Better Energy Options Exist

Zachary Hurwitz

Imagine that in a recent election debate, your local representative promised to build a new hydroelectric dam in your town. There would be impacts to local fisheries, and hundreds of families would have to be displaced. Your family is one of those that would be displaced and moved to a settlement. You're angry, but the government says your town needs the energy. So you begrudgingly accept to move, and the dam goes up. 

A year later, imagine you find out that the majority of the energy produced by the dam is being consumed by a local aluminum smelter, which only employs 500 people when times are good. Let's say your cousin works for the local utility, and tells you that the smelter loses 35% of the energy it consumes from the dam through heat evaporation. 

The next day, to your amazement, the now elected representative proclaims that there is still an energy shortage, and announces new plans for another dam upstream.

This scenario is all too common. Dam-affected communities may have little to no say in the planning process before dams are built - only to realize later that better energy options exist, but were ignored. Why does this happen? More often than not, it's because governments project energy needs according to an overly-optimistic projection of GDP, or because pork-barrel politics dominate election agenda. The result can be wasteful, uneconomic dams that leave a legacy of harm to local communities.

That's why today International Rivers is publishing a new report called "An Introduction to Integrated Resources Planning." Written by Chris and Chom Greacen, David von Hippel, and David Bill, the report aims to help citizens engage with their government over what good energy planning looks like - and to promote the kind of energy future that will benefit society as a whole.

Integrated Resources Planning is not a new concept. It's been around for quite some years. But it's a concept that frightens dam builders, since their business is good when new plants are built, and bad when energy efficiency programs replace that demand.

But it makes sense, is the right thing to do, and is even good for business.

Even the World Bank Group has said so. In its 2013 Energy Sector Strategy Paper, the World Bank Group stated that "Long-term sector planning is essential for securing adequate, reliable, and sustainable energy supply and efficient consumption cost-effectively. An important element is integrated resource planning, which evaluates the full range of alternatives for supply and end-use to deliver adequate and reliable services to customers while minimizing long-term costs. The growing need to strengthen the supply chain and address environmental externalities has called for more sophisticated, system-wide planning to effectively coordinate and evaluate multi-resource opportunities in energy systems."

It is great that the world's most-recognized development institution has recognized the need for IRP. Yet, the rate at which the Bank's dirty energy and industry investments are coming online still outpaces that at which their borrowers are becoming energy efficient.

Let's look at the numbers from Oil Change International. During FY2008-2013, the World Bank Group invested over 24% of its energy sector lending in large dam- and coal-based generation. During that same period, the Bank invested only 9.3% of energy loans on energy efficiency programs. Just 2.1% of energy sector lending went to demand-side efficiency (things like energy efficient smelters or refrigerators) and barely 1.2% went to supply-side efficiency (like refurbishing old dams or improving transmission losses). While the new policy language on IRP is promising, the Bank's record from the past five years is not.

A good policy is not enough; IRP must be implemented in practice. So next time your local representatitve promises to build a dam in your district, and tells you that you need to resettle, start asking questions. Destructive power plants aren't always needed; there are often better, more logical options. We hope this guide on Integrated Resources Planning will help you to make that case.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013