Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Making Connections: Three Gorges and The Northern Pass

Photo of damage to the Shih Kang Dam

One of the things I plan to do when I am in China is visit Three Gorges. My interest in Three Gorges Dam arises out of my long-term interest in Hydro-Quebec's large dam projects in North America. I first started paying attention in 1991, when I was an eleventh grader at Phillips Exeter Academy.

As I prepare to leave New Hampshire, Northeast Utilities plans to merge with NSTAR and negotiate a 40-year contract with Hydro-Quebec (HQ). If they get their wish, they will build a $1.2 billion line that can transmit 1200 MW of power to markets in New England. Meanwhile, HQ plans to bury a 1000 MW transmission line beneath Lake Champlain and the Hudson River to serve ISO-NE and New York. At the same time, the Canadian province of Newfoundland & Labrador has approved a $6.2 billion project to build two new major dams with an eye to markets in the United States.

This past Sunday evening, a friend of mine and I watched Still Life (2006). It was fascinating. I was at the premier of Up the Yangtze (2007) in Montreal at the Canadian Film Board. My friends are making a movie about the Romaine River (next on HQ's chopping block) and there is already a tribute to Mike Robinson, a colleague of mine from Keewaydin-Temagami.

Tomorrow, I plan to speak with Peter Bosshard, the Policy Director at International Rivers, who has just returned from Europe. There are a lot of reasons to be concerned about large dams. Here is one big one:
…Fan Xiao, chief engineer of the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau, told the South China Morning Post that landslides are inevitable because elevated water levels significantly increasing the internal moisture of surrounding banks, making them soft, loose and unpredictable.

"It's like dipping a piece of bread in milk. The deeper you go, the more difficult it is to hold on," Fan said. Yong, a Sichuan-based geologist, clarifies Fan's warning:, "When the dam reaches 574 feet (the capacity mark achieved Tuesday), it will push the region's geological instability to the fringe of catastrophe." [Source:]
I hope that I learn a lot about their dams and proposed hydroelectric projects while I am in China. As one friend of mine joked, now that I have been on the front page of The Union Leader for my dam work, it is really time to get out of the Granite State!

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