15 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). A villager in rural Kenya or Rwanda, however, pays an equivalent cost of $8 per kWh for kerosene lighting. Often 30 percent or more a family's income is spent on kerosene. Charging a mobile phone is even more expensive. That same villager would pay nearly 400 times more to charge a mobile phone in rural Kenya than in the U.S. Solar-powered charger kits are a promising alternative, but many rural families cannot afford the up-front cost of these systems, which start at $50.

With a Pay-As-You-Go model (PAYG) for solar kits, on the other hand, customers can instead pay an up-front fee of around $10 for a solar charger kit that includes a two- to five-watt solar panel and a control unit that powers LED lights and charges devices like mobile phones. Then they pay for energy when they need it�frequently in advance each week�or when they can (say, after a successful harvest). In practice, kits are paid off after about 18 months and subsequent electricity is free to the new owner. PAYG customers are finding that instead of paying $2 to $3 a week for kerosene, they pay less than half that for solar energy. The PAYG concept is a familiar one for hundreds of millions of Africans who purchase mobile phone minutes and kerosene fuel incrementally.

Azuri is one of a number of start-ups selling solar energy to off-grid customers in installments. Their customers buy scratch-off cards containing a code that they send to the company via an SMS message. The customer then receives an unlock code that they enter into their solar kit.

Another company, Angaza Design of San Francisco, has integrated an analog modem into their solar charger that �talks� with the customer�s mobile phone to authenticate a transaction. M-KOPA�a spin-off of the widespread and successful M-PESA mobile payment network�leverages its existing mobile network to receive payments. Payment plans start at less than 50 cents a day and customers can add funds to their account at their convenience.

So far, PAYG has shown notable levels of success. Azuri counts over 21,000 customers in 10 countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and South Sudan). M-KOPA already has 30,000 customers and is looking to attract a large portion of the 15 million active M-PESA users spread throughout the continent. Angaza is on track to reach 10,000 customers in the next nine to 12 months. Bryan Silverthorn, the firm�s chief technology officer, says the feedback has been �aspirational.� In their experience, solar kits are empowering off-grid Africans�literally giving them the power to dramatically improve their quality of life.

Companies report that the PAYG business model replicates well from country to country. They reach rural communities by working typically spreads quickly via word-of-mouth advertising. Once one family has had success with a PAYG solar system, other families often purchase one as well.

Yet challenges remain. Many PAYG start-ups are running into limits of working capital; companies front the initial cost of these solar kits and are not fully reimbursed for 18 months. This leads to cash flow constraints that intensify when customers default. �The financial models don�t yet exist to provide debt capital, and companies can only fund operations out of their equity for so long. So there is a need for debt instruments to enable this to be funded at scale�, Bransfield-Garth says.

Still, the PAYG model may offer important lessons for the developed world as the installed solar base grows. Says Silverthorn: �There are all these debates about when solar will reach grid parity in the United States and elsewhere. Africa is a place where, for a huge swath of the population, solar energy is now the cheapest option. No one knows what will happen next.�

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