December 6, 2005
Is Hydropower the Answer?
Recently in our environmental science class we discussed alternative energy sources to fossil fuels such as solar power, wind energy, and hydropower. I thought I would expand on hydropower and the benefits and drawbacks in a real life scenario: The Three Gorges Dam in China. First off, the idea to build this dam over the Yangtze River was first established in 1919, but was not actually considered until around 1954. The Three Gorges Dam construction is a very controversial subject and affects many in China.
Hydropower is a very clean source of renewable energy, and without further investigation looks like a savor to our current environmental problems with the depletion of nonrenewable energy sources. But hydropower does have its drawbacks like other alternative options. There are many hazards and external costs with the construction of the Three Gorges Dam. The project itself costs about 25-75 billion dollars to construct (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Gorges_Dam). This price range doesnâ€™t include the external costs such as environmental, cultural, and safety hazards linked to the construction.
Building this dam threatens already existent biodiversities such as the Chinese River Dolphin and varieties fish populations. The dam destroys their habitats and â€śdivides their populationsâ€?, causing migration and mating cycles to be disrupted. Already endangered species will be hurt by this large change in living conditions.
Another problem associated with the three gorges dam is the cultural disruption. There are 1,300 archeological sites dating back to 10,000 BC that will be lost due to the dam, not to mention the possible artifacts in these areas. (http//www.personal.psu.edu/users/k/l/klc241/impacts of hydroelectricity/html)
Much of the land that will be flooded is land that has been cultivated by the same families for thousands of generations. Flooding the land disturbs family history, hard labor, and pride.
One of the largest concerns for building the dam is the relocation of people living in the construction area. Fourteen million people are affected by the building of this dam and it is proposed that 1 to 2 million people will need to move. (http//www.personal.psu.edu/users/k/l/klc241/impacts of hydroelectricity/html). Many of these people forced to relocate their homes are farmers, and they are unskilled at jobs offered in the city.
Of course there are safety hazards associated with building a large dam, such as breaks and cracks leading to flooding and construction job risks.
Back to the environmental hazards we learned about in class, dams degrade water by large build-ups of silt, increase water salinity, and disturb organisms found in the water.
These hazards got me thinking about internal externalities associated with the building of this damn. The project is already VERY expensive, but what about all the other costs associated with pollution, life style changes, and possible endangerment of species.
Although I do feel alternative energy sources are important to explore and experiment with, I feel the external costs associated with the building of this dam are too high to manage. Just because there is an alternative to fossil fuel power doesnâ€™t always make it a better option.
Posted by at December 6, 2005 7:12 PM | 2. In the News