A North American Energy Plan for 2030: Hydro-electricity the forgotten renewable energy resource

This is a guest post from Neil Howes. Neil is an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney. Neil's last guest post at TOD was "A National Electricity Grid For Australia".

While their are no shortages of plans for the US to reduce its reliance on oil imported from overseas or replace fossil fuels with renewable resources, their is little consideration of a continental plan for future economic growth in a fossil fuel constrained world.

The North American economy, including NAFTA partners Canada, US and Mexico, accounts for 25% of the worlds oil consumption and 25% of the worlds carbon dioxide emissions. Together, these three countries produce 4,800 TWh of electric power per year and share the world’s largest and most extensive electricity grid.

Presently 38% of this electricity is produced from carbon free sources (nuclear 19%, hydro 18% and wind energy 1.7%). N America has substantial oil, natural gas and coal reserves, exceptional potential solar and wind resources, a large hydro electric capacity, and unique natural hydro storage lakes that can be used for short and long term energy storage.

Conventional oil production, however, has been declining in all 3 countries and overseas imports from politically unstable regions have been increasing at a time when world oil production is near or past peak. While N American coal reserves are large, coal used for producing electricity is the major source of GHG emissions and will need to be dramatically reduced by 85-90% before 2050.

Both problems require urgent attention now, as changes will take decades to implement, and long term plans will need to involve all 3 of the NAFTA economies.

Most proposals to reduce oil imports, such as the Pickens plan, the Al Gore "RePower America plan, Lester Brown's "Plan B 3.0", Greenpeace's "Global energy[r]evolution" and the Obama-Biden plan call for gasoline and diesel fuelled cars and trucks to be replaced by vehicles, using either electricity, flex fuels or compressed natural gas (CNG).

Either directly or indirectly these plans would require >20% increase in electricity production to replace both oil based transport by electric vehicles, and to replace NG and oil used for heating with electric heat pumps, and additional increases due to increasing population and incomes. Off-setting some of these increases could be savings in electricity consumption by reducing the “electric productivity gap” (pdf), by improved insulation, and improvements in energy efficiency of appliances.

Replacing coal fired electricity would require an even larger 45% increase of today’s 556 GWa electricity production by alternative low carbon energy.

Proposals for expanding carbon free electricity production generally consider expanding nuclear, wind and solar energy, but do not emphasise expanding hydro, although hydro electricity accounts for almost half of N America’s present carbon free electricity production.

Hydro energy’s potential may be overlooked because; it is “old” renewable energy, or because like nuclear energy, some hydro electric schemes have been criticized by environmental groups, but most importantly a perception by many, that most hydro electric potential in North America has already been exploited. Hydro electricity deserves more scrutiny because;

1) North America has significant undeveloped potential,
2) the technology is well understood, although technical improvements continue to be made, especially for low head and small hydro,
3) hydro has a very high energy return on energy investment (ERoEI),
4) additional hydro can enable more wind and solar energy capacity to be absorbed by the grid,
5) hydro potential is more geographically dispersed than wind and solar, and finally,
6) the cost of developing additional hydro capacity is moderately low and has very low technical and financial risk.

Photo credit flickr/fusionpanda

North American Hydro Electricity Resources

Hydro electricity is presently the largest renewable electricity source in N America, with 94 GWa (35 GW in US, 50 GW in Canada and 9 GW in Mexico) generated in N America out of the 556 GWa electricity production (18%). In the US, only 35 GWa hydro production (85 GW capacity) of the estimated 300 GWa hydro potential has been developed according to a DOE Idaho National Laboratory study (pdf).

In the US, one third of the undeveloped potential is located in state or federal lands and is presently prohibited from development, one third is in remote regions making development by 2030 more difficult, while of the remaining (100GWa) feasible, non developed potential, 30 GWa is small hydro (1-30MWa) close to towns or electricity lines and roads (<1 mile) and could be developed by diverting <50% of the natural stream flow without building dams or impounding structures.

US hydro locations

An additional 15 GWa of large hydro involving either adding turbines to existing dams without any hydro generation, building additional dams sites, or enhancing existing structures (raising capacity or adding additional turbines) could be developed. Thus, in the US, 45 GWa of the 100 GWa feasible potential close to roads and towns, could be developed by 2030.

Canada has 73 GWc (50 GWa) developed hydro capacity and an estimated 166-183 GWa of undeveloped hydro potential, but like the US two thirds is either remote (Yukon and NW Territories) or will probably not be developed soon due to environmental concerns, or lack of infrastructure. That’s still an impressive additional 55 GWa of hydro potential in British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec could be developed by 2030.

Presently, more than 10 GWa additional Canadian capacity has been planned (mainly the Nelson River in Manitoba and the upper Churchill Quebec/Labrador), but both projects require long term sales contracts with US utilities before construction can commence. Mexico presently has 9.5 GW capacity hydro developed and considerable undeveloped potential especially small hydro, some estimates as much as 300 GWa. Doubling Mexico’s present capacity to 18 GWc would seem possible, giving a N American total of 109 GWa new hydro.

To develop more than this would require development of some of the 150 GWa potential at remote sites especially in Alaska, the Yukon and NW Territories, and the Pacific NW, or building on Federal lands in less remote locations.

What are the prospects to develop even a small portion of the estimated >800 GWa undeveloped hydro potential by 2030? For a comparison, China with a land area similar to US, has an estimated 400 GWa hydro potential, presently has 170 GW of developed capacity (60 GWa), while 100 GWc of projects are under construction and when completed China will have developed 25% of its potential capacity.

Hydro-electricity capacity will be critical to the development of wind and solar energy because while these potential energy resources are very large, they cannot provide reliable peak power that hydro can provide. The US also has 30 GW pumped storage capacity, which can absorb 18GW of excess off-peak electricity generated by wind or nuclear energy. Canada uses much of its 73GWc as base-load power but with an improved N American grid could use more for peak demand by installing more turbines at existing dams, and replacing off-peak power with wind energy.

A DOE study in 2003 indicates that enhancing existing hydro, by adding turbines to dams without any hydro capacity is relatively inexpensive ($1600/kWha). Building small hydro (1-30 MW) close to existing infrastructure can be quick and not require very much additional infrastructure. Community involvement and ownership, just as with some wind power projects, would be an advantage. Building large new hydro will generally have a longer lead time, although in some cases only requires new long term contracts with utilities to secure financing of planned projects.

Photo credit flickr/Yamoneta

Sometimes no electricity transmission infrastructure is in place, or approval for building new dams or diverting stream flow is opposed by the local community, so I have estimated that only 110 GWa additional (half of the feasible capacity), non-remote hydro could be built in N America by 2030.

Whether any of the 150 GW hydro potential in remoter locations can also be developed, especially in Alaska, The North-West Territories or the Yukon would depend upon either a large local market, for example aluminium refining, or an electricity grid connection with the N American grid. Alaska has 40% of the US undeveloped hydro potential, 45 MW not presently excluded from development due to its location on Federal Lands. Alaska also has very considerable wind power and geothermal potential along the Pacific coastline and Aleutian Islands.

Wind, together with a large hydro potential could ensure a very large (10-100 GWa) reliable supply of electricity, improving the economics of building a 3,000 km UHVDC line interconnecting via the Yukon to the Provence of Alberta and /or British Columbia to the Western Interconnect, or via Northern Manitoba to link up with existing HVDC lines to Minnesota and N Dakota and to the Eastern Interconnect. If 20% of these remote sites were developed by 2030 (10 GWa depending upon the Alaska/Yukon UHVDC line, 20 GW from Washington State, Idaho and Oregon) this would be an additional 30 GWa, bringing total new hydro to 140 GWa. Together with the existing 94 GWa hydro, this 234 Gw would be about 26% of N America hydro potential.

This additional electric power would enable 90 million PHEV’s or EV to be powered, and replace a third of the NG and coal used for heat and generating electricity. Hydro-electricity would then account for 42% of total electricity production. This expanded production alone cannot replace all fossil fuel use but together with improved energy efficiency it can make a large contribution as well as providing peak capacity enabling the less flexible energy sources, wind, solar and nuclear to replace the remaining FF use.

Environmental Issues

This plan does not call for dams on every river and stream or for building any dams in National Parks or Federal lands where development is presently prohibited. Small hydro would use run-of–river flows diverting at most 50% of steam flows and returning the same flows up to 5 miles downstream. Expanding existing hydro projects would involve adding additional generator capacity, enlarging reservoir capacity, or adjacent upper catchment diversions into dam catchments. Developing larger schemes in remote areas would involve catchment flooding and building very long distance transmission lines similar to what is presently used to bring power from Canadian northern rivers to the Eastern Interconnect.

While new dams in northern regions have a number of unfavourable environmental consequences, such as releasing soil mercury into the aquatic environment, and releasing methane, these have been shown to be temporary (<10 years), and methane release (pdf) is much less than dams in tropical regions.

Hydroelectricity in these environments has the lowest carbon dioxide equivalent of any energy source and >100 times less than coal fired electricity. Thus this environmental damage has to be evaluated against present and potentially disastrous damage to the environment from continued use of coal and oil.

Photo credit flickr/jhoc

Another means of generating hydro-power with minimal environmental impact is run-of-river micro-hydro generation, which has been proposed for relatively large scale implementation on the Mississippi river and in British Columbia (as well as finding favour in Britain, New Zealand, Norway and the Himalayas).

We don't often think about hydro-electric, but it is the US's biggest renewable electric resource.

US hydroelectric built infrastructure has stayed relatively constant for many years, while actual hydroelectric production has dropped somewhat. I am not sure of all of the reasons--some of this may have to do with silt build up; some may have to do with drought. These are a couple of graphs I put together regarding US electrical capacity and production. (The author's figures are for North America as a whole, and Canada has relatively more hydro-electric production.) One question I have is whether there are inexpensive things that can be done to raise electrical production from existing hydroelectric sources--does anyone know?

One question I have is whether there are inexpensive things that can be done to raise electrical production from existing hydroelectric sources--does anyone know?

A question I raised with Bureau of Reclamation engineers at a hydro-electric conference a few years ago.

Generally speaking, US Gov't dams have 1920s to 1950s/1960s design turbines, said turbines are poorly maintained (wear on blades reduces % efficiency below design %), and the ratio of "spill water" (water let over dam during high water without producing power) is based on economics of when the dam was built.

They estimated that the US Gov't could easily get 5% more electricity with economically justified steps. (Raise maintenance to a high standard, use newest tech in generators & turbines (say 2% improvement since 1950s), add smaller generators for low flow & to reduce spill##) Give new marginal large hydro power the same value as wind and that % grows.

Example, house power (internal use) at Hoover Dam is a couple of Peltons (1 or 2 MW from vague memory) that have not been touched since built. My SWAG is rebuilding them could up efficiency at least 10%.

Ontario is in midst of major improvements at Niagara Falls (Sir Adam Beck)#. 14.4 m diameter tunnel will reduce friction losses, new/enlarged power plant will reduce the time that water spills unused (above requirements ) from 40% to 15%.

BTW, I strongly urge a recalculation of the water spilled for tourists at Niagara Falls. Reduce hours & days of max spill flow, reduce the max spill flow, reduce the overnight spill flow, enlarge Sir Adam Beck (Ontario) even more and enlarge Robert Moses (New York). Reducing spill at Niagara Falls (now 4+ GW of hydro) is cheap, easy, quick renewable energy and = to one years new wind (roughly).

Best Hopes for more Hydro,



## Example. Dam has two 40 MW generators. At low flow, they either shut down or operate at dismal efficiency. Add 6 MW generator. More efficiency at low flow and an extra 6 MW when water would otherwise be spilled. Relatively easy (sometimes) to add small generator to powerhouse with two large generators.

Also 40 MW + 6 MW can be more efficient than 2 x 40 MW at some mid-range flows.

I believe that the article missed that Manitoba has 5 GW of new hydro they are actively shopping. Wisconsin bought 800 MW of that 5 GW. Their scheme uses the "other Great Lake" Lake Manitoba as the storage reservoir.

Yes, I think upgrade of old infrastructure is the real story here. Most of what is out there is very old technology. In Minneapolis, some of the turbines are a century old. Estimates are that replacing those with the latest technology would yield more new net energy than would damning up more of the Mississippi. I suspect that this is true in many areas around the country.

Hydro is not renewable in exactly the same sense as wind and solar. Damns, unlike wind or sunlight, silt up. And damage is not only to ecosystems but often to human lives and cultures.

A possible use of existing hydro that the author didn't mention, as far as I could see, was as storage for other renewables that are intermittent. Filling the reservoir when it is windy and sunny and draining it when it is neither is an essentially "free" way to even out the intermittency that is so famously put forward as a drawback to these true renewables.

What seems to be a permanent drying of the west will make hydro less and less viable in much of that part of the country. How low is Lake Powell now? Over 100 feet?

From a 2003 news article about TVA's Apalachia Dam upgrade:

The improvements at Apalachia are part of an $875 million program to upgrade 92 generating units at 26 of TVA’s 29 hydroelectric dams. Begun in 1992, the program is halfway to its goal. When completed in 2015, it will increase the life of the upgraded plants by 50 to 60 years and add about 700 megawatts to the TVA system.

This is what should be done to all federally owned hydropower plants.

What was the MW for installed TVA hydro before this program ? Any estimate on increased MWh ?



I ran into this issue trying to add up all the electricity that is produced (immediate and over time) in the U.S. When you get into billions and trillions, you have to be really careful with the comparisons.

If you do it all in petawatts (1 petawatt = 1,000 trillion watts), and not mix watts with watt-hours ...

Big Gav says North America (3 countries) has 4,800 TWh (trillion watt hours) of capacity, or 4.8 petawatt hours.

Gail's charts say the U.S. alone (one country) has 1,000 gigawatts (= billion watts) of capacity which equals 1 terawatt which equals .001 petawatts immediate, for the U.S. alone

Gail's other chart says 4,000 BKh (billion kilowatt hours) which equals 4 trillion watt hours which equals .004 petawatt hours for the U.S. alone

I don't think all these are close to adding up. :)

The number is 4,800 TWh of power(550GWx8760 h ), NOT capacity, which is about 1100GW,(1.1TW) this is because NG capacity is x5 higher than production(22% capacity factor) and hydro (60%capacity factor) and coal(70%capacity factor).
The US only uses about half of capacity on average, Canada and Mexico higher amounts.

That's where the different numbers come in, Gail is showing capacity.

4,800 trillion watt-hours (4.8 petawatt-hours) of electricity used per year in the three countries. 1.1 trillion watts of capacity. Ok. Thanks.

Gail the DOE , 2003 study I have linked to in article shows that many dams don't generate any power or can be upgraded to produce additional power for $1600/kWh capacity( 2003 figures). This is not much more than NG peakers, but very little running costs

Thanks. I didn't get a chance to read the new study. I think it would be a good one for Oil Drum folks to look at.

This all looks great with historical climate patterns but what about potential climates 50 years from now? Rainfall is something that the models don't seem to be able to consistently agree on. The EROI and financial calculations must try and take all that risk into account.

The prognosis for Sweden is that a higher mean temperature on average should give larger rainfall with more variations. This is primarily handled as a security problem and is one argument for increasing the spillover capacity in dams. Such investments started about a decade ago as a reaction to the observation that natural flash floods already could put some dams at risk.

There are fairly large reinvestments in hydro power in Sweden and a few new projects but the average production is more or less not increasing due to legal issues. A few years ago our greens managed to start establishing precedence that 5% of the capacity could be spilled for other uses withouth compensation to the powerplant owners and that has started to eat into the production.

I expect that increased rainfall will give a fairly smooth change in the investment levels for handling security and turning water flow into cash flow.

Study: 50-50 chance of dry Lake Mead in 2021 - Climate Change ...
Feb 12, 2008 ... What are the chances that Lake Mead, a source of water for 22 million Americans, ... but rather one that will impact each and every one of us that live in the Southwest. ... which feeds Lake Mead and Lake Powell, is seeing a net deficit of nearly ....


And don't forget population shifts.

And from DrumBeat:

The dam infrastructure problem

A new report says over 1,800 dams pose significant risk to human life. Fixing them will cost billions, but can we afford this in addition to roads, bridges and other projects?

It is self financing if they produce electricity and secure a larger supply of fresh water. It could provide lots of opportunities for low return on investment, low risk and inflation secured long term pension fund investments. Its good stuff if you got money now and want to as assured as possible that they still are available and has grown some in 20-30 years and it also makes sense on a macro level since it actually increases the societies net worth.

The most important aspect of this lead article is the pragmatism shown by Dr. Howe. He does simply grasp at the overall 300 GWa hydro potential, but puts it into the context of what is impractical or impolitic, and that which can be realistically developed, which is an impressive 45 GWa (roughly equivalent to 45 new AP1000 nuclear plants).

This additional capacity can be one of the 4 cornerstones of a renewable energy infrastructure, where dispatchable hydropower and enhanced geothermal systems (EGS) provide the balance for wind and solar, which overall would have the additional stabilization of a smart grid. Hydropower, in addition, is a excellent means to store wind and solar excess generation for later daily or weekly peaks.

I notice this article from Drumbeat today:

The dam infrastructure problem

New report says over 1,800 dams pose significant risk to human life. Fixing them will cost billions, but can we afford this in addition to roads, bridges and other projects?

It's against this backdrop that the American Society of Civil Engineers recently said over 1,800 dams nationwide are deficient, and their failure could result in loss of life. That's almost a five-fold increase from 2001.

"There's a huge gap between what we've been able to repair and what we need to repair," said Brad Larossi, a dam safety manager who helped author the engineer society's report. "And the number has been growing dramatically."

The price tag to fix these worst-case dams is around $8 billion, said Larossi. Fixing all the dams that need repair - estimated at over 4,000 - would run closer to $50 billion.

We have to separate out those dams that are related to power generation from those that are not, in order to provide context for this particular lead article.

And also, note the article goes on to say;

...experts say most dam failures would be gradual and quite predictable.

"Although the numbers are alarming, there's nothing in this report that would suggest a disaster movie scenario," said Douglas McCoach, vice president of planning and urban design at RTKL Associates, an architecture and planning firm.

While the image of a huge Hoover Dam-type structure with a big crack in it is what most people think of when they hear the words "dam failure," in reality it's not usually that dramatic.

...calling on Congress to approve $200 million to shore up the most dangerous dams over the next five years.

I would guess that most of these dams are relatively smaller earthen dams. Yes, given a catasrophic failure they would cause loss of life. However, such a failure is very rare. A micro hydro retrofit coupled with the repair of the dam might be an incentive to rehabilitate many of these dams.

Any assessment of a hydroelectric project's "environmental issues" that writes off concern by suggesting that only mercury concentration and methane release are to be considered is not being honest.

Hydroelectric projects of any sort, including so-called run-of-river, have dramatic impacts on the local ecosystem and potentially the entire river basin.

Hydroelectric may be "clean" in the sense that it doesn't create CO2 the way that fossil fuels do. But to call something "clean" that could alter and possibly destroy entire ecologies strikes me as a poor use of the term.

This is just more ecological ruin, as we put more waste in the petri dish. Dams are being taken out, as they have created toxic pools of warm water and crashed salmon and steelhead runs.
We are not going to save ourselves by destroying more of the life systems we are dependent on.

I assume you have an issue with the ecosystems that have been destroyed by open pit coal mining through the decapitation of 500 (and growing) mountains in Appalachia alone, with the consequential destruction of the adjacent and downhill streams.

Yes Will I do----
And the point is?

I wasn't responding to you, though welcome your comment.

At some point, we have to realize that every energy source will have it's impacts; some will be far greater, and some will be modest in scope. Each person will have their own opinion on which sources have the greatest impacts. Some want no coal generation whatsoever, some want no hydropower generation whatsoever, some want no nuclear generation whatsoever, and the list goes on. I see coal's impacts (i.e., mountaintop decapitation, stream destruction, downstream heavy metals pollution, combustion byproducts (including CO2, SO2, NOX, mercury, heavy metals, etc), coal ash dumping, etc being so far in excess of hydropower's impacts that it is completely off the charts. Your thoughts on this may be different, or may be reasonably similar.

To answer your question. Yes, I oppose mountain top removal. I also oppose open water oil drilling, large scale wind and solar farms, and so on.

You seem to think that maintaining some form of BAU is in the cards if we can just find a less disruptive source of power. Good luck on that.

The best possible future, to my way of thinking, is to forsake electric generation, forsake large scale agriculture, to forsake "permanent" structures, and to learn to live within ecosystems.

Yes, I recognize that few would support or even desire my version of the future. I also understand that the globe is 6 billion ugly meaningless deaths away from reaching that future. But even so, I would maintain that it is a far more interesting and meaningful future than the sort of managed eco-disaster suggested by any attempt to maintain BAU.

Other than that, I would have to disagree with your assessment of the comparison. Yes, coal mining and dumping [edit: I meant burning] does some nasty stuff (some of which could be remediated if we weren't so greedy), but can you really call the destruction of river basin ecosystems a lesser evil just because it is localized?

Primarily because I see it as vastly less in the overall context of impacts.

Yes, I recognize that few would support or even desire my version of the future.

It would be difficult to expect people to stop using electricity voluntarily, so I'm assuming you are waiting for a collapse that would result in this outcome in a manner that is less than voluntary.

I'm afraid you are right, expecting people to stop using electricity voluntarily would be about the equivalent of expecting the them to give up using coal to generate it.

Cap and trade would provide the impetus to greatly reduce coal power generation, at least that which is non CCS.

So, let me get this straight - Coal, especially mountain top removal, is a terrible thing. But if we cap and trade CO2 you're willing to accept it?

Beyond that, though, cap and trade strategies are limited by political will - they will not impact the use of coal, they won't be allowed to (at least until its too late to do any good).

Cap and trade will begin the process of removing coal from power generation; I see that as a good thing. It would be nice to do this as fast as possible, but the inertia of the system is great.

Your projections on the effects of cap and trade may be true, but are nonetheless highly speculative.

My projections may be speculative, but no more so than yours. Indeed, if our friends in Europe are a model we're in for trouble.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/08/AR200704... - just one of many recent articles deploring Europe's cap and trade "mess."

Shaman, get with the program. Greed will save us. It's done a hell of a job so far, after all. There is no possibility that any clever traders will find loopholes in the inevitably hugely complex structures necessary for Cap and Trade. The people that brought us Enron, AIG, Lehman Bro.s ... are clearly the best people to be entrusted with the future viability of life on the planet. Big business is in favor of C&T schemes because they are salivating over another chance to reap huge profits from shady dealings ultimately to be paid for by tax payers and their great great...grandchildren with their cash and most other complex life with their existence.

So get with the program, smell the coffee, drink the cool aide...

We have a tendency here to quickly bifurcate between cornucopian BAU and doomer "back to the paleolithic". The reality is that there are a whole spectrum of scenarios between those two extremes.

I consider the cornucopian BAU extreme to be improbable at best, and more likely impossible. In contrast, I take the "back to the paleolithic" scenario much more seriously. However, I do not yet consider it to be set in stone (excuse the pun). There are some scenarios that envision a long decline/catabolic collapse, but that then level off at some lower population/lower footprint/powered down sustainable level of civilization. Some, like shaman apparently, are convinced that even these midrange scenarios are impossible. Fine, but others, like myself, are not convinced yet. Furthermore, some of us undoubtedly feel that mixed in amongst all the terrible things that civilization has produced are a few things which are genuinely worth preserving, if possible. We'd like to give it a try, anyway.

A couple of notes;

1) It's not "back to the paleolithic" but "forward to a new understanding of life that we lost with the rise of cities/civilization." I know it's not as quippy but...

2) It's not that I find the "midrange" scenarios impossible. It's that I find them less desirable.

3) I think it would benefit us all to give up the notion of a single line of "progress" from paleolithic through to modern (or is it post-modern ;-)). This is a particularly western mode of thinking and may actually limit the possibilities.

Oh, I think that the idea of "progress" is quite dubious, and I certainly don't buy into it. I tend to see what is generally called "progress" as being more of a mixed bag - some good, and some bad. I would just like to try to grab as much of the good stuff as we can out of the bag before we pitch it, though.

I understand your desire to take some of the "good stuff." I suspect, though, that what exactly is the "good stuff" is going to be hard to agree upon. I have met people who think that TV sit-coms are the "good stuff."

Personally, I don't look for the things as much as I do the knowledge. Every time I hear someone proclaim how "advanced" we are, or how much we have learned about the universe, I cringe with the understanding of just how much knowledge we have lost. Often we have achieved esoteric knowledge (e.g., the universe began with the Big Bang) at the expense of practical knowledge (e.g., what plants growing near my dwelling can be used for food, medicine, etc.).

When I speak of rejecting "progress" I don't mean to suggest that we should willingly ignore improvements in technique, new knowledge, etc.. What I want to reject is the notion that there is only one path in the development of human society and that each "stage" is somehow better or more sophisticated than the previous.

One of the fundamental concepts of "growing up" is learning self control. My personal beliefs are that humanity, as a species, will have to learn self control before we can mature any farther. Currently we're behaving like greedy 8 year olds and consuming everything within grasp. Technology (and scientific knowledge) and Environmental compatibility are not mutually exclusive as long as we learn a significant level of moderation.

Unfortunately, modern American business and social belief structures are largely built completely around the concept of consumerism and that is about as destructive to the environment as is possible.

While I believe humanity can quite happily live in a truly eco-friendly manner while still maintaining a high level of technological knowledge, I also believe that the consumer society is so firmly entrenched that a total collapse in some form is inevitable. Humanity is very susceptible to addictive behaviors and consumerism is the pinnacle of addiction. Every addict will eventually crash regardless of their addiction of choice.

Yes, I know that "goodness" is in the eye of the beholder. Nevertheless, if future generations are never again ever able to hear a Beethoven or Brahams symphony or a Bach or Rachmaninoff concerto, if they are never able to view a Renoir or Van Gogh or Thomas Cole, if they are never able to see Shakespeare performed on stage, or read Austin or Tolstoy or Hugo, then it is going to be such an incredibly sad loss for them.

You are right though, we have lost or are in danger of losing some very useful practical knowledge, and that is every bit as much a shame.

I don't know that we would lose works of art - although the physical arts are, by their very nature, ephemeral.

Fortunately there is a well understood writing system for recording music. This will ensure that as long as there are people who can write and read music, the truly good music can continue to be heard (all classical music up through Beethoven, after that it's just too filled with hubris ;-)).

Oil painting likely faces a different fate. Even today we can't be sure of the color schemes of some of the earlier canvases we have. But I agree with you. I am fortunate enough to have seen "Starry Night" at the MMA. There is simply no way that a photograph of that painting can ever do it justice. It will truly be a loss when that painting is gone (as with Klee's "Red Balloon") and that day will no doubt be hastened by the end of oil.

But that said, some of the specialness of these works results from the very fact that "art" has been separated from daily life. As art becomes reintegrated into everyday life it will infuse meaning into everyday artifacts. The technique may not be as perfected, but you won't have to travel to a museum in NYC, DC, London or Paris to see it.

I prefer the organic "natural" music that evolves with the culture. Live music as a part of everyday life.

"Mardi Gras Indians" practicing their chants and rhythms in a local bar, a neighborhood jam session on the stoop, a musician playing in the laundromat parking lot as her clothes dry, a group hired for the local farmer's market, small bars with live music, professional musicians as DJs with invited guests giving live performances over the radio (WWOZ), free music after 5 PM every Wednesday downtown, and more.

Best Hopes for Live Local Music,


I think of this very thing every time I see, hear or read about kids (and adults, for that matter) playing these music based console games - Rock Band, is one, I think. But here these kids are spending hours on end matching some repetitive motion to the pictures on a screen so that the music comes out right (I don't know exactly how these work, so forgive the poor description).

Why don't the just spend the same time actually learning how to play an instrument? I mean, you can buy a REAL learners electric guitar and amp for less than the gear for the game. You can by serviceable electric keyboards for under $100.

It seems nobody learns how to play music anymore and I suspect that is a greater threat than the loss of some "classical" music.

Shaman - whose playing is limited to didgeridoo and hand drum, but who was taught to read music at the age of five.

It seems nobody learns how to play music anymore

plus what kids learn "out on the street".

Musician's Village


Best Hopes for Live Music,


The Center for Creative Arts looks to be a pretty interesting place. Most larger metropolitan areas have similar schools or centers. However, providing a school where students enter the "arts as profession" career track is not the same as people simply learning to play.

I'd heard of the musicians village elsewhere, maybe on NPR? Is it one of the Brad Pitt backed projects? Of course, New Orleans has had a special connection to music. Indeed, the only other US cities I know of that generate their own style of music are Miami, Memphis and Honolulu.

Quiz question - what is the above?
a. Video game
b. Keyboard
c. Baby grand
d. Saxaphone
e. none of the above

WCN Observer,
I would consider "the cornucopian BAU extreme" to try to develop all 800GWa hydro potential that's available in N America, by damming every river including in national parks. That's the equivalent of the "drill baby drill" of the oil and gas BAU extreme. About one third of US hydro potential is in parks or on federal lands, but that still leaves 200GWa potential compared with only 35GWa presently developed.
If we could close down all coal-fired power by conservation, then would not need to develop any more hydro power.

What is the objection to putting dams on federal land per se ?

Currently used for grazing, lumber, mining etc. These are NOT National Parks (although Yosemite has a nice hydroelectric plant in it).

And conservation will not eliminate the "need" for coal, or hydro as an alternative. Your statement has no basis.


According to the DOE studies lined to in article, present laws prevent development. It may be a simple change in legislation or a major change but the studies have excluded these lands in considering what is practical to develop.

If conservation( better energy efficiency of appliances etc) N America was to reduce power demand by 52%, NG, hydro, nuclear and wind could make up the rest. I think 10% savings are possible based on what California has done in terms of increasing GDP/ no increased electricity consumption. Wind power solar and nuclear would have to be increased to reduce coal use by 90%(most of the rest for steel and cement).

One cannot simply add up (or subtract) MWh for not all MWh are equal.

If is quite false to say "Since coal generates 52% of MWh, if we conserve 52% of total demand, we need no burn coal". Reality is if we conserved 52%, we would still burn about 15% to 20% coal.

Ontario once turned off nukes in the spring & fall, and burned coal in the summer & winter.

Wind at 3 AM on a windy March cannot easily provide power at 3 PM in an August heat wave, or 6 PM one January.

Dispatchable hydro is THE most valuable generation there is, wind is generally the lest valuable. (Dispatchable hydro can provide spinning reserve something nukes need a lot of, and hydro spinning reserve means that FF plants do not have to run at part load i.e. less efficiently).


Dispatchable hydro is THE most valuable generation there is

Unfortunately most of this new hydro being proposed is with small or no storage capacity (run of river). So the think the opportunity to use much of the new capacity in that manner is lower than for the existing hydro. Also, even given sufficient storage dispatchable hydro has significant environmental consequences, shifting lake and river levels. Rapidly dropping river levels often strand fish. There will probably be increasing regulation of the currently dispatchable hydro power. We may not be able to count on much of an increase in the ability of hydro to buffer variable sources of supply. We also have to recognize that hydro may have significant seasonal, and year to year availability. So society will have to either create excess (on average) capacity, or deal with lower levels of power availability during dry years.

Of course even the best hydro -or even solar, causes some environmental issues. There will be some purists who will oppose any new capacity -and advocate removal of old. These sorts of appeals are easy to exploit by the opponents of renewable power, they make very useful strawmen. Strawmen arguments may be poor epistemology, but are often very effective in a political context. Personally I would like to see us use much less energy. But, I don't argue that position, as it undermines the BAU-lite sort of societal trajectory which is IMHO, our best chance for mitigating the twin problems of fossil fuel depletion and climate change. Advocacy of more serious lifestyle changes, at this point in time are counterproductive.

I generally agree, although many "run-of-the-river" schemes have a pond which creates the ability to store a few hours of water (reduce operations at 3 AM, so that more water is available at 6:30 AM).

The rule of thumb is 30% annual variation is the 3 standard deviations planning range.


Hydro is clean in comparison with burning coal, and the methane issue is an important short term factor.
Virtually all lakes are temporary disturbances to the environment on a longer time scale, eventually some of the Great Lakes(L Erie) will drain as has most of lake Agassi( L Manitoba and L Winnipeg all that's left). Many N American lakes are the result of glaciation, ice digging holes that eventually fill, or moraine "dams" at outlets that eventually erode. Manitoba has 100,000 lakes, Minnesota "10,000 Lakes" according to car license plates, 99% of these are "natural" but very temporary, by the time scale of human habitation in N America. Artificial dams will probably last a few hundred or a few thousand years, but the ecology adapts much faster, not the same as before but not necessarily better or worse.


"[..]the American Society of Civil Engineers recently said over 1,800 dams nationwide are deficient, and their failure could result in loss of life. That's almost a five-fold increase from 2001. [..] The price tag to fix these worst-case dams is around $8 billion [..]. Fixing all the dams that need repair - estimated at over 4,000 - would run closer to $50 billion."

Seems like we are seriously hitting the wall of diminishing returns?

[edit] oops, Gail beat me to this..

As a teenager, I witnessed a dam collapse.

Developer (Woodland Hills, Tuscaloosa Alabama) built earthen dam to create lake on otherwise unbuildable property (creating a number of "lakeside lots"). Best guess, 25' tall dam.

A couple of decades later, lack of maintenance and heavy rains lead to fissure. Watched with crowd (including Civil Engineering professors) in rain as dam slowly gave way.

A dozen homes downstream were evacuated, none flooded (per old memory).

Lake was left dry for decades, but dam was rebuilt a few years ago.

I was not impressed with this "catastrophe".

I am unsure how many dams are like this one (also farm pond dams) and many are not worth repairing IMHO. But many of the thousands undoubtedly are.

The link between hydroelectric generation and poorly maintained dams is weak.


We almost lost a dam here in 2004 when Frances came through and dumped 18" of rain on us in 24 hrs. They got it drained down fast enough to prevent an uncontrolled collapse, but it was a near-run thing. The dam had been neglected for years, lots of trees growing on it & thus compromising it. Cost a lot of money to repair it and bring it up to snuff. There are lots more dammed small empoundments just like that one around here in the mountains, quite a few of them are ticking time bombs, just waiting for the next Cat 5 to do that right hook from the GOM and slam into the eastern continental divide.

This article is an exercise in Orwellian spin on the ecological damage from dams. What are the unfavourable environmental consequences of diverting 50% of the stream flow? And given that many rivers are over-allocated, is this 50% trustworthy during a drought?

Part of the problem is that the article does not cite any examples. When one looks at an actual project, one sees how a dam affects the entire watershed, both up and down stream, including ocean fish production. It causes a decline in farm productivity because the the fertility of bottomland relies on periodic flooding. Depending on the details of a particular proposal, I wonder if the high cost of compensating the riverbank property owners for their losses, plus that obligated to Indian treaties, would make such a project unfeasible.

A lot of it is a matter of scale. A landscape dotted with lots of small empoundments is one thing; a landscape dominated by a huge reservoir that has flooded an entire valley is something else. The first example is not going to be pristine wilderness, true, but it is still a place where humans and wildlife can live in more or less peaceful coexistence. The second example is an eco-catastrophe, to be honest about it.

A landscape dotted with lots of small empoundments is one thing; a landscape dominated by a huge reservoir that has flooded an entire valley is something else.

I used to live near the Chippewa river in Wisconsin, which provided more than half of the midwests hydropower. The average age of the dams was roughly a century. You would have had to search long and hard to find anyone who thought that they detracted from the desirablity of the area. On the contrary they were prime recreational resources, in a part of the country for which recreational fishing fishing was very important.

I've fished on the flowage too. We were skunked (guide included), so the dam must be bad. ;)

Kidding aside, the point here is that nobody remembers what those river were like, and what was lost when the dams were built.

I know what we lost when we dammed the rivers, I saw Deliverance!

(I kid, I kid!)

There is an undertone of exploitation in this subject that gets my back up. Howes's article uses academic detachment as a tool to downplay "environmental consequences". It burns me up.

What was instructive in "Deliverance" was that the dam was to be built in a poor, politically disenfranchised part of Appalachia. The dam proposed in Manitoba are in Indian country, which are also mainly poor and disenfranchised. That was what Wisconsin was like 100 years ago, when they built dams across the Chippewa. Today nobody is proposing damming more streams in Wisconsin because it is now tourist country, with access to those that control the levers of investment -- they own summer cottages and fish there.

I am much more aware of the environmental consequences of the hydro projects in Manitoba, having lived in the Provence for >20 years, visited many of the hydro sites, fished in the rivers and lakes, and lived with my former Cree Indian extended family on First Nations Treaty land.

As I mentioned in article flooding of Canadian Shield country releases mercury from the soil and rocks that are naturally high in this element. This leaches out over a period of 5-10 years, then declines again to background levels. Ten years ago some regions the fish still had high Mercury levels and were not safe to eat as the major part of the diet.Dams have some positive effects by producing more moose pastures, a favorite food prized by First Nations people across Canada, and by American and Canadian hunters.
You need to remember that this land was covered by 2km of ice 15,000 years ago, so a lot of environmental changes are happening, especially to the lake and stream flows as peat bogs form behind Beaver Dams, and the land rebounds from loss of the massive ice weight.

Compare this to a coal fired plant that will continue releasing mercury and toxic fly ash until all the coal is used or we have cooked the planet.

Your point that climate change is the normal state of affairs ("this land was covered by 2km of ice 15,000 years ago") suggests that the contribution to climate change from the coal plant probably is not as bad as you have feared.

If you are making a comparison of the environmental damage between dams in Manitoba and an (unspecified) coal plant somewhere, what is important is the amounts. What is the value of the fish that will be made inedible? What is the value of the recreation lost or gained due to flooding? Likewise for coal -- damage from heavy metal and radionuclide emissions, plus the presumed contributions to climate change. (Keep in mind that remediation partly pays for "mountaintop removal.") These uncompensated effects are what make environmental issues difficult: they are hard to price. And because of unforeseen consequences, a certain amount of this cost is unknowable.

It seems to me that the loss of the fish and recreation is easy to recognize, and is not accounted for. The damage from coal plant, OTOH, is mostly accounted for but does not include a certain amount of damage that is more disperse and difficult to price. Based on that I prefer the coal plant.

Having lived there implies you may have an interest in the proposed dams in Manitoba. Do you?

The damage from coal plant, OTOH, is mostly accounted for


Unless you consider the multiple stresses to our civilization that may well crush it (see mass deaths, SEVERE economic & agricultural dislocations, loss of a fifth to a third of our infrastructure due to sea level rise, etc.) due to climate change. More than half due to burning coal.

Coal burning will affect the climate for 500 to 1,000 years. Fact.

Is that mostly accounted for ?

Best Hopes for ANYTHING# but coal !


# One could make an argument (not sure I would buy it) that Chernobyl type nukes are preferable to coal fired plants.

While I recognize that climate change will have its costs, I am sure that people will adapt (they always have) and civilization will survive. I am sure you and your neighbors in New Orleans understand about making changes due to weather.


SOME people will adapt, but there is no historic example of any civilization adapting to climate change.

It is quite unlikely that our civilization will be able to adapt to the unprecedented rapidity of climate change (all known historic examples of natural, rather than man made, climate change were MUCH slower).

Quite probably after my death, and since I have no children, no descendants to worry about. But small children today stand a quite reasonable chance of having their lives made shorter by climate change.

One of the costs of coal fired power plants.


I am sure you and your neighbors in New Orleans understand about making changes due to weather.

Yes. Despite the elimination of the nursing home population and almost all of the frail elderly (both major sources of mortality), the overall mortality rate for New Orleans post-Katrina increased by 48% in 2006 vs. 2004.

A significant drop in life expectancy.

I've seen some of those dams on the Chippewa. The interesting thing is that Wisconsin is relatively flat, not the type of place where you would really expect to see a lot of hydroelectric development. That's just it though: the dams are not all that high, and the water being impounded is not all that deep. It is not really the same thing as submerging an entire mountain valley, just widening and deepening the river a bit.

My impression is that there were a series of small dams on the Chippewa rather than one big one, which supports the point I made above.

The article's numbers are purely hypothetical and could be vastly overstated when you get down to a real world application. Any hydro project is site specific and every site can be assessed in different ways. Add or subtract a foot or two of dam height, add or subtract a few dozen acres to a reservoir and things can change a lot. And it will always come down to a local fight. Hydro is even worse than wind when it comes to hassle. I imagine that just about all the specific sites that might be included in these abstract numbers have been on somebody's drawing board for many years, generations even. There are many reasons why they have not been developed other than lack of need.

I think hydro is an excellent energy source and would like to see more of it. But throwing out a bunch of purely abstract estimates really is pretty much useless. Likewise, rejecting hydro projects out of hand as inevitably destroying watersheds is also useless. They don't.

I guess you didn't go the the "planned projects" link to Manitoba hydro, for examples. This is a Provence that produces 98% of its electricity from hydro, if the rest of the world was doing the same there would not be a climate change issue.

Run of river projects( see links for MORE EXAMPLES) either do not divert any water, or divert some stream flow for a few kms and return it to the river. You link was talking about permanent water withdrawal!

The "EXAMPLE" you gave isn't primarily to generate electric power its for "IRRIGATION" and a large scale INTER-BASIN DIVERSION, at that. Don't see any mention of electric power( providing power for XXX thousand homes).

My main issue with the article is the lack of examples. From the more examples link in the article:

Manitoba Hydro plans include constructing Keeyask generation station on the Nelson River, about 30 kilometres west of Gillam, Manitoba. Keeyask, a $3.5 billion hydro plant will supply 620 megawatts of energy and involves substantial flooding of lands.

Manitoba Hydro is actively planning the development of the 695-megawatt Gull (Keeyask) Generation Project on the lower Nelson River...If built, Keeyask would be Manitoba's fourth largest generating station. It would result in flooding of approximately 46 square kilometers of boreal taiga lands, and this area may gradually increase as a result of erosion.

"Substantial flooding" is the sort of environmental insult that Neil Howes's article is not being straightforward about.

I browsed through that link and I did not find any proposed dam in which "only" 50% of the flow was diverted for power production. Is there one somewhere? Presumably in such a system there would be a reservoir. Due to evaporative losses, not all of the diverted flow would be returned. I contend that such a system would have a profound impact on the watershed. But this is all just a fart in the bathtub without an example.

So we are left with a long article advocating building more hydroelectric dams saying that they will not cause any damage to the watershed, but only cites examples that prove to be bogus. That is dishonest.

Your comments:
"I browsed through that link and I did not find any proposed dam in which "only" 50% of the flow was diverted for power production."

The last two lines have provided SIX links to run-of-river projects.

"Substantial flooding is the sort of environmental insult that Neil Howes's article is not being straightforward about."

This is what I said;
"This plan does not call for dams on every river and stream or for building any dams in National Parks or Federal lands where development is presently prohibited." and then:
"Developing larger schemes in remote areas would involve catchment flooding and..." and; "While new dams in northern regions have a number of unfavourable environmental consequences,..."

Perhaps the problem is that you ONLY browsed and did NOT read the article.

Neil Howes proposed dams that divert 50% of the flow of a river to produce electricity. I was asking for a real-world proposal of such a scheme, to assess the trade-offs. I have not seen any examples -- do you have one? Now you seem to be trying to change the subject to run-of-river turbines. That wasn't what I was asking for.

Go and read the DOE links, where it explains that many of the small hydro involves diverting water through a turbine AND BACK to the same river downstream( maximum of 4km, but usually much less). The MAXIMUM diversion is 50% in the calculations of US hydro potential. at low stream flows there would be no diversion because of too little water for the turbine to operate. This does not involve building dams.
Classic New England water wheels were very similar concept where water is diverted upstream goes over a water wheel and back to the river, new turbines just more efficient. I have seen these projects in Switzerland, sometimes the diversion distances are 200-300 meters.

Stop playing games. I looked around and did not find any examples. I gave it more time than I should have.

It is to your advantage, the writer, to identify your sources. If this is your research, please post them to this thread. When you make your readers guess where you are coming from, you undermine the value of your work.

"Another means of generating hydro-power with minimal environmental impact is run-of-river micro-hydro generation, which has been proposed for relatively large scale implementation...in British Columbia..."

I live in British Columbia, and have personally witnessed the 'feeding frenzy' brought on by our government's incentives to develop so-called 'micro' hydro projects by encouraging private investment. I can unequivocally say the combined scope of these projects are NOT minimal when it comes to wilderness degradation and environmental impact. Over 500 (no type-o) rivers and streams have had licenses applied for by development firms. The BC government's environmental assessment process has consistenly failed to consider cumulative impact while simultaneously squelching public opposition to the inordinate scale of these projects. See "Bill 30" as an example.


No power source is truly 'green', but the biggest qualifying factor should be what benefit a power source is to the local population. Beyond that, profiteering and overdevelopment are inevitable.

the biggest qualifying factor should be what benefit a power source is to the local population.

So regional, national, and global impacts are to be neglected or minimized? Dominion power recently won the right to build a new coal plant in Wise, Virginia. The high-dollar marketing for this plant noted the large number of coal mining and power plant jobs this would bring to the depressed county of Wise. What they neglect to say is that over 25% of Wise County has already been strip mined for coal[1]. Your qualifying factor could result in many more such catastrophes.

"the biggest qualifying factor should be what benefit a power source is to the local population."

"So regional, national, and global impacts are to be neglected or minimized?"

I think you've partly misuuderstand the original commenters point. British Columbia has a long history (50+ years) of completely public owned, public operated, electricity. Mostly in the form of large Hydro projects (thus, "BC Hydro Corp").

The current privatization scheme being foisted upon us by our government is decimating what is commonly seen as the traiditional the public interest by:

a) Requiring all new projects to be "Independant Power Projects", ie. funded in great part by big business. GE in particular has set up a couple shell companies to run the largest Run-of-River projects and so all profits go to those corporations rather than the taxpayer that has traditionally benefited.

b) "Enforcing" environmental standards that are suspect at best in regions that are completely invisible to the vast majority of British Columbians... what you can't see won't hurt us, apparently.

c) Ignoring all the science that is telling residents of the Pacific NorthWest to expect *less* snowpack as Climate Change gears up. No Snowpack... no run-of-river.

d) Shielding projects from public view until the last moment.

So while I understand, and agree with your point that diverting a portion of a small river or stream to generate electricity is better overall if it can offset a giant coal facility, we must not fool ourselves into thinking every solution is so cut and dried.

The run-of-river debate in BC is extremely volatile right now as we are just over 1 month from a Provincial election.

I support run-of-river development as a way to mitigate CO2 emissions and increase local resilience in terms of powering towns and villages close to generation stations, as long as it is done with minimal impact on the environment around the project.

I do NOT in a way, shape, or form, support developing Hydro solely for the purpose of selling it back to my public electricity deliverer at exorbitant prices (which is then passed on to me as the consumer) only to then be exported to the United States. Or worse, developing projects that would be directly connected to the US grid completely bypassing our grid. (More than a few projects have been proposed to do just that in my area on Vancouver Island) All so that it can be used as a feel-good measure to reduce reliance on coal fired plants that doesn't cost the US citizen a penny in taxes or land? I don't think so.

My suggestion would be to look at your own vast solar and wind resources first, right there, in the Lower 48.

An excellent article and definitely food for thought however hydro is not as
reliable as one would wish.

According to the EIA, the US used
78 GWe of hydropower to produce 270 Twh or about an average of 3500 hours per year of operation. (Brazil suffered from massive power blackouts in the 1980s due to droughts.)

As I read this, North America could double hydropower from 94Gwe to~200 Gwe, so logically we would increase electricity by
~270 Twh or an increase in power output by 6.5% everything else being equal; (4400?+270)/4400?=106%.

Wind power is cheaper than hydropower per installed watt at about $1/W versus $2/W for new hydro and the resource is closer. Bringing energy from the Yukon is more expensive than from North Dakota(or offshore Cape Cod). And wind is more abundant--for example the Class 3 and higher sites in North Dakota alone amount to almost 1200 Twh according the awea(500 Gwe wind costing the same as 250 Gwe hydro).


As far as pumped hydro goes, it does help balance wind/solar variability but it is a negative as far as grid electricity goes.

Wind doesn't impact the environment as much as hydro does either, in terms of land submerged for example the Aswan dam
produces 2.1 Gwe but takes up 2000 square miles of land.

The Soviets built a lot of 'inappropriate' hydrodams and lost
huge amounts of good farmland.

On the Klamath River, we are seriously considering removing 50 megawatts of capacity to restore salmon and steelhead runs. A realistic estimation of hydro potential would exclude the rivers with historically important salmon runs in northern California, Oregon and Washington

The low capacity factor for hydro(35%) and natural gas power(22%) in US is because these are used for peak demand, not base load. In Canada more power is base load because they get 60% total from hydro, Manitoba 98%.
This is very different from the 30% capacity of wind.

However wind works well with NG and hydro as back-up, saving these more valuable resources(water and NG) for times of lower wind.

Would it be possible to run hydro 24/7 (or at least longer hours), if we needed the extra power? Or does this cut back the amount of power proportionately?

Only so much water, and very few are designed for flat, all out production. Karahnjukar (Iceland) is such a plant, designed for 540 MW, down once every 40 years, all to produce about 1.5% of the world's aluminum with minimal GHG.

40 km tunnel from reservoir to powerplant, 599 m head. Reservoir -50 to -60 m during the winter and then refills.

Operating to supply peak power is more economic in most cases. Also seasonal variance.


Do you have a source/cite for the map?

In the article and in the comments, I did not see any mention of one big problem with hydro power.
Silt builds up behind dams so that every year the water storage capacity behind the dam is less than the year before. Eventually the storage capacity reaches a level where it is no longer feasible to operate the electric generating system.
To prevent this requires constant dredging behind the dam to remove the silt. All of the dredging is currently being done with petroleum fuels. Eventually post peak oil) the cost of the dredging will be excessive to the point it can not be continued. The dam fills with silt and you wind up with a man made water falls over the top of the dam - And no power production.
Or we have American coolies with reed baskets on their heads hauling the silt out from behind the dam every so often? (That's a joke folks)

Dam silting reduces the storage capacity of dams, important for irrigation, but not much effect on potential hydro electricity, usually a hydro dam tries to stay full to give maximum energy recovered, many hydro projects such as Niagara Falls only change water level a few feet out of 300 ft drop.

Silting is less of an issue in subarctic regions of N America, but peak accumulation may be a problem. Run of river power not affected.

Actually not true. The storage of water is affected, but not the total energy.

In a few centuries, for example, Lake Mead may be filled up, the water intakes are reworked, and Hoover Dam still produces electricity as a "run-of-the-river" project.


Wind power is cheaper than hydropower per installed watt at about $1/W versus $2/W for new hydro

Not really. The latest cost estimate for T Boon Pickens 4,000 MW wind project is $12 billion .


Subtracting $2 billion for transmission lines, the cost of the installed windmills is $2.50 per data plate Watt. Now factor in a capacity factor of 0.35 and it’s up to $7.14 per watt. But those are undependable, unprogrammable, intermittent watts, much less valuable than watts from hydro, geothermal, nuclear or fossil plants.

The low capacity factor for hydro(35%) and natural gas power(22%) in US is because these are used for peak demand, not base load.

The low CF for natural gas is due to the high price of gas. The low CF for hydro is due to the limited supply of water.

These facilities will need backup plants to handle seasonal and longer term rainfall variation. The cost of the backup plants and their fuel supply system should be included. Tree ring data shows long term cycles, eg. “Dust Bowl”.

Water evaporation for hydro is 4,500 gallons/kwh, vs. 475 for coal and 550 for nuclear. Page 38 of;


Costal and offshore nuclear plants would use sea water cooling.

Some of the proposed hydro capacity would not increase evaporation, but others, like low head impoundments would be higher than average due to the low energy per gallon ratio.

The biggest problems are;

1… Environmental issues. If you have a home on a nice stream or river and the utility says they want to divert half the flow, (read more, maybe all of it during a heat wave or drought) you and your neighbors are going to fight like hell. Often it is rich people who have the nicest locations, and they have power.

2… It is “One Size Fits One”. It can not be mass produced in a factory. Each site needs a long study and individual analysis and design. The real cost per kWh will be much higher than for old hydro facilities.

NREL gives cost of a 1.5 MW wind turbine as $1472000 or $1/W.

OTH, new nuke plants are costing $5-6/W(Moody's 2007).


I don't know what Boone Pickens is charging but he's probably wants to get back all his money he's lost lately.

You charge for long distance grid lines for wind but not for remote hydro? I think the cost of electricity is about $2M/mile for a 2 GW wire. A 3 GW wind farm costs $3 billion dollars with a 1000 mile wire to the city costing $3 billion dollars would cost $6 billion dollars to make ~7.5 Twh worth of electricity. A new 1 GW nuke plant would cost $6 billion dollars produces about 7.5 Twh not counting future fuel and waste.

There is plenty of backup US gas generation 450 GW which ends up running only 1700 hours per year on average so strictly speaking no new gas turbines are needed.

Water evaporation for hydro is 4,500 gallons/kwh, vs. 475 for coal and 550 for nuclear. Page 38 of;

So nuclear isn't very reliable in a drought. Based on these numbers, in a year a 1GW requires ~14.5 billion gallons of water or 60 ft3/sec which is the flow of a small river--the 1913 LA aqueduct carries 485 ft3/sec. Using seawater instead of a cooling tower will cause massive thermal pollution of the sea.

Here a nuke plant in Japan is attacked by jellyfish.


Using seawater instead of a cooling tower will cause massive thermal pollution of the sea.

Oh jeez thats loony. 3GW thermal is nothin.

3 GW thermal is a lot if it's dumped in one tiny area. Thermal pollution is a local/fluvial problem. For seawater, diffusor pipe systems solve the issue, though.

Or use the heating for more comfortable recreational diving and the flow for canoeing competitions.

The local flora and fauna may not be more comfortable with significantly elevated temperatures, and I don't know if people like to swim in dedicated nuclear cooling ponds. Anyway, it's probably better to use CHP desalination, making the nuclear powerstation a net potable water resource. Using dedicated cooling ponds with uranium absorbents may be attractive as well.

The local flora and fauna may not be more comfortable with significantly elevated temperatures, and I don't know if people like to swim in dedicated nuclear cooling ponds.

Anecdotal evidence from Finland seems to indicate they do.

The crocodiles at turkey point seem to like the cooling ponds:


I get my OD of "anecdotal evidence" (an oxymoron, surely?) whenever I visit this site, thank you.

Plants and fish don't like local temperature elevations of many degrees K. Oxygen levels are a related problem. In an artificial cooling pond, there's no original flora and fauna to be worried about, but once through ocean cooling requires diffusor pipes to mitigate local thermal gradients. It's very effective and simple, costs only a couple million which is peanuts for a GWe class powerplant.

There are, of course, many good uses for the rejected heat. CHP desal, and in the future probably them heavy metal absorbents for uranium and vanadium recovery which is more efficient at higher water temperatures.

NREL gives cost of a 1.5 MW wind turbine as $1472000 or $1/W.

From your reference;

“The detailed baseline numbers were developed in the DOE WindPACT project started in 1999. These costs have been adjusted in certain categories to bring them in line with cost data available in late 2001”

Majorian, you crack me up. You give more credit to a theoretical 2001 cost estimate than an actual 2008 cost. Show us some projects approved or under construction now at $1/watt.

You charge for long distance grid lines for wind but not for remote hydro? I think the cost of electricity is about $2M/mile for a 2 GW wire.

Obviously you did not bother to read the reference before blasting away. Actually I deducted the cost of the power lines so as not to overstate the cost of the windmills. Also I did not include the $3-5 billion Ercot is spending to build new power lines to subsidize wind in Texas.

So nuclear isn't very reliable in a drought.

Actually it is quite reliable in summer. If all electricity was nuclear with cooling towers it would consume less than 3% of our water. Give up one tank of E-85 and you can have 2 years of nuclear electricity. Or dismantle 1GW of hydro and replace with 8 GW of nuclear evaporating the same amount of water.

Build costal and offshore nuclear plants and they will use 0.0% of our fresh water and provide an abundant new source if we need it.

Using seawater instead of a cooling tower will cause massive thermal pollution of the sea.

The sun delivers 20,000,000 watts of heat to the sea for every human on the planet. If they all had nuclear power at the U.S. rate it would add another 3,000 watts of heat for each. OTOH if global warming retains 1% of the solar flux that will be another 250,000 watts per human. Which do you prefer? (Hint, voting for an impractical solution is a vote for global warming)

The price per watt of wind turbines HAS decreased to $1/W due to technology, that's clear.

While the US and Europe has upgraded its nuke plants there has been little new construction so price demand is low. In Western Europe only two new nukes will be under construction by 2014(France and Finland). The big increase is China(21), Russia(11) Japan(4 +3 more after 2013) Korea(6) India(5) and a few in Eastern Europe. These markets aren't comparable with the US and Europe.

This totals a nuke addition of 30 GWe world wide by 2012 and 60 GWe by 2015.
By contrast wind today is 120 GWe world wide and is expected to reach 200 GWe by 2013.


Clearly the demand for wind GWe
is stronger than for nuclear GWe. This has resulted in a bottleneck situation.

What is driving up the cost of nukes is the price of new generation technology, not demand in OECD countries. Obviously the pricing situation in Russia, India or Red China (where 2/3 of new reactors are being built) is not comparable to the US prices.

Last year the price per watt for wind did jump by 50 to 100% due to a bottleneck situation, high steel prices and high demand for wind turbines.

The low CF for natural gas is due to the high price of gas. The low CF for hydro is due to the limited supply of water.

Almost. Natural gas is more expensive than coal, but raw natural gas fuel costs aren't that huge per kWhe and the low capital cost of gas turbines make up for it a bit. Because gas turbines are cheap and have fast ramp rates, and peaking electricity sells for much more than off-peak electricity, this is a good market for these things. But CCGT can operate in baseload very cost-effectively if required. For a given capacity factor, new CCGT is cheaper than new nuclear in the US. Natural gas prices have to be heroic for this to change.

For hydro, a higher capacity factor can be devised, but it makes no sense given the limited amount of kWhs that can be extracted from one location, and because of the fact that hydro also has fast ramp rates, it makes more sense to sell in the high value peaking market as well. Existing nuclear powerplants have very low ramp rates and low production costs; they operate in constant output mode (extreme baseload). In the US there's a lot of baseload coal and nuclear, so flexible natural gas and hydro are a good complement to this system.

I believe there is considerable scope for coupling wind power with hydro to create a virtual baseload system. Wind turbines are located on nearby coastline or ridges. Unregulated DC is sent over lightweight truss pylons to the outfall of the dam. There variable speed motors power helical rotor pumps to send water back uphill to the top of the dam. It doesn't matter if the wind blows fast, slow or not at all. When the natural river level is high the pump cuts out. Site specific modelling would be needed to predict the range of water levels and reliable outflows.

I've noticed that several hydro dams now have considerable head room as river flows are not keeping up to expectations. For example a dam near home has three 150 MW water turbines (ie 450 MW in total) but vacant slots for two more. Thus it could produce another 300 MW if the water was available.

Savings could come from a cheaper design of wind turbine that produces DC only and cheaper transmission. Maybe capital costs in selected sites could get below $1 a watt, even cheaper than new coal plant.

Adding additional turbines makes sense when more peak demand is required. They often haven't been added because this also requires more grid capacity, for example closer to home in Tasmania, much more than the 2.2GW capacity hydro could be produced and could even out a very large wind capacity( up to about 4GW) but this would require a much larger Bass-Link than the 600MW presently in place but SA and VIC could sure use an extra few GW's as last summer showed.

You assume the HVDC cable is all for export. In fact it imports an increasing amount of coal fired electricity. So when they build an HVDC line from Europe to solar thermal in Morocco I predict the Moroccans will also end up importing lignite power from Europe.

Having drought proof hydro means that local industry like aluminium smelting can feel more confident. If indeed 600 MW is the export limit for the cable then work around it by replacing power import for local use then export any remaining surplus. There is talk of another underwater cable but since it is not a bank bailout $1.2 bn is hard to find these days.

The present situation in Tasmania is that there is only enough water to generate 1200MW average, about what is consumed in Tasmania, so for every kWh exported at very high prices(up to $10/kWh) during Eastern Australia's peak, a kWh has to be imported(usually off peak at about 2 cents/kWh).

If wind power is to be expanded in Tasmania, this will allow more exported than imported, but even a modest 1000MW of wind (about what SA will have this year)means that sometimes wind will exceed local demand even with all hydro shut off, so the Bass- Link is vital to expand wind beyond this. Another alternative would be add reversing turbines where there is a lower storage.
It's always an advantage to be linked to a bigger grid, as Canada is linked to US, although just like Tasmania they also import coal generated electricity at times.

There are also going to be a lot of second hand turbines available from sites which are being repowered with newer, larger turbines. The gearboxes would probably need replacing, but you could fit a permanent magnet direct drive system and save lots on the power conveters if its just going to be used to power a DC pump.

We might consider building four smaller dams instead of repairing one large dam if the reservoir covers significant amounts of relatively flat land. The land reclaimed from the dam site pays for building the new dams. Recreational sites are where the money is.
Unfortunately only a small minority of dams have relatively flat land under the reservoirs.

Within 25 miles of Grand Rapids MI are a half dozen dams which at one time generated electricity but no longer do. I suspect that this has happened due to maintenance costs/Mwh was too high. These sites and many more in North America could go back online with almost zero environmental impact at a relatively low cost. It seems that all forms of renewables come with the burden of being more labor intensive than FF and nukes. We accepted this higher cost in the early 20th century and I would accept that higher cost now if it brought us cleaner air and lower GHG production.

OT re Petro currency

A new currency will evolve de facto as soon as major international traders demand that their payments be tied to an index of energy or other liquid tangible asset, like metal, protein: you name it.

When dollar inflation spirals it won't take long.

First up, the article completely fails to mention climate change in affecting prospects for hydroelectric. If glaciers melt away and rivers dry up or change course and rainfall patterns change, that alters the picture considerably. Are such things likely over the 50+ year lifetime of a hydroelectric project? Absolutely.

Presently 38% of this electricity is produced from carbon free sources (nuclear 19%, hydro 18% and wind energy 1.7%)

Just because it doesn't involve burning fossil fuels for electricity generation doesn't mean it's "carbon free".

Uranium mining, refining and enrichment is a very energy-intensive process, and much of the energy comes from fossil fuels.

Hydroelectric involves flooding valleys to form lakes, and these valleys frequently are forested, and the flooded trees and plants decay in the absence of oxygen, releasing methane, a strong greenhouse gas.

Wind turbines are also made with metals which must be mined, and plastics made with fossil fuels.

All three require large amounts of concrete and steel (hydro the most, nuclear next and wind least), the production of each requiring lots of energy, usually got from fossil fuels, and requiring chemical processes which release carbon dioxide.

They may be low carbon, but they are not carbon free.

Hydroelectricity in these environments has the lowest carbon dioxide equivalent of any energy source and >100 times less than coal fired electricity.

We'd all be interested in having a source for that, as others have made similar claims for wind and nuclear.

It's not clear what the melting of the arctic ice sheet will do for precipitation in Canada, possibly more in the sub-arctic major hydro regions, some other regions may be drier, about all we can definitely say is that it will become warmer. The hydro capacity is more important than the absolute water flow, as this determines what solar and wind can be accommodated. China has only a 30% capacity factor.

To reduce climate change the biggest factor in N America is to reduce the use of coal, so wind and hydro probably produce 1-2% of the CO2 that is produced by coal fired electricity. No one is arguing that nuclear, wind or hydro create 10% of the CO2, the arguments are if it's 0.5%- 5% range(5-50g CO2/kWh), not really important if you are displacing >1000g CO2/kWh coal!

the methane issue was discussed, in the limited space available see link http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/sdissues/energy/op/hydro_tremblaypaper.pdf
Definitely an issue in tropical high rainfall countries due to washed in vegetation and aquatic weeds. Not as big an issue in cold subarctic or warm drier regions. Methane has a short residence as a potent GHG(<100years) compared with CO2(>1000 years)

It's not clear what the melting of the arctic ice sheet will do for precipitation in Canada

The melting of the Arctic ice sheet is hardly the only thing happening, and in any case I didn't mention it. What I did mention was changing rainfall patterns and river flows.

The hydro capacity is more important than the absolute water flow

Mate, as we've learned in Australia during our decade-long drought, it doesn't matter how big your dam is if it ain't rainin'.

For example, as Neil Howes would know since he talks about national power grids in Australia, Tasmania and Victoria are already joined by Basslink. This was originally planned so that Tasmania could sell hydroelectric-generated power to Victoria, to raise money for Tasmania and lessen Victoria's dependence on brown coal.

However, in recent years Tasmania's actually been importing electricity, as described here and anywhere else you care to look. Tasmania suffered a drought (by Tassie standards - on the west coast they get 3 metres of rain a year), so that its hydroelectric couldn't generate enough.

They've only got one wild river left, so that's about it for their extra generation options.

Rainfall and rivers are expected to change with the rest of the climate.

Changing rainfall patterns and grassland biodiversity: climate change impacts from individual to ecosystem scales
What is happening to Australia's rainfall patterns?
Detection of human influence on twentieth-century precipitation trends
Climate change and the world's river basins: anticipating management options
AIT-UNEP Review Workshop on Vulnerability Assessment of Freshwater Resources

No one is arguing that nuclear, wind or hydro create 10% of the CO2, the arguments are if it's 0.5%- 5% range(5-50g CO2/kWh), not really important if you are displacing >1000g CO2/kWh coal!

The claim was "carbon free". Not "low carbon" or "about 0.5-5%", but "carbon free." Meaning zero.

On that basis if I go from 100 standard drinks a week to 5, I can say that I'm a teetotaller. Or if I go from 100 women a year to 2, I can say I'm celibate.

No. No method of electricity generation is zero carbon. But some are much lower carbon than others. It's important to look at these issues clearly and honestly.

Hydroelectric is certainly very useful as part of our electricity generation. But that's the thing with all renewables - they depend on local conditions which vary from time to time. If you have all the different renewables together it's okay, since after all when talking about countries the size of continents, it never happens that it's overcast, still air and dry across the whole country all at once.

All true. Therefore HVDC cannot automatically be assumed to spread cleaner energy. I do think a national or continental carbon cap will slow this practice of selling peak hydro for top dollar and gradually reimporting cheap coal power while the dams refill. Reason being the coal power is no longer so cheap.

Well, I would just build out a heap of various kinds of renewables, then close down the coal-fired plants.

End of problem :)

You are being a bit unfair, generating electricity from wind or hydro today from an existing structure doesn't produce additional CO2, burning coal or NG does. Building new hydro or wind turbines creates a small amount of additional CO2, because we still burn some coal and oil, just as building a new coal fired plant does too, but in the case of coal the burning of the fuel is 50 times larger.
In a renewable energy world building more hydro or wind turbines won't create any(significant) CO2, neither will operating them.
Perhaps I should have said "ultimately low carbon" or "virtually low carbon". You would be disappointed to find that your 'fat free" snacks actually contain 0.1% fat.

If the future hydro plants built in Manitoba use electric arc steel and cement using only electricity, the power would be 99.9% carbon free because Manitoba's electricity is 98% hydro, but some silly worker would spill some transformer oil and double the CO2 footprint! But would that be relevant?

Arctic sea ice cover is very relevant to precipitation in sub-arctic regions, probably not relevant to mid-latitude countries occupying the "desert belt" such as Australia, Sahara region, Senora desert. Less ice shelf around Antarctica may influence Southern Australia's rainfall.

Naturally using an existing anything doesn't produce new CO2.

But this article is all about building new stuff. Which does cause emissions.

Low carbon is certainly low carbon. But it is not zero carbon. I point this out because it's a distinction the coal lobbyists would, if they ever developed more brains than a retarded three year old, point out. They'd use it to muddy the waters of the discussion. "Well, nothing is zero carbon, and with this here clean coal we can -"

It's also the sort of thing that's a common excuse for people not changing at all. "Well, I'll do harm whatever I do, so what the hell."

The way to deal with inconvenient truths is to be the first one to bring them up and then shoot them down.

In a renewable energy world building more hydro or wind turbines won't create any(significant) CO2, neither will operating them.

An assertion easily made, a bit harder to prove. What do you define as "significant"? On what basis? How much of a renewable energy buildout are we talking about? What are the emissions likely to be caused by that?

Have you looked into it, or are you just waving your hand casually over the issue without considering the details? That's what got us into this mess in the first place. "Well, there's plenty of fossil fuels, and they can't do any significant harm, the Earth is just too big, and if they do, well, They'll Think of Something."

Not good enough.

Not speaking merely of renewables but looking at the other half of the problem - our land use, which causes just under half of all our emissions - as I wrote here,

"We don't do ourselves any favours by being overly optimistic or pessimistic, by looking at just one side of the story [...] We need to examine the facts seriously and thoroughly, and try to understand the way the world works. [...] We probably can't be zero carbon. But we can be low-carbon, and that should be enough."

"Naturally using an existing anything doesn't produce new CO2."

Using existing coal or NG generated electricity does, hydro and wind do not, nuclear very little.

The point about any new infrastructure is that the CO2 produced is a consequence of present energy mix, still high in FF, but as we move to a 85-90% reduction in FF use, the CO2 produced by NEW hydro and wind will be progressively lower, perhaps only 10% of today's very low values of 5-25g CO2 /kWh( ie 0.5-2.5g/kWh), 500-2000 times lower than burning coal. I would not call that significant So the net result is that 100GWh NEW hydro energy produces less CO2 than displacing 2GWh of coal-fired energy.

"How much of a renewable energy buildout are we talking about? What are the emissions likely to be caused by that?"
I stated a target(proposed by many climate experts) 85-90% reduction in FF, if this is all replaced by renewables, CO2 reductions would decline by 84 to 89.5%, ie most emissions still from the 10% FF.

This is only a 2,000 word article; the title outlines objectives of article

so that's about it for their extra generation options

Tasmania is on the edge of the "Roaring 40s", one of the world's premier wind resources.

And small hydro has been generally neglected because of the large hydro development.


Actually Alan they put in a 1.5 MW turbine in Tasmania just the other day.

The trouble is the Hydro got their arses kicked 25 years ago with a 220 MW project
and have since lost their confidence. The protagonists flew into town the other day on kerosene burners for an anniversary love-in. Senators, pop stars, TV naturalists and so forth.

Now the Hydro is crying poor and have sold their share in a Chinese joint wind venture to raise cash. They've retreated to the bunker.

Uranium mining, refining and enrichment is a very energy-intensive process, and much of the energy comes from fossil fuels.


Uranium enrichment is by far the most energy intensive part of the cycle, absolutely dwarfing energy used in construction and mining. You do know what a Uranium enrichment plant is powered by, right? It's electricity.

The source of the electricity that powers a Uranium enrichment is utterly irrelevant because nuclear power itself produces electricity. That is the "good" type of EROEI, as it is more of a matter of efficiency than of cannibalizing other energy sources. If you wanted to make enrichment more "carbon neutral", you could (guess what?) build more nuclear power plants.

And the fact that you think that Uranium mines are heavily dependent on fossil fuels demonstrates that you don't know anything about large scale mining operations. Almost everything gets electrified on that scale.

All three require large amounts of concrete and steel (hydro the most, nuclear next and wind least), the production of each requiring lots of energy, usually got from fossil fuels, and requiring chemical processes which release carbon dioxide.

Again with the lies!


Wind uses 5 to 10 times as much of both concrete and steel as nuclear and coal.

Concrete is the culprit for CO2 emissions in construction activities. Hydro isn't great in these respects, but the CO2 from the concrete is included in the calculations that put it >100 times better than coal, so just from that fact it's obvious that it isn't such a huge deal.

The source of the electricity that powers a Uranium enrichment is utterly irrelevant because nuclear power itself produces electricity.

Irrelevant, eh?

So you've discovered a perpetual motion machine? Awesome! Hurry, apply for the Nobel Prize in Physics.

The source of the electricity that powers a Uranium enrichment is utterly irrelevant because nuclear power itself produces electricity.

Irrelevant, eh?

To EROEI, yes - it's a matter of efficiency, not energy return.

If society hands the nuclear chain 1 unit of energy and gets back 100 units of energy in return, then from an EROEI perspective the internal details don't matter. If the nuclear industry generates 120 units of energy and spends 20 of them internally, that doesn't change the fact that it's giving society a 100:1 return on the energy it's been given.

In fact, it doesn't even matter (for EROEI) if the industry generates 900 units of energy for each input unit and internally consumes 800 of them - it's still returning 100 units of energy for every 1 unit invested by society. It may be doing so inefficiently (11% efficiency vs. 80% above), and that is not irrelevant, but it's still a net energy source, and it's still providing the same 100:1 return for society.

Small scale, run of the river hydroelectric power development has potential for supporting environmental stewardship. In the 80's I conducted a study of a project that operated from 1909 to 1960. It consisted of a passive diversion from a river, without a dam. Much like a simple irrigation diversion. This water was then directed along a 22 mile ditch into another river fork and then with a final 7 mile ditch dropped 220 feet through a power plant. All in arctic climate. 3 to 7 mw

Nice project but there were other benefits. below this ditch seepage traveled through aspen parkland vegetation and was enriched to greater productivity. Moose, cariboo and wild fowl were never better. this is wild crafting in the best sense. After seeping through this man created wetland along the ditch water reached the river and enhanced production of chinook salmon and during operations strong runs of naturally spawned fished supported the local community.

In my studies I identified 30, possibly more locations that would support an analog project. interconnections of power plants for distant markets would support environmental stewardship and self sustainable communities

More details & specifics please.


We just had a former strategic planner for BC Hydro (google Bruce Sampson) present on Peak Oil and Climate Change mitigation to our City and citizens... he was banging the Peak Oil drum from within BC Hydro back in the 90s when they all thought he was crazy. They don't think he's crazy anymore, and whatsmore, they are anticipating that the glaciers and snowpack that they rely on now for HydroElectric energy are going to be severely compromised by Climate Change.

It is appropriate and fitting that the “US generation of Electricity by Source” chart depicts Nuclear power by color as “Green”.

Wind and solar are all but invisible; yet they still impose a large and growing ugliness across the land, and the others are all world killers and wax huge and growing.

It is nuclear energy that will free the rivers to flow free and fast to the sea where fish swim unhindered once more in their great numbers. It is nuclear energy that will clear the open prairie of the ugly towers numberless in their scarring of the land. It is nuclear energy that will keep the deserts a place for the smallest and most delicate of God’s creatures, beautiful for the generations to come.

Forgive them dear mother earth for they know not what they do.

That's a great plan, when the US replaces the last coal and natural gas fired plant with nuclear, then can look at not building any more hydro. Of course will need all of today's hydro for day-time peak power and will have to build x20 the pumped storage capacity to replace natural gas peak power.

Nukes are "on or off", same generation at 3 AM and 6 PM. Severe limits to the % of the grid (France sells 3 AM power to Switzerland, which holds back hydro, and then sells 6 PM hydropower to France et al for a 500% mark-up).

Nukes require large chunks of spinning reserve. Hydro spinning in air is one source, coal fired plants operating at partial load (less efficient) is the other major source of spinning reserve.

Many reservoirs support more fish than the rivers they replace. It is an "location by location" analysis.


Nukes are "on or off", same generation at 3 AM and 6 PM.

Depends on the nuke.  Molten-salt reactors are inherently load-following, to give just one example.  However, if I were designing an MSR I would investigate an air cycle to work as the reheat system for CAES.

Nukes require large chunks of spinning reserve.

Only if you build the 1.6 GW PWRs.  Other technologies can be built in much smaller units.

~1.6 GW PWRs are the future of new nukes for as far as the eye can see.

Established, proven tech vs. molten salt, etc. The chances of them becoming a major source of power (say >15% of US MWh) in my lifetime are close to nil.


On the other hand, uranium and thorium hydride reactors are just around the corner. Oh my! JOHN ADAMS: Facts are stubborn things.

Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don't do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out
Facts are getting the best of them
Facts are nothing on the face of things
Facts don't stain the furniture
Facts go out and slam the door
Facts are written all over your face
Facts continue to change their shape

uranium and thorium hydride reactors are just around the corner.

You forgot the sarconol tag.


However, if I were designing an MSR I would investigate an air cycle to work as the reheat system for CAES.

Add a solar thermal for the steam cycle, and you have nuclear baseload, large scale solar thermal for daytime load following with CAES and CCGT to make up the rest.

Be interesting to see how well the Sanman Nuclear Plant does during construction. Hopefully goes better than Finlands efforts

I have no idea what BNFL where doing letting go of Westinghouse, boggles the mind.

Before singing the praises of nuclear, you might want to check out this article about the "incident at TMI-2"


Another replay of the fear song. You must have that tune memorized by now.

It has nothing to do with fear. It has everything to with an understanding that human beings make mistakes.

Every year, thousands die driving cars, miners die in coal mines, people die in plane crashes, people die in their sleep. But nobody dies in nuclear reactors, not even TMI. It’s the radiation, it must be magic,

Nuclear energy is far from idyllic.

An active nuclear power plant contains millions of curies of radioactivity. The Soviets estimated at the explosion of the 1 Gwe Chernobyl #4 reactor released about 50 million curies. By contrast the huge 1954 Castle Bravo(Bikini) 15 megaton hydrogen bomb test released 20 million curies of radioactivity.
Today, the Marshall Islanders have high rates of thyroid cancer in the world. Thyroid cancer can be treated but it also can metastasize.


Power plants process huge amounts of uranium for fuel.

For example to fuel a 1 GW plant requires 500000 tons of waste rock and 100000 tons of radioactive uranium tailings, all to produce 30 tons of fuel rods. All this rock creates plenty of radioactive dust and more uranium miners will die than any other occupational group.

Natural uranium and thorium are weakly radioactive but the products of decay are more dangerous. Roughly, uranium turns into thorium which turns into radium which turns into radon gas which turns into polonium which eventually turns into non- radioactive lead in your blood. There is also an actinide decay chain from man-made radioactive elements.

Most radioactivity is either alpha or beta radiation which can be stopped at the skin or with clothing. X-rays and neutrons require heavy shielding. Any kind of radioactivity which you swallow or breathe however can cause internal damage.

Certain elements are particularly dangerous; uranium causes kidney cancer, iodine causes thyroid cancer and strontium causes bone cancer because of the body's tendency to concentrate these elements in specific organs.

Another danger are x-ray emitters like Cesium 137 and radium.
Cobalt 60 is a strong emitter used to calibrate xray equipment but has ended up in scrap iron. It is manufactured in nuclear reactors.

Water is effective neutron shielding and some of that turns into radioactive tritum which is used for radioluminescent signs. As tritium water is can be swallowed and cause internal damage. Heavy water reactors produce a much larger amount of tritium than LWRs which must be removed in case of a leak.

Fission in a nuclear reactor splits uranium or thorium into smaller chunks such as radioactive barium 140, radioactive cesium, radioactive iodine, radioactive strontium, radioactive polonium, plutonium, etc. This radioactivity isn't natural and only comes out of a reactor. About 2.5% of the fuel coming out of a 'safe' once thru LWR are these radioactive product of fission wastes. If they escape into the environment they WILL end up in the our food and water.

The discovery of Sr-90 (which only comes out of reactors or bombs) in milk and baby teeth led to the 1963 Atmospheric Test Ban treaty, but levels have not declined showing how difficult it is to reduce radioactive isotope once they get into the environment.


The effect of exposure to radioactivity is called a rem (or Sievert=100 rem): 5 rem per year is the occupational dose or .1 rem per week. If you were exposed to 1 gram of cesium-137 at 1 foot from you for 8 hours, you'd have an 80% chance of dying. Cesium 157 has a half life of 30 years.

The point is that once radioactivity enters the environment is can only be reduced by the natural rates of decay--the half-life of strontium 90 is 28 years,radium 226 is 1600 years, etc.

10 micrograms of radioactive polonium 210(the decay product of radon gas) poisoned Litvinenko.

The nuclear fanatics believe we need to vastly expand the number of nuclear power plants but we will be filling the world with poisons we cannot easily get rid of. Worse they see a future with nuke power becoming the sole source of energy which has terrible political implications.

You sing that same old song of fear that the cold war politicians perfected to a fine art. They wanted to scare for money to buy their weapons that they might need. You want to scare the hell out of everybody to get the money to buy the wind and sun machines that won’t work. You renewable nuts have picked up the song of fear with a vengeance to scare again. Not one nuke worker has died in the US or France since the dawn of the atomic age. I am grown wary of the fear game while you and your kind fill the earth with your atrocities.

Not one nuke worker has died in the US or France since the dawn of the atomic age

Not quite true, but... let's say it is.

Then the US and France should go ahead and have lots of nuclear reactors. But nobody else should.

The US and France are quite far away from me in Australia, so I'm happy with that, though Americans and the French might not be happy with it.

When people are given a chance to vote on whether or not to have nuclear, they generally vote against it. If they were voting for it, well then they should go ahead and do it! Of course you may prefer not to live in a democracy... No need to ask the ignorant public what they want, is there?

When people are given a chance to vote on whether or not to have nuclear, they generally vote against it.

When given a chance, people invariably vote for free stuff at no cost. I imagine when they're voting against nuclear power they don't think that its in effect often voting for coal. I'm sure you appreciate the coal in Aus.

Okay, so you believe people are too stupid to know what's good for them. That's fair enough - fascism has always been popular amongst the middle classes.

I don't share those views.

Let the people decide. Just tell them, we're voting for which power source we'll use - if you want, you can tick the "nothing" box, then we'll have nothing. Let there be a public debate and discussion, and then a vote.

Whatever the people in each region vote for, they ought to go ahead and do it. I'd accept it.

Funnily enough, what both pro-nuclear and pro-coal people share is that they don't want to ask the people, because the people are too stupid to know what's good for them.

Or maybe it's because they know the people aren't that dumb.

Okay, so you believe people are too stupid to know what's good for them. That's fair enough - fascism has always been popular amongst the middle classes.

Maybe, but thats a strawman. My point is public referenda in a republic is a poor choice for policy making in a republic. People might not be dumb, but they usually are too busy to actually understand many of the things they have opinions about. Criticising that opposition to referenda is fascist is particularly ironic however.

The Swiss seem to do quite well with referendum.


Agreed, but they operate more like a democracy than a republic.

I have to make a comment.

I live in W. Ky where there is a huge nuclear enrichment plant.

I have heard many nightmare stories by those who once worked there.

This stmt that none have died? Its utter claptrap bullshit. The deaths don't go down as radioactive related. Thats why.

I don't think they have yet found all the buried drums. Records gone. Whatever. Some built houses over sites not knowing.


As they marked the 60th anniversary this week of the opening of the enrichment plant, the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, residents of this city pondered a mixed legacy: The plant turned the city into a pocket of wealth in a poor region, but at a cost.

Workers were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, and scores slowly became sick with diseases that the federal government only recently admitted responsibility for.

Even so, many former workers say that seeing their city get rich while doing what many considered their patriotic duty during the cold war, making weapons-grade uranium for warheads, made it all worthwhile.

Every war has a price and the cold war is no exception. Good men have become sick and have died to keep America free.

Despite all that, Paducah, population 27,000, is now in a competition to attract a new uranium enrichment plant using safer and more efficient centrifuge technology.

Airdale: Like so many others, you let the fear of nuclear weapons and their production affect your thinking on peaceful nuclear power.

Do you live near Paducah?

I don't see that wealth there. I see it shutting down, the businesses that is. Good I say. Enough is enough.

I would prefer a clean healthy habitat instead of the money. When your dying of cancer then I bet you had wished it otherwise.

I won't go into any further detail except to say that they put things like pulp mills and enrichment facilites where they can get by with it..like places that don't have the clout to fight it. Then we pay a penalty that is only later realized while the execs think they are doing us a big favor. Sheeeeshhhhh.

A huge amount of the electricity generated at the Kentucky lake and Barkley lake hydro plants go to feed this enrichment plant. You can see the tremendous lines leading there.

Meanwhile my electric bill has increased markedly as the coop upped it slighty more than 50% a few months ago...we pay more for our electricity that comes from TVA(both lakes) than other areas. Far more.

The pulp mills savage our woodlands. The trucks hauling millions of logs there never stop running. The truckers sometimes crash along our twolane state highway. We are decimating our timberlands rapidly and all so some one can wipe their asses with toilet paper or make wasted memos?

We destroy our country for such. Its still happening with the unbelieveable aspect of mountain tops being destroyed and....

Nobody seems to really care. No one. Except the poor folks that live there and see it being destroyed....

Yeahh.....ok to destroy,,just not in my area? Says the elite. The ones who supervise these plants go out a ways,out from the stench,or radioactivity to buy their McMansions so they don't have the smells and the ugliness. Usually to another county.

They should be made to live on the grounds.

So what else is new? Nothing under the sun. We are still screwing ourselves into the ground. I hope it all explodes....right now would suit me. Shut this shit DOWN!

Airdale-don't get me started,the sooner these places shut down the sooner we can get back to reality,and even though I have relatives working in these places I really, really don't care.

you aint seen nothing yet.

Wait till the biomass-to-fuel industry gets up and running. Your beloved woodlands will look like the surface of the moon. The elite will strip mine the green life on this continent into extinction. It won’t be limited to one town or one county, it will be everywhere. Greed has no limit.

For example to fuel a 1 GW plant requires 500000 tons of waste rock and 100000 tons of radioactive uranium tailings, all to produce 30 tons of fuel rods.

As opposed to, say, coal.

Suppose you're burning coal at 25 million BTU/ton in a plant achieving 8000 BTU/kWh (much better than average).  A 1 GW plant running at 90% capacity factor will burn 320 tons per full-power hour, 2.5 million tons per year.  It will produce perhaps 250,000 tons of ash which is full of toxic metals, and ironically has more radioactives than the emissions from a nuclear plant.

All this rock creates plenty of radioactive dust and more uranium miners will die than any other occupational group.

I'm sure we can find a way to reduce that, with e.g. automation to keep people out of the immediate area and water sprays to suppress dust.  The mere fact that you're handling only a fraction of the material (and only removing a very small part of that for further use) means fewer people involved.

once radioactivity enters the environment is can only be reduced by the natural rates of decay--the half-life of strontium 90 is 28 years,radium 226 is 1600 years, etc.

Whereas mercury, arsenic and lead are forever.  Burning coal with metal sulfides in it smelts them quite effectively.  Here's your nuclear replacement, would you like extra cadmium with that?

Fourth-generation nuclear technologies can not only slash the amount of fuel required (thorium breeders can use ~100% of the thorium, compared to ~1% of uranium in LWRs), 85% of the fission products from some cycles will decay in just 10 years.  Radiotoxicity can be down below the level of the original ore in less than 1000 years.  This is the way to go.

That's a brilliant argument, I'm impressed.

That is, if we assume that nuclear and coal are our only two options. Which is a bit like the "multiparty democracy" in North Korea. You can vote for the Socialist Party, or the Worker's Party!

For baseload, its nuclear, hydro, and coal. There effectively aren't any other options. If you want to pretend there are thats fine, but everywhere thats done, coal sees a precipitous rise in market share.

I think wind, smart grids, conservation, solar and so on, can play a role in reducing the necissary baseload infrastructure but it certainly wont eliminate it.

You've been pushing the baseload fallacy for years, Dezakin, by now you're familiar with the arguments against it, arguments you invariably ignore, but which I'll repeat for the benefit of everyone else.

What Dezakin is saying is that we need a certain amount of electricity supply which can follow demand, and that since wind and solar offer supply at their own times and not necessarily when we want them, they're not useful for this "baseload" supply.

This seems reasonable at first glance, but on consideration turns out to be bollocks.

  • Geothermal acts in the same way as hydro - electricity on demand. Sites for it are limited, but the same is true of hydro.
  • Solar thermal, solar photovoltaic, tidal and wind in combination with a continent-sized grid will ensure a constantly high supply; there has not been a time in recorded weather history where an entire continent was overcast with still air. This takes better grid management than we have now, but is doable
  • Biogas is also an option, though at this stage it's not clear exactly how much we could create sustainably
  • It's possible to adjust demand to follow supply, rather than vice versa, we already do this with electricity supplies to industry, giving them discounts at the price of having a supply which is turned off at times of high demand elsewhere
  • we can reduce overall demand, too, just as we have with water.

I'm sure the coal industry appreciates such sentiment.

With all due respect to the concepts you list, you also have to admit that the only one even remotely able to scale to the level of coal in the near term is wind power.  Some, like hot-rock geothermal, are roughly as speculative as magnetic-confinement fusion.

We don't have the time to wait for them to mature.  Our options for a near-term build out are wind and nuclear, perhaps with a generous helping of something like CAES to buffer the supply/demand mismatch.  Anything else that turns out to work can be added later; the wonderful thing about electricity is that it's fungible.

Geothermal, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, and tidal don't exist anywhere in significant amounts?

Are you posting from a parallel dimension?

You quietly ignore adjusting demand to follow supply, rather than vice versa (eg "smart meters" for households, etc), and reducing overall demand. But the concept that we could do alright with less stuff, and that we could stop wasting so much, is an alarming one for some people. As the NYT put it, "Thrift can take lasting hold of a consumer society, to disastrous effect."

Scary stuff! Whatever will the world do if we stop wasting so much stuff?!

Engineers point is not ultimate resource, but what can be built in 10 -20 years. Wind, hydro and nuclear have significant capacity now, so can be increased to replace coal. In 100 years, 90% of energy may be from solar but that won't help us very much if solar solar only increases X100 in next 20 years( from 0.5GW to 50GW), but wind capacity going from 26GW to 2,000 GW would allow 95% coal power to be shut down.

Geothermal, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, and tidal don't exist anywhere in significant amounts?

I'm saying geothermal and tidal don't scale.  Geothermal in the US, in particular, has been essentially fixed since 2002.  This is probably because the good conventional resources are fully exploited, and the advances required to exploit hot dry rock are years from commercial demonstration, let alone widespread production.  Tidal has its own problems.

Solar (thermal or PV) has enormous potential, but it's 2 orders of magnitude behind wind and has a lot of catching up to do.

You quietly ignore adjusting demand to follow supply, rather than vice versa

Yeah, that's why I repeatedly cite the example of the Ice Bear as an energy-storage system... because I ignore supply-following.... <sigh>  I guess I need a clue-by-four to deal with ideologues like you.

Are you posting from a parallel dimension?

"First, remove the beam that is in your own eye."

Geothermal; has made an important, real world breakthrough.

A secondary cycle, using a fluid other than water. to run "steam" through a turbine is now commercial.

This makes cooler geothermal resources viable, and helps make hot rock also viable.
Comparing hot rock to fusion is WAY too big a stretch. For a few billion in R&D, it will work (although perhaps not economically).


Opcon powerbox?
Its a cointainer sized ORC turbine and generator unit you hook up to a 55 - 120 C heat source, a 0 - 35 C cooling source and get about 650 kW of electricity.

I love my river. It’s not far down to paradise for me. I bike for miles along its length on the endless tow paths and trails that grace its banks; moving fast the wind hard at my back and joyful to be riding free.

Laughing kids skip rocks over its face and the boats play carefree to and fro on those warm summer days to find tranquility. The color of the sails paint their miracles and I stop to watch them bear before the wind and listen to their flapping sails sound a joy to be free.

In its calm and quiet spots in the dappled sunlight filtered gently through the hanging willows, the fish jump to lunch on the flitting June bugs gathered in clouds above its surface with a splash.

The sullers beat a rhythm with their oars on their last hard pull to the finish line while their girls watch languid and unconcerned on the shore knowing how good it is to be young and free.

Every day is a carnival of the sights and sounds of sweet life and the joy to be free down by the river.

No engineers have yet blocked its flow, but if they did, what a tragedy. There is a nuke plant far up stream beyond the distance to be seen, but it does not stop the river from being free or stop that paradise for me.

So what is the effect on the salmon and steelhead runs of all those noisy boaters and stone-skippers?

"20 GW from Washington State, Idaho and Oregon"

This seems unlikely politically. Any new hydro project would face stiff opposition from sport fishermen, tribes, and environmental groups. Every year there is a new lawsuit over plans for maintaining salmon runs (Biop or Biological Opinion lawsuits). 20GW of new hydro? My mind bogggles. They are taking out Condit dam (it has a wiki site). The environmental movement wants to breach 4 dams on the upper Snake river in Idaho (I doubt this will happen, but who knows?). Its a fight to keep the existing hydro running in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. There would really need to be a sea change in public sentiment to get any new hydro in place, even just adding turbines to flood control projects.

I don't think the Nelson River project has excess firm capacity on its DC lines in Manitoba. Maybe they would sell non-firm capacity, but this limits the value of the line down from Alaska quite a bit. Its probably not even technically feasible. They don't have a very stiff AC bus at the northern terminal (necessary for DC inverter operation). Better just to run the line all the way to Minneapolis or some other load center with a stiff AC bus.

I don't know how we would be able to maintain stable grid operation on the loss of a 5GW line from Alaska in the event of a line fault, but redundant lines are a possibility. Or reduce line capacity to 3GW.

10 average GW might be, say, 30GW peak power. If all of this is sent south, this would be about 6 of +/-800kV DC bipoles running at about 3000 Amps. Run them maybe on three dual-circuit DC corridors (ie 4 DC lines on one transmission tower). Maybe a 4th redundant corridor for reliability reasons (loss of any 1 10GW corridor on this 2000(?) mile line would not interrupt power, hopefully). I guess its just technically feasible, especially if you lower the transfer capacity to less than the hydro peak capacity. Still, it would be an adventure. Might be easier just to write off the Alaska hydro potential for now. Or relocate some electricity intensive industry to Alaska and export the product. Make solar cells in Alaska with that hydro power.

Jeff Barton

The 40% in Alaska does seem like it could be a problem. There are areas in Alaska you almost have to fly to. More electric power there would not be helpful.

I am sure the amounts were cut back, but it may very well be that oil is really the limiting resource. Extra electricity doesn't really make up for the lack of oil.

Developing Alaska and linking it into the continental grid adds a lot more value to both the largest single unused hydro resource and the advantage of combining with wind power, sharing the same transmission lines, so that power would be flowing at close to maximum capacity 24/7, whatever the wind conditions. If the transmission line ends at a major hydro site then that 24/7 power can be converted to x5 as much peak power capacity( but moving along much shorter transmission lines). This would require additional turbines at the west coast terminus dams, or Idaho, or southern Manitoba or even closer to major demand. The losses would still be less than pumped storage.

If it was possible to build a pipeline across Alaska, it should be possible to built substantial transmission capacity along the Alaska highway, no additional roads would be required during construction, easy access for bringing in steel and concrete.

This power corridor would also give better access to the hydro resources in Yukon and NW Territories( good to have something in it for Canada).

If a state is prepared to exploit a 20 year supply of polluting oil in a wildlife reserve, it should be prepared to develop a 200 year supply of cleaner wind and hydro( and geothermal) not in wildlife reserves.

I think the idea is too ambitious. Line maintenance would be a nightmare. Lots and lots line through forest in very sparsely populated areas. Keeping the trees down in 8000+ circuit miles of transmission lines is no easy task. Arctic weather would be a hazard for line icing. If you can keep the lines loaded, you can keep them defrosted, but you can't design the structures assuming the lines will be warm all winter -- you would be asking for trouble. A number of smaller hydro projects shut down in the winter in Alaska when their rivers and streams freeze up. I don't think you would get good availability in the winter. HVDC lite with buried cable would eliminate the overhead line problem, you could not manufacture enough cable by 2030 to get these lines in (just beyond being very, very expensive compared to using more vanilla thyristor HVDC). HVDC lite is not reasonable for this distance and transfer capacity.

You would need redundant corridors. Without sufficient separation, any single event (a big windstorm, say) could wipe out all the transmission lines. WECC requires 1200 feet separation, but for a project like this you would want many miles (ie, not of the lines along the Al-Can highway).

A massive grid project would be required in the Western interconnect to handle the power injected at even several points. If you are displacing coal, you might be able to drop the lines in to locations that used to have coal plants -- Wyoming, Montana, wherever you can find a big plant to displace. If you drop 5 or 10 GW on Grand Cooley, you would need to build out transmission from Grand Coulee.

Its very ambitious. I think this project would be a hard sell. I cannot say it's impossible, just very, very difficult.

Jeff Barton

See the 1,700 km Inga-Shaba HV DC line through equally challenging terrain, with *FAR* worse socio-political environment.


I have flown by helicopter along the Kemano-Kitimat transmission line. More rugged terrain cannot be imagined.


The reasons to use Grand Coulee are several.

VERY strong local grid (60 Hz timing for West is set at Grand Coulee)

Some excess transmission capacity (AK hydro may fill in more "shoulder" demand and less peak demand if major new transmission from Grand Coulee is not built). Some new transmission required regardless out from Grand Coulee (perhaps to MT & WY coal plants that will be mothballed ?)

It is generally easier to uprate an existing transmission corridor than to build an all new one. Grand Coulee has the existing corridors.

Grand Coulee is one of the few places that can accept (with new extra generators) a sudden loss of 1+ GW. Spin some turbines in air as spinning reserve until AK line fails. If failure happens, open valves and let water in.

Best Hopes,


I totally agree that long distance HVDC from sub-arctic regions should terminate at large existing hydro sites, as you say this allows to link into a very good grid built to take peak loads. This happens for the Nelson and James Bay projects.
This way the expensive long distance lines could be used at higher capacity, with the regional hydro only used to top up peaks. I think Grande Coulee also has one turbine reversible, other sites could have additional turbine capacity added and possibly pumped storage.

I have traveled along about half of the Alaska highway and at least the Southern end would be easy land for transmission lines, going through Alberta to Idaho/Washington State.

Once a large wind and hydro capacity is built in Alaska aluminium smelters etc would be logical local industries.

This is delusion on a mass scale. I'm horrified, but confident a plan this destructive will never be implemented, nor be financially realistic.
Suicide to the species, plunder to the planet.

What I am proposing is slightly more than the 100GW that China has under construction now. It would increase transmission capacity by about20%(2% a year). I am sure that N America has the resources, and demand for this to be built, it already has the largest electricity grid in the world.

I am horrified that the US may still be using coal to generate 50% of it's electricity in 2030! Now that's a scary thought.

I would absorb some of the hydro in Alaska (Palin just cut budget for new hydro) and split the remainder Say 4 HV DC lines, two pairs running in parallel). One to Grand Coulee (add some more turbines there) and the other to Nelson River Manitoba or new pumped storage complex on Lake Superior).

All lines could operate as HV DC Lite (reactive power, 1 GW, 300 kV maximum from memory for current technology) or conventional HV DC.

And significantly increase interruptibility load in parts of US & Canada.


Taking those dams out on the Snake would be a return to sanity, and a start on repairing a severely damaged ecology. But I agree, with the greed heads in charge, it is not realistic now.

Summeries of reports I have seen before this one have said that Hydro has been pretty much used up the good places to build water power plants and now this one says we have alot of sites. Maybe this report is true and the others were wrong or the technology hasn't gotten there yet or something else. Or this is just a money grab by a bunch of civil engineers. There's alot of money for non-carbon fueled energy going around, why not grab some.

I've seen a report by some Civil Engineering group that the US needs 2.2 trillion dollars in new and repaired infrastructure. Sure. And you need to hire Civil Engineers to build this stuff?

Why is medical care so costly in the United States? One reason, The American Medical Association (AMA) decides how many doctors to train and graduate. (about 17 000 a year) They keep the number low so the quality of graduates is high. Hah, they keep the number low so the american medical physician is the highest paid in the world. Take the licencing of medical doctors away from the AMA, double the number of medical doctors trained to 34 000 a year, pay for their $200 000 medical training so they don't have to go into a job market with high debts and watch the physician side of medical care costs go down. (that's why the AMA doesn't want single payer medical payment, eventually if the single payer is the government, even the government would figure it out, as long as payment is spread out amoung hundreds of insurance companies, the AMA is golden.) (paying for every Physicians education would only cost a few 3-7? billion a year, cheap in an Medical care industry of 2.3 trillion)

I don't trust any group to be in charge of anything, especially if they benefit from what they are in charge of.

So is this report about Hydro true? It will get more research money, but how much subsidy should it get from the Government? If it is such a good idea, how come they haven't done it already? The technology is old.

You don't have to convinced me, you have to convince the accountant.

The USA is nearly virgin territory for hydropower plants of 10 MW and smaller.

As an aside, Prince Edward Island Canada once has 90 hydropower plants, the largest was <1 MW. All gone now.


The reason I wrote this article was after reading work coming out of the DOE Idaho Research Laboratory,(cited) and my knowledge of projects in Canada(cited).

I think we have all been told so many times that "all the good sites have been used" that we no longer question the meme.
Canada already has 50% more hydro than US and is still building, same for China(double US production)and has more hydro under construction than entire US capacity.

Alaska is the US's biggest unused renewable energy resource for hydro, wind and geothermal. A great shame the focus of that state seems to be on squeezing out a few more million barrels of oil for a few more years from an environmentally sensitive area, and contributing to GHG warming.

There are lots of places around the world which could have hydro built on them and produce quite a lot of power.

Where it gets messy is considering other things like,

- environmental effects like destruction of river systems,
- social effects like having to move millions of homes (as China did for the Three Gorges Dam system),
- fertility effects like silt building up in the dam instead of going downstream to fertilise farms (Aswan Dam),
- over the lifetime of the dam, climate change may alter river flows and rainfall patterns, making that particular hydro dam useless or dangerous

Simply looking at the total power output possible is really only a tiny part of the story. Really each region has to look at the resources they have and what the price of using them is compared to other resources.

It would be stupid to build solar PV/thermal in Iceland, but is great in hot and large Australia. Tasmania with just one wild river left should probably keep it and as Alan noted, put up some wind turbines. Victoria with the Murray River already down to 10% of original environmental flows due to extensive irrigation, with the river no longer even reaching the sea, well it'd be a bad idea to dam it, mud doesn't flow through turbines too well.

And so on. You can't just look at total possible power output, you have to consider lots of things and balance them out.

your point would be relevant if Alaska or Canada had 1.3Billion people, if I was proposing that new hydro developments destroyed any river systems, if these were tropical regions like Sudan, that create massive silt, or if there was evidence that climate change was going to reduce flows by 80%.

As far as the Murray is concerned almost all of the good hydro sites have been developed, no water is used for irrigation before it goes through the turbines, those projects left; run of river, can handle a lot of sediment.

I would not recommend hydro in the Sahara or Gibson deserts either. Tasmania can use the developments it already has more effectively by increasing the Bass-Link capacity, it doesn't need to build more expensive dams.

You weren't proposing hydro exclusively in Alaska or remote parts of Canada, but across North America.

You've still not addressed changing river flows, rainfall patterns and glacial melting, all of which can be expected to occur over the 50+ year lifetime of a hydroelectric scheme. Alaska's already suffered significant retreat of glaciers.

Or if you prefer further south, Oregon:-

Even if we stopped all emissions from fossil fuels tomorrow, the inertia of the system and various feedbacks, combined with the nearly half of all emissions which are not to do with burning fossil fuels, these would mean we'd still see significant climate change - again, river course and flow changes, rainfall pattern changes, and glacial retreat.

Take those photos and imagine the same change again over the next 50 years.

Even a fishing magazine recognises this problem.

Miller explained that in the 1980s, it rained practically all summer, and there was a danger of frost in July. "Now," he said, "we're way on the other end of the spectrum; we're usually hurting for water, and there's more heat." [...]

Recent mapping of a sampling of nine glaciers, said Harrison, has revealed that all have thinned substantially at lower elevations, probably because of increased melting in the summer. But at higher elevations, most of the glaciers have thickened, probably because of increased winter precipitation. Still, in most instances, the melting at the base of the glaciers has outstripped the new ice provided by winter snows, and the trend has been especially pronounced in the last five years.

These things need to be considered in planning hydroelectric projects.

glacial melting or snow melting doesn't mean that less precipitation is occurring it means that the temperature is higher.
Glaciers store water so do dams, the hydro potential is determined by precipitation.

Every dam or run-of -river scheme will have to consider present and future stream flows, but we are not talking about marginal projects these will still work with 50%, 75% less stream flow, but generate less energy. Capacity is more important in the lower 48 states, this determines how much wind power can be buffered without loss by pumped storage.

This from Bill Hannahan in response to "nuclear plant cooling will significantly heat up the oceans" -

The sun delivers 20,000,000 watts of heat to the sea for every human on the planet. If they all had nuclear power at the U.S. rate it would add another 3,000 watts of heat for each. OTOH if global warming retains 1% of the solar flux that will be another 250,000 watts per human. Which do you prefer? (Hint, voting for an impractical solution is a vote for global warming)

is perhaps the only intelligent piece of data in this thread. It is getting more and more dfficult to stomach the absolute nonsense regularly being spouted by the headless doomers. And wind generators now cost about $2,000 / MW and no their price has NOT gone down since 2000, its gone up. Wind generation with typical 25% capacity therfore will cost $8,000 / MW equivalent to a nuclear plant. That MW will be delivered to you when the wind wants to, likely on a midwinter night, not when your air conditioner is demanding it. etc. etc. etc. Ahhhhh. useless..

Better a "headless doomer" (whatever that's supposed to mean), than a head in the clouds technotopian.

While I am no fan of wind power, the relative damage a poorly implemented wind system can cause is pretty small compared to a poorly implemented nuclear system.

I have no objection to nuclear technology. So, when you figure out a way to prevent human politics, economics, laziness and stupidity from entering into the equation, we can talk. But until you find a way to remove those very real concerns, the cost of a single nuclear "accident" is just too great.

the cost of a single nuclear "accident" is just too great.

The Chernobyl reactor had two well known major design flaws never allowed in the U.S. 1… no containment building, 2… a positive reactivity coefficient.

It went to 100 times rated power and the resulting steam explosion blew one third of the core out of the building. It was a 300 ton dirty bomb, resulting in 33 prompt deaths and an estimated 4,000 shortened lives over 40 years based on the extremely conservative Linear No Threshold, LNT, assumption.

If one person drinks a half gallon of tequila at one time he will die. If 64 people each drink one ounce of tequila, the LNT theory predicts that one of them will die.

Many things that are toxic at high concentrations are beneficial at low concentrations. There is a growing body of evidence that low level radiation stimulates the immune system in a beneficial way.



If this is true the Chernobyl accident may extend more lives than it shortens.

Even assuming LNT is correct, rooftop solar is more dangerous than nuclear.


The routine operation of coal plants kill over 20,000 Americans each year, more than five Chernobyl’s per year in the U.S. alone.




“Using national blood mercury prevalence data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we found that between 316,588 and 637,233 children each year have cord blood mercury levels > 5.8 μg/L, a level associated with loss of IQ.”


The life expectancy of coal miners is shorter than uranium miners in modern well ventilated mines, and one uranium miner can replace hundreds of coal miners.

Modern plants have negative temperature coefficients and a containment building designed to contain a full meltdown. The Chernobyl accident is not possible in a modern plant.

So what exactly is the cost of “a single nuclear "accident””, what is its probability, and why is it too great?

There is a growing body of evidence that low level radiation stimulates the immune system in a beneficial way.

Please provide several peer reviewed citations for this nonsense.

And thousands of uranium miners have had early deaths from exposure to radon, etc. Something which "beneficial" radiation should have prevented. You totally ignore the well known public health disasters of uranium mining.


Please provide several peer reviewed citations for this nonsense.

Dr. Bernard Cohen’ is very good.


More here.


Please provide several peer reviewed citations that actually measure, not extrapolate from higher levels, the health effects of low level radiation on humans.

Early unventilated underground uranium mines were extremely dangerous. Average loss of life in a modern well ventilated underground uranium mine is 10-45 days.


For a coal mine it is about 1,100 days.

Nothing mentioned in the link about "radiation is good for you". (I did not read all 20 Mb, but skimmed summary).

I am aware of the threshold arguments, BUT THESE ARE NOT Radiation is good for you by whatever reason you made up.

The arguments are what level of bad. You claimed a "good" (stimulated immune system). BS !!

Where is your peer reviewed link to that !

And, yes they have found a correlation between higher cancer rates and higher background radiation (Lead, Colorado is not a very healthy place to live if you fear cancer).

Given what is known about the genetic formation of cancer, radiation is bad for you. Simplistically, say one type of colon cancer may require 6 specific mutations. People that inherit one need only 5.

Radiation and chemical (in broadest sense) exposure are the principal routes to create those 5 or 6 mutations. The question is the curve in creating those mutations.

If one ionizing radiation is just the wrong place is needed, one curve, but if two are needed with a certain time period, then a very different curve. And what is the relationship between chemicals (good ones & bad) and radiation ? Complex !

BUT radiation is NOT good for you !

Best Hopes for building 6, 7 or 8 new nukes in the USA in the next decade (all we can safely and economically build) and a RUSH to wind plus more solar, geothermal, small hydro and biomass,


Nothing mentioned in the link about "radiation is good for you". (I did not read all 20 Mb, but skimmed summary).

You ask for references and then don’t read them! I ask for references and you don’t provide them. Is that your idea of well balanced?

You don’t have to read it, just look at the figures, page 1142. It is less than 1 meg.


Lung cancer risk is high at low radon levels and has a minimum around 2-5 pc/l. That is the opposite of LNT prediction.

I ask again.

Please provide several peer reviewed citations that actually measure, not extrapolate from higher levels, the health effects of low level radiation on humans.

Many things that are toxic at high concentrations are beneficial at low concentrations. There is a growing body of evidence that low level radiation stimulates the immune system in a beneficial way.

Nuclear Hormesis is the idea that low levels of poison are good for you. It has never been proven but gives comfort to nuke fanatics like BH.


All mining is dangerous but the deaths from lung cancer among uranium miners is real.

"We found strong evidence for an increased risk for lung cancer in white uranium miners. We expected about 64 deaths, but found 371. This means we found about 6 times more lung cancer deaths than expected." This is 11.5% deaths out of 3238 cases.


Number of cases of black lung(CWP) among coal miners is 4%. The rate of mortality from CWP in the hospital is 43%. So overall the mortality is 1.7%.


The life expectancy of coal miners is shorter than uranium miners in modern well ventilated mines, and one uranium miner can replace hundreds of coal miners.

Replace hundreds?
A 1 GWe coal plant uses 4.4 million tons of coal per year.
A 1 GWe nuke plant uses 28 tons of fuel which requires .5 million tons of uranium bearing rock. So 4.4/.5=9 coal miners miners for each uranium miner fueling power stations.

If the probability of a coal miner dying of CWP is 1.7% then nine miners would total 15.3% versus 11.5%. But that doesn't include deaths of workers in uranium processing operations due to exposure.

Nuclear accidents are happening all the time.

Wind is faster to build (and more can be built in the next 15 years) than nuke.

Nuke delivers the same power at 3 AM on a fine April night as it does in an August heat wave or freezing blizzard. One could as easily say "Ah useless" to nuke as well.

25% load factor ? 35% is closer for new installations.

Cost ? 40% annual growth has an effect on costs. But VERY little nuke (max 8) can be built in the next decade in the USA. Still, 2000 cheaper ? I VERY much doubt that (and you are clearly NOT an unbiased source).

Best Hopes for a Rush to Wind and a reasonable, economic build-out of new nukes (plus uprates) (thus avoiding the massive waste of the last nuke build-out),


Which is rather like saying that if all the bullets in the world were fired evenly over the surface of the planet, almost nobody would be hit and hurt. It's true, but also bollocks.

Nuclear plants would never "significantly heat up the oceans", and nobody speaking against nuclear has said that. What we've said is that the outflows from a particular plant can kill off the life in that particular river or region of water in the sea.

It's like dumping a tonne of arsenic in the river. It's not going to kill every beast in the sea, but it'll certainly kill those where you dumped it. So the outflow from the reactor has to be cooled before dumping, or cycled back through, or the reactor not built at all.

It's a relatively minor issue anyway, compared to all the other issues with nuclear.

Easy solution, build a diffusor network pipe system to spread the thermal load over many miles of coastline. Low tech and low cost/kWe of powerplant capacity.

Or desalinate some water. Taxing cooling water will stimulate things nicely.

Or we could not bother with anything of the sort, accept that there will be local environmental disruption, and realize that that disruption is far less damaging than any coal plant, and come to think of it far less disruptive than a dam. If we're worried about environmental effects from waste heat, we're suffering from a problem of lack of perspective.

If we can avoid the effects of waste heat, great.

Increasing resistance to thermal powerstations and giving the environmental groups ammo for their guns by not solving an easy to fix problem is myopic. The kind of attitude that isn't going to accellerate nuclear buildout. "accepting" local environmental disruption is omitting external costs, which is not good from an economical perspective either. It's you who is suffering from a lack of perspective.

I think you're entirely missing my point. Its not that we shouldn't mitigate waste heat from thermal power stations, just that it wouldn't be a big deal if we couldn't.

I actually wasted about an hour of my life reading this thread, same with yesterdays darwin ego debate. Do you people have lives? Both threads are ego, and BAU, just change a few things and everything will be alright. Or you can use the language, a few of us out here reject that.

Hydro is great, this is new england, and every town close by has an old millstone on display somewhere. Down in Camden, Maine you can go through an old factory all wooden gears and beams, and leather belts, handcarved corkscrew drives from local hackmatack. Actual craftmanship, not words, real action.

There's lot of how to generate as much power as we can and continue on as usual here, and very little actual thinking. Hydro is a genuine resource, but not to fire up your Mr Coffee or microwave, there's a poll for you how many TOD'ers still use a microwave or dishwasher? Lots of ego stroking from people way to high on the food chain. And I mean, like, do they actually know anything?

I work about 15 to 20 hours a week now. $10 an hour. I do much more in trade and labor for myself. There are a few things I have to pay dollars for, my can of tobacco and my burbon. Everything here is paid off, but we do have taxes. My burbon on ice at the end of the day is pure pleasure and if it leaves no big deal. I live in a harsh climate, but I'll be warm and full. Those things I do for myself.

I remember the "on the internet nobody knows you are a dog" and some days I wonder, if the posts I'm reading are from grossly overweight, mommies boys, living in the cellar. "Is it real or memorex".

I can see very rude awakenings all over these posts. A facility with words, means nothing.

Don in Maine


there's a poll for you how many TOD'ers still use a microwave or dishwasher?

I use a microwave, but not a dishwasher - my part of the country has a water shortage.

But that doesn't matter, what tools we use - only our total energy use matters. My household uses 5kWh/day, compared to the Aussie household average of 14kWh/day for houses with gas hot water heating and cooking (like us), or 24 all-electric.

We pay an extra 5.5c/kWh for the retailer to purchase wind-derived electricity on our behalf.

Does this qualify me to speak about these issues, then? If not, could you describe the behaviour which would?

In Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador we are fortunate in that we have both plentiful hydro-electric and wind energy potential. These two sources can complement each other, as when the wind blows, water is accumulated in the reservoirs, and then released to run the hydro turbines when there is less wind.