Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
I grew up on a remote cattle ranch in the middle of miles of forest in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains of California. We had our own hydroelectric power plant. It was built by my father and my brother-in-law. They put a two-foot high dam across the creek (blue line), and diverted the water into a mile of ditch that they dug from there to a lake that they built by the house.
Figure 1. Renewable energy, circa 1952
Then they built a penstock and dropped part of the water back to a powerhouse by the creek. Inside the powerhouse was a Pelton Wheel that drove an alternator. Poles carried the power (4,000 volt, 10 kilowatts) to the ranchhouse. That was the only power for the ranch, and there was only us to keep it running. That was my introduction to renewable energy.
When I was a kid, our grade school took a field trip and toured Shasta Dam, in Northern California. I was astounded by it. I loved the idea that it was just a bigger version of our little powerplant.
Figure 2. Shasta Dam, Northern California. Note the five large penstocks at the lower left leading to the powerhouse. MORE PHOTOS
These days, of course, it is almost impossible to build a small dam in the US, much less something on the scale of Shasta Dam. People raise hundreds of objections, any project is stalled before it starts. This has always seemed extremely foolish to me, since hydroelectric power is proven, 24-hour, baseline power. Despite that, there’s a whole branch of the environmental movement that considers dams as forces of evil.
Which is why I laughed out loud when I saw the latest numbers on the CDM. The CDM is the “Clean Development Mechanism” of the Kyoto Protocol. The CDM is the foundation of the carbon emission credit system in use in Europe. Companies which emit more CO2 than the regulations allow can purchase credits. The companies pay the money to sponsor an emissions-reducing project in a developing country, so in theory everything balances out.
There’s a New York Times article on the CDM here. This is the part that I found to be hilarious (emphasis mine):
Since it began operating in 2006, the board has validated 2,918 projects, 40 percent of them in China, according to the U.N. Environment Program’s database at the Risoe Center, in Denmark, which tracks every project in the C.D.M. pipeline. The center’s data show that 1,668 projects are in hydroelectric power and 1,060 of those are in China.
So the effect of the Kyoto Protocol is that it is OK for the West to burn fossil fuels, as long as the West is also subsidizing hydroelectric dam construction in China …
Does anyone but me find that truly and bizarrely hilarious? I’m sure the Chinese are busting up laughing, and saying “Give us 20 Kyoto protocols, this is great, we’ll let you well-meaning Western fools build all the hydroelectric plants China can hold” …