Is hydro-electric power renewable energy?

Certainly the development of new hydro-electric power has had significant impacts on land, water quality, and wildlife. Existing hydro dams still have adverse consequences. But if we hypothetically agree to not built more hydro-electric facilities, should we at least consider existing ones to be a renewable energy? The Vermont Legislature and Governor now says yes. See article here.

After a quick read of the legislation (H. 781), I can to confirm that it applies to both new not-yet-built facilities and applies to all exiting Hydro-Quebec facilities. Thus the VNRC statement below is correct in indicates it applies to future projects as well. The old law only declared hydro power to be renewable when it came from a small hydro facility, capacity of 200 megawatts or less.

The Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC) opposed the Bill and gives the decision a “Thumbs Down” on its website. It’s website states:

In the renewable energy bill was tucked a big policy change for Vermont. The provision redefines large hydro-power, including power coming from the massive provincial utility Hydro-Quebec, as being “renewable.” The effect of this will be to give Hydro Quebec –which is planning to continue to dam huge, free running rivers in Quebec – access to big incentives in the power markets in the future. VNRC testified in both the House and Senate and weighed in repeatedly in the press opposing this shift, noting that Vermont would still buy hydropower from Hydro-Quebec whether or not we gave large hydro this definition. Defining large hydro as renewable endorses further, ecologically-damaging damming of rivers in Quebec, has the potential to hamper the development of our own renewable energy industry, and was rushed through without thorough review. Vermont is the first state in New England to consider mega hydro “renewable.” In the coming months, VNRC expects to work to minimize the impacts of what we fear is a short-sighted idea.

My own take is that the “renewable” label may be appropriate for existing hydro-electric facilities, but I question the characterization for future large-scale ones if renewable is also meant to mean environmentally-friendly. However, any distinction may not be possible to make in practice if a company owns facilities built before and after passage of the legislation (i.e., A state may not be able to say, “I only want power from those dams.”), though perhaps pro-rated limitations of incentives would be a possible idea. With the likely closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power facility, I certainly understand the political and economic realities of this legislative/gubernatorial decision, but wind and solar energy projects are going to have to play a major role in Vermont energy policy, and quickly.

I have many questions: In our attempt to end our dependence on fossil fuels, is wind, hydro or solar the most environmentally preferable alternative? And are these alternatives, in a large scale, appropriate for Vermont or any other state? Should some states bear a greater burden (say, if they are in a wind corridor)? If one objects to large scale hydro, what are the objections, if any, to large scale wind and solar? What is does the ideal renewable energy system look like?

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One Response to Is hydro-electric power renewable energy?

  1. Pingback: Is hydro-electric power renewable energy? Power deal between Hydro-Quebec and Vermont « CZARNEZKI.COM

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