Wednesday, November 19, 2014

NYT: Private Funding Brings a Boom in Hydropower, With High Costs

A Dam Revival, Despite Risks
Private Funding Brings a Boom in Hydropower, With High Costs
By ERICA GIES, New York Times, NOV. 19, 2014

While some dams in the United States and Europe are being
decommissioned, a dam-building boom is underway in developing countries.
It is a shift from the 1990s, when amid concerns about environmental
impacts and displaced people, multilateral lenders like the World Bank
backed away from large hydroelectric power projects.

World hydropower production will grow from 4,000 terawatt hours now -
about the annual power output of the United States - to 4,670 terawatt
hours in 2020, according to Maria van der Hoeven, executive director of
the International Energy Agency, in Paris. The Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change predicts that hydropower generation will double in
China between 2008 and 2035, and triple in India and Africa.

The World Bank and other international lenders were the most important
financiers of large dams before the '90s lull. But although the World
Bank has in recent years increased its investment in hydropower from a
low of just a few million dollars in 1999 to about $1.8 billion in 2014,
it still funds only 2 percent of hydropower project investment today.

Picking up the slack are national development banks from emerging
countries such as China, Brazil, Thailand, and India, and private
investors. Public-private partnerships are on the rise, generally with
the support of regional development banks.

"Who benefits from these infrastructure projects?" asked Jason Rainey,
executive director of the anti-dam group International Rivers, in
Berkeley, Calif.

Some well-documented answers: The Xayaburi Dam in Laos will sell power
to Thailand, while threatening the subsistence livelihoods of people who
have long lived along the Mekong River; the Inga 3 dam in the Democratic
Republic of Congo will sell power to mining companies and to South
Africa, rather than to the 96 percent of Congolese who lack access to

A 2012 report from International Rivers found that Chinese companies or
financiers were involved in 308 dam projects in 70 different countries,
many in Southeast Asia, but also some in Africa, Latin America and
Pakistan. Aside from supplying electricity to investing countries,
projects can also offer a type of vertical integration to power funders'
industrial projects, such as mining or smelting. "China isn't the only
one working this model," Mr. Rainey said: "The Brazilian Development
Bank has financed more dam projects in Latin America than the
Inter-American Development Bank. India is investing in hydropower in
Nepal and Bhutan."

Nancy Alexander, director of the Economic Governance Program for the
Heinrich Boell Foundation, a public policy institute in Berlin, said she
attributed this trend partly to a Group of 20 initiative that
prioritized infrastructure investment as a path to economic stability.

The initiative encourages joint financing by multilateral development
banks and other sources. A World Bank report on hydropower this year
said that the bank now "typically acts as a 'convener,' bringing other
financiers to the table." It said that over the past five years, the
World Bank Group had funded about half of the costs of projects that it
financed, with the balance coming from host country governments, the
private sector and other development banks.

Ms. Alexander said the problem with this model is that it "derisks"
mega-projects for the private sector and draws in institutional
investors like pension funds and mutual funds. "Very often this means
privatizing profits and outsourcing risks to the public," she said.

Those risks can be both significant and hidden, she added. Project
backers may cite national security or business confidentiality to avoid
sharing information with the public.

National development banks such as the Brazilian Development Bank, China
Development Bank and the Development Bank of Southern Africa "have
abysmal records in terms of transparency and in terms of social and
environmental safeguards," Ms. Alexander said.

The reduced involvement of global institutions allows countries to
ignore international concerns. Although international backers have
pulled out, for example, public-private funding has permitted Turkey to
go ahead with its Ilisu Dam on the Tigris, defying Unesco's objections
that it would flood Hasankeyf, a town with 10,000 years of history.
Turkish dam projects have also played a role in drying out Iraqi
wetlands downstream and exacerbating tensions in Syria.

Yet, although dam investment is coming from diversified sources,
activist organizations still look to the World Bank to set the standard
for environmental and social protections. At the World Bank's annual
meetings this autumn, 318 civil society organizations from 98 countries
criticized its proposal for a new environmental and social framework,
saying it would weaken existing safeguards. Among other things, they
said, it would undermine the rights of indigenous people and of those
displaced by projects, fail to protect workers or guarantee human rights
and not meaningfully address climate change.

"They have a lot of weasel language that softens and dampens
safeguards," Mr. Rainey said.

Amy Stilwell, a spokeswoman for the World Bank, said the proposal was
just a starting point. A second phase of consultations, including those
with the petitioning groups, will begin soon, with a second draft
expected in 2015, she said.

Part of the reason dams are back in favor, despite ongoing concerns, is
the increasing awareness of climate change and the need for cleaner
energy sources, said Ken Adams, president of the International
Hydropower Association, an industry group based in London. Hydropower
can also balance the electricity load and store energy to support
intermittent renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, he said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change supports hydropower to
slow climate change, calling it a "proven, mature, predictable
technology," in a 2011 report.

Hydropower's reputation for low emissions, however, has come under
scientific scrutiny in recent years. Reservoirs behind dams flood
vegetation, which decays, releasing methane and soil carbon. A 2012
study, in the journal Nature Climate Change, concluded that "emissions
from tropical hydropower are often underestimated and can exceed those
of fossil fuel for decades."

The study emphasized that the effect is more pronounced in tropical
ecosystems. Yet hydropower is typically presumed to be emission-free,
Mr. Rainey said. "There is no mechanism within dam sanctioning
processes, or any of the funding models, that methane emissions be
monitored in dam projects," he said, adding that even carbon market
instruments such as the Clean Development Mechanism help to fund large
dams without considering their carbon footprints.

Mr. Adams said his association's voluntary standards could offer a
solution. Its Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol, drafted
with input from various stakeholders, including the World Bank, provides
a framework for hydropower developers to monitor and benchmark their
projects. William Rex, a hydropower specialist at the World Bank said:
"We see it as a really useful tool."

Mr. Adams said his association would like to see financial institutions
encourage borrowers to use it. "Any energy source is going to have its
good side and downside," said Mr. Adams. "But I believe that if done
intelligently and appropriately, the downsides to hydro projects can be

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Hydropower May Be Huge Source of Methane Emissions

Hydropower May Be Huge Source of Methane Emissions
Oct 29, 2014 02:30 PM ET // by Bobby Magill, Climate Central

Imagine nearly 6,000 dairy cows doing what cows do, belching and being
flatulent for a full year. That's how much methane was emitted from one
Ohio reservoir in 2012.

Reservoirs and hydropower are often thought of as climate friendly
because they don't burn fossil fuels to produce electricity. But what if
reservoirs that store water and produce electricity were among some of
the world's largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions?

Scientists are searching for answers to that question, as they study how
much methane is emitted into the atmosphere from man-made reservoirs
built for hydropower and other purposes. Until recently, it was believed
that about 20 percent of all man-made methane emissions come from the
surface of reservoirs.

New research suggests that figure may be much higher than 20 percent,
but it's unclear how much higher because too little data is available to
estimate. Methane is about 35 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon
dioxide over the span of a century.

Think about man-made lakes in terms of cows passing gas: Harsha Lake, a
large reservoir near Cincinnati, Ohio, emitted as much methane in 2012
as roughly 5,800 dairy cows would have emitted over an entire year,
University of Cincinnati biogeochemist Amy Townsend-Small told Climate

Methane emissions from livestock are the second-largest source of
methane emissions in the U.S., behind crude oil and natural gas,
according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But the EPA's
greenhouse gas emissions estimates do not yet account for methane
emissions coming from man-made reservoirs.

Part of the reason is that, generally, very little is known about
reservoirs and their emissions, especially in temperate regions, such as
in the U.S., where few studies have been conducted.
Hot News: 2014 On Track To Become Warmest Year

In 2012 study, researchers in Singapore found that greenhouse gas
emissions from hydropower reservoirs globally are likely greater than
previously estimated, warning that "rapid hydropower development and
increasing carbon emissions from hydroelectric reservoirs to the
atmosphere should not be downplayed."

Those researchers suggest all large reservoirs globally could emit up to
104 teragrams of methane annually. By comparison, NASA estimates that
global methane emissions associated with burning fossil fuels totals
between 80 and 120 teragrams annually.

But how much reservoirs contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions is
"still a big question mark," because the issue remains relatively
unstudied and emission rates are highly uncertain, said John Harrison,
an associate professor in the School of the Environment at the
Washington State University-Vancouver whose research focuses on how
reservoirs can be managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"So I don't think we really know what the relative greenhouse gas effect
of reservoirs is compared to other sources of energy in the U.S.," he said.

Research at Harsha Lake may help scientists better understand how
reservoirs contribute to climate change.

In a study published in August, Townsend-Small and researchers from the
EPA found that Harsha Lake emitted more methane into the atmosphere in
2012 than had ever been recorded at any other reservoir in the U.S.

"When you compare the annual scale of the methane emission rate of this
reservoir (Harsha Lake) to other studies, it's really much higher than
people would predict," EPA research associate and Harsha Lake study lead
author Jake Beaulieu told Climate Central.

Scientists have long thought reservoirs in warmer climates in the
tropics emitted more methane than reservoirs in cooler climates, but the
research at Harsha Lake shows that may not be the case, Townsend-Small said.

"We think this is because our reservoir is located in an agricultural
area," she said.

Methane is generated in reservoirs from bacteria living in
oxygen-starved environments.

"These microbes eat organic carbon from plants for energy, just like
people and other animals, but instead of breathing out carbon dioxide,
they breathe out methane," Townsend-Small said. "These same types of
microbes live in the stomachs of cows and in landfills, which are other
sources of methane to the atmosphere."

Runoff from farmland around Harsha Lake provides more nutrients in the
water, allowing algae to grow, just like numerous other reservoirs
surrounded by agricultural land across the country.

Methane-generating microbes feed on decaying algae, which means that
lakes catching a lot of nutrient-rich agricultural runoff generate a lot
of methane.

"There are a very large number of these reservoirs in highly
agricultural areas around the U.S.," Townsend-Small said. "It could be
that these agricultural reservoirs are a larger source of atmospheric
methane than we had thought in the past."

Emissions from reservoirs in all climates could be underestimated
because of a discovery Beaulieu's team found at Harsha Lake: The area
where a river enters a man-made lake emits more methane than the rest of
the lake overall.

Nobody has measured that before, Beaulieu said.

Most other research studying reservoir methane emissions doesn't account
for how emissions may vary across the surface of a lake, he said.

The EPA is about to begin a more comprehensive study measuring methane
emissions from 25 reservoirs in a region stretching from northern
Indiana to northern Georgia, with sampling beginning next year, Beaulieu

That study will help the EPA eventually include reservoir methane
emissions in its total estimates of human-caused methane emissions.

Until that and other studies are complete, scientists can only speculate
on the impact hydropower is having on the climate.

"We're still in the very early days here of understanding how these
systems work with respect to greenhouse gas production," Harrison said.

This article originally appeared on Climate Central, all rights reserved.

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