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Category — Hydroelectricity

Micro-Hydro: The Regulatory Noose (Logan City vs. FERC)

“[A] complex regulatory nexus surrounds all hydropower projects, no matter how small. As far as regulatory requirements are concerned, it didn’t matter that the project would have little to no environmental impacts…. When it comes to renewable energy, federal policies are working at odds with one another.”

In 2008 Logan City, Utah decided to install a micro-hydro project in its culinary water system. The city’s assistant engineer recognized the opportunity to generate clean, low-cost electricity for the city by installing a turbine in the city’s culinary water pipeline.

Logan City’s project would power 185 homes, and would not require any new construction. At the same time, it would also help reduce excess water pressure in the system. Because the project was so small, and would not affect anything outside of an existing pipeline, city officials thought the permitting process would be a breeze.

What started as a simple plan to install a micro-hydro facility soon became really complex. As Logan City officials learned firsthand, the permitting process required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), proved to be so lengthy and expensive that the difficulties associated with the process far outweighed the benefits. [Read more →]

December 20, 2013   No Comments

Costa Rica Follow-Up: Fatal Dependence on Renewable Electricity (Tom Friedman's energy paradise loses its luck)

“When an abundant natural fall of water is at hand, nothing can be cheaper or better than water power. But everything depends upon local circumstances. The occasional mountain torrent is simply destructive. Many streams and rivers only contain sufficient water half the year round and costly reservoirs alone could keep up the summer supply. In flat countries no engineering art could procure any considerable supply of natural water power, and in very few places do we find water power free from occasional failure by drought.”

- W. S. Jevons, The Coal Question (London: Macmillan and Co., 1865), p. 129.

Thomas Friedman in the New York Times has presented Costa Rica as a model for the energy world, noting its reliance on renewable energy (hydro) to generate electricity. In response, we posted last week about how such dependence had left it vulnerable to the vagaries of rainfall, and (to a much lesser degree) wind. W. S. Jevons, the father of energy economics, said as much in 1865.

With all hydro development in the hands of the government, and with hydro responsible for 75-80% of power generation, any shortfall in rain can, within 1-2 weeks result in reduced electricity generation. And the odds have now caught up with Costa Rica – recent dryer conditions have led to blackouts in the country. [Read more →]

April 25, 2009   2 Comments

Costa Rica’s Energy Paradise: Comment on Tom Friedman (Not everywhere can be a playground for the rich)

In his recent New York Times op-ed, Thomas Friedman veritably gushes about the long-term commitment of Costa Rica to a clean environment and renewable energy. He is proud of the fact that renewables power 95 percent of the country’s economy. Such energy air-conditions resort hotels, charges golf carts, powers cable pulleys through the rain forest canopy, and bakes chips at the local Intel assembly plant.

Costa Rica’s energy mix is led by 75–80% hydropower, 12% geothermal, and 3%–5% oil (more specific statistics are here). The workhorse hydro is a mix of storage and run of river, with storage at about 50% of the 2,000 MW installed capacity.  In a dry year, the run-of-the-river plants will not produce much, or very reliably, which brings up the risk of such reliance.  In 2007 Costa Rica suffered power cuts as a result of drought and its lack of diversity in electricity generation. [Read more →]

April 15, 2009   13 Comments

W. S. Jevons (1865) on Waterpower, Biomass, and Geothermal (Memo to Obama, Part II)

W. S. Jevons in his early day recognized a central problem of windpower for powering machinery–intermittency. The wind does not always blow, and it cannot be known when this will occur, making an even flow of power (as from conventional sources) impossible short of cost-prohibitive battery backup.

What about the other renewables of the day: water power, biomass, and geothermal? [Read more →]

January 30, 2009   3 Comments

John Holdren on Renewable Energy Problems (Part V in a series on Obama's New Science Advisor)

If only to cover their bases, environmentalists have from time to time been forthright about the problems of renewable energies. To his credit, John Holdren has punctuated his energy alarmism with a bit of energy realism in this regard. “There is no energy technology presently known or imagined (solar energy not excepted) with negligible environmental impact,” he said in a 1977 essay, “Energy Costs as Potential Limits to Growth” (Dennis Pirages, ed, The Sustainable Society: Implications for Limited Growth, p. 71). [Read more →]

January 10, 2009   3 Comments