Thursday, May 19, 2011

Three Gorges: Lessons for North America

"China said on Wednesday that the Three Gorges Project, the world's biggest hydropower complex, had affected shipping, irrigation and water supply downstream on the Yangtze River." The article in China Daily, the newspaper of record for the Chinese Communist Party, went on to say, "The giant project is also facing problems that need immediate solutions, such as the livelihoods of people displaced by the project, the protection of ecosystems as well as the prevention and treatment of geological hazards, according to a statement issued after the State Council conference." [my emphasis]


Senator Shaheen needs to be briefed on this and reminded that the people of her state oppose large hydro-development. It causes epic ecological problems. Governor Lynch appears sympathetic (with an emphasis on the pathetic) to his old friend Gary Long, CEO of PSNH, and to the Governors of states to the south that thirst for Canadian hydro-power. I cannot remember a time when the former Democratic Governor did not follow the current Governor's wind sock on issues of domestic concern (i.e. state issues); however, this is a national security issue and one of international import. Shaheen prides herself on her environmental credentials and sits on the Armed Forces Committee. She may dare to step out on this one, as she, Senator Ayotte, and Representative Bass did when they encouraged an extension of the public comment period, but she must be pushed.


PSNH, NU, and NSTAR will continue to look for alternative routes instead of abandoning the project. The people of New Hampshire are dam(n) fools if they want to be turned into a "pass through" for electricity flowing to Massachusetts and Connecticut. Matt Bonner has stepped up and Bode Miller and Clay Buchholz may soon speak up, too. (That would be a hat-trick without a hockey player!) Nobody has been more eloquent than John Harrigan:
Never in my 64 years have I seen an issue that so galvanized public opinion and so angered and impassioned so many people of all stripe, politics and origins. An entirely new corridor, 150 feet wide at minimum, in places much wider, would be carved through the North Country. Pittsburg, Stewartstown, Clarksville, Colebrook (maybe even towns to the East) are “in the way” of this devastating and unnecessary for-profit scheme.

I hope that we can learn from the hubris of Chinese daydreamers who began construction on Mao's dream some 17 years ago. The damming of the Yanghtze is a monument to human greed and arrogance. The papers here are full of stories about the 230,000 plus people who will go without water this spring and summer because of dry reservoirs. Plans to build other large projects--whether in Laos or Canada--will face many of the same problems.

The most important admission by the State Council in their statement released after their recent conference is this: "Some of the problems had been expected during the research and design of the project, with the others emerging throughout the construction period..." Indeed, we cannot know the effects of playing God with mighty rivers so we had best focus our efforts on conservation and efficiency, as well as harnessing inexhaustible resources like the wind, tides, and sun.