Thursday, June 26, 2014

As Violence Grips Iraq, Fears of Pre-Emptive Flooding Arise

As Violence Grips Iraq, Fears of Pre-Emptive Flooding Arise
Dam operators warn that army's plan to open floodgates to thwart ISIS
would create massive destruction to villages

Andrea Germanos, staff writer
Common Dreams, 6/26/2014

The possibility of potentially catastrophic flooding has emerged
following reporting that either Iraqi military forces or Sunni militants
would open the floodgates of a dam on the Euphrates River.

Citing statements by Iraqi security officials made Wednesday, the New
York Times reported that ISIS forces "were advancing on the Haditha
Dam," located roughly 120 miles from Baghdad.

The dam is the country's second largest and generates hydroelectric power.

The Times does not cite a specific threat made by ISIS forces that they
would open the floodgates, but notes that ISIS fighters in April seized
the Falluja Dam and unleashed flooding.

The Times reporting adds that Iraqi government forces were responding to
the possibility by being prepared to open the dam's floodgates
themselves. From the Times:

"This will lead to the flooding of the town and villages and will
harm you also," the [dam] employee said he told the [army] officers.

Regardless of which side might open the floodgates, it is the civilian
population who would suffer in such an event, Peter Bosshard, Policy
Director of International Rivers, an organization that works to protect
rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them, explained to
Common Dreams.

"Dams have been used as weapons of mass destruction through the ages,"
Bosshard continued. "In the first recorded water war, the army of Umma,
a Sumerian city state, drained irrigation canals against their enemies
of Lagash in present-day Iraq, not far from Haditha Dam, 4,500 years
ago. In the most infamous case, the nationalist army of Chian Kai Shek
destroyed the dikes of the Yellow River in 1937 to slow the advancing
Japanese army, thereby flooding hundreds of thousands of square
kilometers of land and killing at least 800,000 of its own people," he

Khalid Salman, head of the Haditha local council, told the Washington
Post that ISIS would want take over the dam not to unleash flooding but
to control the power plant powered by it, thus being able to provide a
service to the local population.

"Of course they want to control the dam, which is very important, not
only for Anbar, but for all of Iraq," the Post quotes Salman as saying.

Meanwhile, violence continues to erupt in the country. Reuters reports
that on Thursday battles were "raging" in the city of Tikrit, where
Iraqi forces are launching a counter-attack on Sunni militant forces.

And on Wednesday, Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr rebuked gains made by
ISIS, and said his supporters "will shake the ground under the feet of
ignorance and extremism," Agence France-Presse reports.

Iraq's Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki has told the BBC that he welcomed
strikes against ISIS carried out by Syria, which hit within the Syrian
side of the Iraq/Syira border. He said they were carried out without
coordination, but added, "We actually welcome any Syrian strike against

Amidst the official comments by leaders and new gains in territory by
ISIS, a humanitarian crisis continues to unfold, as over one million
Iraqis - including half a million children - have been forced to flee
their homes.

"Yet again, another humanitarian crisis hits war-torn Iraq,
disproportionately and negatively impacting the hungry poor," reads a
statement issued Wednesday by United Nations World Food Programme
Executive Director Ertharin Cousin.

"The UN and the entire humanitarian community are surging staff,
releasing funds and drawing on all available stocks to assist people
affected by the fighting and meet the urgent growing needs," Cousin added.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hydropower poses grid challenge for Brazil

Hydropower poses grid challenge for Brazil
7 June 2014

Brazil may be too reliant on hydropower as it builds world�s 3rd biggest dam, according to US Department of Energy

By Gerard Wynn

While rainfall has recently doused World Cup football pitches in southern and eastern Brazil, persistent drought elsewhere poses a challenge for the country�s hydropower, the US Department of Energy said on Tuesday.

�Brazil is currently experiencing its worst drought in 40 years, which has contributed to electricity blackouts in many Brazilian regions,� the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said.

�The south has been inundated with rainfall that has affected some World Cup matches, including those held in Natal, the site of team USA�s victory over Ghana last night,� it added.

�(But) the drought has persisted in northern Brazil. Much of Brazil�s hydroelectric potential lies in the country�s Amazon River basin. This reliance on one resource for most of the country�s electricity generation, combined with the distant and disparate locations of its population centers, has presented electricity reliability challenges.�

Hydropower is responsible for more than three quarters of Brazil�s electricity generation, making the present drought a topic of energy security.

Brazil�s hydropower consumption fell 7% last year, according to data published by the energy company BP on Monday.

Analysts expect that the country can cope with extra electricity demand during the World Cup, in the worst case limiting supply in regions not participating in the tournament, and stepping up gas-fired power.

Hydropower consumption last year fell by 6.8 million tonnes of oil equivalent (MTOE), while natural gas consumption almost made up the difference, growing by 5.4 MTOE, according to the BP data.

�Brazil has spent more than $5 billion to subsidize electric utilities replacing lost hydroelectric generation with fossil fuel-fired generation, including large amounts of liquefied natural gas, and has taken steps to provide backup generation for stadiums,� the EIA said.

Notwithstanding the energy security risks, Brazil is in the process of building the world�s third biggest dam, on a tributary of the Amazon.

The country already has the world�s second biggest dam, by generating capacity, shared with Paraguay on the Parana River in the south west of the country. At around 14,000 megawatts (MW), it is second only to the China Three Gorges� 22,500 MW.

And it is expected to commission an equally enormous dam within two years.

�The 14,000-megawatt Belo Monte dam along the Xingu River, expected to be completed in 2016, will become the second-largest dam in Brazil�and the third-largest dam in the world�at a projected cost of $13 billion,� the EIA said.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Should hydropower truly be described as renewable? (SciDevNet)

Speed read
� Hydroelectric dams provide carbon-free energy as well as a show of power

� But they cause environmental harm and displace communities

� Energy production should be labelled �renewable� if it serves local needs

A revival in huge hydro projects may cut carbon emissions, but proponents' use of the term 'renewable' is misplaced.

Hydroelectric dams are the quintessential expression of human control of nature. As well as power, they create reservoirs of clean water, which to some are both pleasing to the eye and a place for tranquil recreation. They promise control of flooding, provide a steady supply of water for irrigation and, with time, a source of fresh fish.

They are an economist's as well as an engineer's dream, and, coupled with dynamic images of the cranes, bulldozers and swarms of men in hard hats associated with their construction, they are an instant marketing opportunity for politicians eager to demonstrate their commitment to progress.

Some argue that hydroelectric power has green credentials because it makes use of water - a free abundant and inherently benign medium.

It takes advantage of gravity, transforming energy from flowing water into electricity in a process that is at once clean and carbon free. With growing global concerns over carbon emissions, it is no surprise that hydroelectric projects should have a certain allure for governments wrestling with their countries' energy needs.

Yet this squeaky clean image has become tarnished over time, with criticism over the impact of these structures on the environment and the lives of people displaced by their construction.

As large dams have come under ever-increasing scrutiny, so their popularity with governments has steadily declined over the past two decades.

But this trend has recently been reversed. Massive hydroelectric projects are once again coming into vogue, with a boom in construction across the planet, from Brazil to China. Watching one of our audio slideshows on the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil cannot but elicit concern.

The stark, if hauntingly beautiful, images of the Xingu rainforest, which is being destroyed in the wake of the controversial project, rekindle an uneasy awareness: that large-scale hydroelectric projects do not easily fit into the clean energy paradigm. So, should they enjoy the positive connotations of the word 'renewable'?

How 'clean' is hydro?

Part of this unease is rooted in a sense that the displacement of thousands of people and the logging of huge areas, the gouging out and crushing of rocks - in short, the systematic alteration of an ancient landscape with unpredictable final consequences - is not exactly 'clean', either environmentally or, indeed, morally.

The other part of the unease reflects the uses to which the energy from large-scale hydro projects will be put.

For some developing economies, there is an argument for exploring the careful and judicious use of hydropower to meet a particular region's energy needs, especially when these complement its water needs.

Listen to Mallika Aryal's interview with Jeremy Bird, director-general of the International Water Management Institute, for a succinct account of why water management and energy production are so inextricably linked.

Where energy production is borne out of necessity and serves local needs, I find the idea that hydropower can be described as 'renewable' reasonably acceptable, notwithstanding the controversies that always seem to surround such projects. There is more here than a simple question of semantics, or the technical meaning of words.

The words we use also reflect a moral orientation. In my view, the crucial and central ingredient of the concept of 'renewable' should be a clear and overt recognition of this moral orientation, without any lingering taste of guilt.

When hydropower energy generation moves from being a necessity that answers pressing energy needs to being a commodity to trade, and where it has a massive impact on the local ecosystem, questions need to be raised about whether it should enjoy the positive, feel-good connotations of the term 'renewable'.

Relying on green credentials

I have an uneasy feeling that there is a growing reliance in some quarters on the green credentials of hydroelectric power to support its development - where it is not being produced for local needs and where it has a massive impact on local ecosystems and human lives.

Malaysia, for example - which last month hosted the ASEAN Renewable Energy Week - seems to have started to tap into the soothing qualities of the word 'renewable', most recently to assuage critics of a proposed dam on the Baram River in Sarawak on the island of Borneo.

The Baram hydroelectric dam project is planned as part of the so-called Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy, which will involve building a cascade of dams along the river. But the electricity it is set to produce will not be for local use, but for export, including to neighbouring Brunei Darussalam.

Critics of the dam also draw attention to the loss of biodiversity, forest and cultivated land that construction will cause.

They suggest that 'mini-hydros' on smaller tributaries are a more acceptable alternative as they interfere less with the river ecosystem and generate power for local use rather than as a commodity for export.

Large dams on mighty rivers such as the Xingu and the Baram profoundly alter ecosystems in ways which are unpredictable and potentially disastrous, as well as altering the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people.

So what would a sustainable approach be to making use of such an ecosystem? The Baram and the Xingu already bathe and feed the areas surrounding them through natural river flow and will continue to do so as long as they are not choked midstream.

Perhaps such rivers should simply be left in peace - and, in such contexts, perhaps we need to be more cautious in our use of the word 'renewable'.

Editor, SciDev.Net

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