Large Hydropower Dams ‘Not Sustainable’

A new study says many large hydropower dams in the US and Europe have been disastrous for the environment. Dozens of these dams are being removed every year, many considered dangerous and uneconomic.

Thousands of new dams are now being planned for rivers in Africa and Asia and the authors of the study fear that the socioeconomic and environmental damages in these river systems in the developing world will be even greater than the early costs in North America and Europe

Researchers say the building of dams in Europe and the US reached a peak in the 1960s and has been in decline since then, with more being dismantled than installed now.  More than one dam is removed per week on both sides of the Atlantic.

The authors say the problem is that governments were blindsided by the prospect of cheap electricity without taking into account the full environmental and social costs of these installations.

90% of dams built since the 1930s were more expensive than anticipated. They have displaced millions of people, damaged river ecology and have contributed to climate change from the decomposition of flooded lands.

An estimated 3,700 dams are in various stages of development in the developing world. Many of the bigger projects will do irreparable damage to the major rivers where they are likely to be built. The Grand Inga project on the Congo River is expected to produce more than a third of the total electricity currently being generated in Africa.

However, the main goal for the $80 billion installation will be to provide electricity to industry. 90% of the energy from this project is going to go to South Africa for mining and the people in the Congo will not get the power. In Brazil, the power lines go 4,000 km from the area it is produced and none of the energy is being provided locally.

The report points out that large dams on these great rivers will destroy food sources. 60 million people who live off the fisheries along the Mekong will be impacted with the potential loss of livelihoods.

These hydroelectric projects will destroy thousands of species in these biodiversity hot spots. In Brazil, the response to reduced water capacity because of climate change has been to build more dams. Plans for 60 new dams are already in place.



Photo: “Hydroelectric dam at Bull Shoals” by Jason Hunter is licensed under CC BY 2.0