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Construction of the Douglas Hydroelectric Dam in Tennessee (TVA), 1942, A. Palmer, Farm Security Adm.

The below article discusses what should be obvious. Additionally, less hydropower has meant more nuclear power, which is the dirtiest energy of all. There is bad, and there is worse. There is also the possibility of small or medium hydro.

Excerpted from “The unintended impact of ecosystem preservation on greenhouse gas emissions: Evidence from environmental constraints on hydropower development in the United States” by Edson Severnini ID* Carnegie Mellon University (Heinz College) and IZA, Pittsburgh, PA, United States of America * edsons@andrew.cmu.edu

Abstract

Many countries have passed environmental laws aiming at preserving natural ecosystems, such as the Endangered Species Act of 1973 in the United States. Although those regulations seem to have improved preservation, they may have had unintended consequences in energy production. Here we show that while environmental constraints on hydropower may have preserved the wilderness and wildlife by restricting the development of hydroelectric projects, they led to more greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental regulations gave rise to a replacement of hydropower, which is a renewable, relatively low-emitting source of energy, with conventional fossil-fuel power, which is highly polluting. Our estimates indicate that, on average, each megawatt of fossil fuel power-generating capacity added to the grid because of environmental constraints on hydropower development led to an increase in annual carbon dioxide emissions of about 1,400 tons. Environmental regulations focusing only on the preservation of ecosystems appear to have encouraged electric utilities to substitute dirtier fuels for hydropower in electricity generation

Conclusions

Do environmental regulations aimed at preserving natural ecosystems protect the environment? The answer seems to be not necessarily. Here we presented evidence that, while hydro-electric licensing rules preserved the wilderness and wildlife by restricting the development of hydroelectric projects, they may have led to more GHG emissions. Basically, the ecosystem preservation regulations gave rise to a replacement of hydropower, which is a renewable, relatively low-emitting source of energy, with conventional fossil-fuel power, which is highly polluting. Restrictions imposed by hydroelectric licensing rules might be used as leverage by electric utilities to obtain permits to expand thermal power generation. Each megawatt of fossil fuel power-generating capacity added to the power grid because of environmental constraints on hydropower development led to an increase in annual carbon dioxide emissions of about 1,400 tons, close to the average annual emissions per megawatt of the 2016 U.S. power plant fleet– 1,795 tons. Environmental regulations focusing only on the preservation of ecosystems appear to have encouraged electric utilities to substitute dirtier fuels for electricity generation.

As pointed out before, these findings highlight the pernicious incentives of incomplete environmental regulations, and points to the importance of an integrated regulatory framework that includes both ecosystem preservation and GHG emissions. If the government seeks to preserve nature, it may have to simultaneously restrict land use and emissions. A similar regulatory framework may be useful to guide the debate on the development of other renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar energy. Also, the empirical evidence of unintended consequences of land ecosystem preservation regulations provides guidance for a more balanced cost-benefit analysis of hydroelectric dams. The Three Gorges Dam in China, the world’s largest hydroelectric project, for example, has raised international concerns about environmental damages, but few organizations recognize the sizeable amount of low-carbon electric power generated [59]. Also, the historical involvement of the World Bank with the construction of large hydro dams in Asia, Africa and Latin America has been criticized by environmentalists. If some of those projects were not executed due to ecosystem preservation concerns, it is possible that the unintended consequences may have been GHG emissions. Again, bidimensional negotiations, integrating both ecosystem preservation and emissions concerns, might have been more effective in protecting the environment. Moving forward, jurisdictions could, for instance, impose both environmental regulations to protect habitat and reduce GHG emissions.

Citation: Severnini E (2019) The unintended impact of ecosystem preservation on greenhouse gas emissions: Evidence from environmental constraints on hydropower development in the United States. PLoS ONE 14(1): e0210483. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0210483
Editor: Saewung Kim, University of California Irvine, UNITED STATES
Received: June 20, 2018
Accepted: December 25, 2018
Published: January 10, 2019
Copyright: © 2019 Edson Severnini. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited
.” (Emphasis our own.)
Read the entire article here: PLOS ONE | https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0210483 January 10, 2019