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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ecosystem Restoration Takes Precedence Over Renewable Energy Projects

 Cross posted from Energy Trends Insider.

The front page of last Sunday's edition of the Seattle Times had an article titled Elwha: Roaring Back to Life. It's an update on the many positive impacts to the river ecosystem after removal of the Glines Canyon and Elwha hydroelectric dams. Google the term "Seattle Times Elwha" to get the whole history. It's rare to find such positive news in this age of the sixth extinction event ...just wanted to share. 

Remains of Elwa Dam (photo courtesy Nina Finley)
Emptied Lake Bed Behind the Elwha Dam (photo courtesy Nina Finley)
Salmon Carcasses are an Important Part of the Food Chain for Eagles and Other Wildlife (photo courtesy Nina Finley)
A Pair of Bald Eagles Along the Elwha River (photo courtesy Nina Finley)
 Rather than rehash what has already been said in the Times article, I'll use this opportunity to discuss the "renewable energy trumps local ecosystem protection" argument used to defend environmentally destructive energy projects: expansion of agriculture for biofuels, new hydroelectric dams, solar projects like Ivanpah that not only usurped desert tortoise habitat but also incinerates birds, and wind farms placed in sensitive bird or bat habitat.

The following comment found under a Sierra Club article about some of the 72 dam removals that occurred in 2014:

I was under the impression that hydroelectricity was a renewable green energy source. With so many dams being taken down where does the new power come from? Coal? Nuclear? Just sayn!

Huh, wonder who gave him that impression? One obvious answer would be to replace existing coal baseload power plants which already have power lines and attendant infrastructure, with nuclear baseload power plants, using wind and rooftop solar to minimize the amount of natural gas needed to stitch all three low carbon sources of energy together …just saying. Nuclear may not be renewable, but then, neither are dams, which will all eventually silt up and become useless. The definition of a renewable green energy source is apparently whatever you want it to be.

So, does the "renewable energy trumps local ecosystem protection" argument pass the logic test? Although it’s promoted under the auspice that climate change is the overarching concern facing humanity, requiring every form of low carbon energy at our disposal regardless of its immediate negative environmental impact, those promoting it are ironically, hypocritically, and almost universally, rabidly, anti-nuclear energy. So, no, it doesn't pass the logic test. It's irrational.

Decommissioned Enloe Hydro electric Power Plant

 Above is a video I took a few summers ago of the abandoned Enloe hydro electric power plant. The turbine house and wooden penstock are still in place. Salmon that had reached the end of the road were collecting in a pool below the dam and were being illegally jigged by a handful of shady looking characters.

A river is analogous to an artery. When you block it, or severely restrict it (with fish ladders in the case of a river), you have eliminated hundreds, if not thousands of smaller streams (capillaries), many too small to name, that salmon would have spawned in. A dam like this one disrupts the entire ecosystem food chain deep into the adjacent forests and grasslands.

Although the anti-nuclear energy crowd will use the closure of any given nuclear power plant as evidence that nuclear power is economically noncompetitive, they seem unaware that the country is dotted with hydroelectric plants that were decommissioned when they became uneconomical to operate.

Damaged Wanapum Dam
Sign Restricting Access to the River while the Water Levels Were Lowered

I took the above photos of the Wanapum dam which developed a crack last year that forced the utility to lower the water level behind it until a repair could be made. From the Capital Press:

A 65-foot-long crack, 2 inches wide at its widest point, was discovered at the base of the dam Feb. 27, 2014. The PUD lowered reservoir levels 26 to 30 feet while investigating and repairing the dam. The PUD determined the concrete dam’s inability to withstand five decades of water pressure due to a design miscalculation, causing the crack.

The 1,092-megawatt hydroelectric dam was opened in 1963 and cost $93.3 million to build.

The next reservoir upriver, behind the Rock Island Dam, also had to be lowered and orchardists had to extend irrigation intakes along both reservoirs to obtain water.

Wanapum Dam was stabilized by drilling 37 shafts 16 inches in diameter from the top of the dam down more than 185 feet into bedrock below. Tendons 200 to 250 feet long and 12 inches in diameter were fed into the shafts, grouted into bedrock at the bottom and stretched taunt with 2.5 million pounds of pressure, Allen said. Each tendon is made up of 61 steel cables. The tendons are inside watertight sheaths, allowing them to expand and contract, and are capped at the top.

Tendon installation was finished in early March and remaining work will be finished in June, Allen said. Recreation sites along the reservoir, closed for a year, will reopen this spring, he said.

At the peak, 120 people worked on the project, Allen said. Kuney-Goebel, of Spokane, was the contractor. Repairs, associated costs and partial loss of power generation were initially estimated at $61 million but now are estimated at $69 million, Allen said.

Two-thirds of the cost is borne by a new bond issue, he said. A previously scheduled rate increase averaging 2 percent across all rate classes went into effect Jan. 1 for the PUD’s 45,000-plus customers.

Note that there was no group demanding that it be permanently shuttered in the name of safety as is typically the case when a nuclear power plant goes off line for repairs.


 Native American Petroglyph

This particular dam also displaced native Americans and their ancient salmon fishing weirs. The native American rock art pictured above was found at a visitor's center not far from this dam, which is also where I shot the video below of a herd (flock?) of big horn sheep.

Big Horn Sheep

 Note: Click on any image to initiate a high-resolution slide show.

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