Monday, March 10, 2014

Mega-dams economically unviable - Oxford report

Samuel Mintz at the Thomson Reuters Foundation: Most large-scale dam projects do more economic harm than good due to poor or dishonest planning - and their skyrocketing costs could play a role in crippling the fragile economies of some developing countries, a study by Oxford University’s Saïd Business School charges.

By the time it is finished, the Belo Monte Dam being built in Brazil’s Amazon will cost $27.4 billion, and China’s Three Gorges Dam is set to cost the Asian superpower $26 billion over the next 10 years, the study predicted. In Pakistan, building the Tarbela Dam boosted the country’s external debt by 23 percent between 1968 and 1984, it said. But Richard Taylor, president of the International Hydropower Association, said he disagreed with many of the report’s findings, calling its central claim “complete nonsense.”

Countries around the world, from Laos to Ethiopia, are pushing ahead with plans for mega-dam projects, after a 10-year hiatus in which such projects were seen as poor choices for solving problems and funding largely disappeared.

In part, the surge in dam building is designed to help produce “green” hydropower to meet growing energy demand and avoid boosting climate-changing emissions from growth in the use of fossil fuel energy plants. As climate change brings more irregular rainfall, dams in some regions also are seen as a way of storing water, controlling water flows and managing droughts and floods.

Taylor said four out of every five dams in the world are today used primarily for water management, with many also providing energy to nearby communities.

But the benefits of these projects are a matter of some debate. The Oxford report claims that the hard-to-measure results produced by big dams rarely make up for big costs and long timelines....

A view from space of Pakistan's Tarbela Dam. Via NASA

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