Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Frank Mace, Associate Project Manager
New York State Energy Research and Development Authority Albany, NY

Hydropower, also called water power or hydraulic power, is derived from the energy embedded in moving water.
History is full of examples of water wheels or water mills with associated mill ponds. These systems functioned for thousands of years and provided power for the production of flour, lumber, and textiles. Hydropower also provided power for irrigation and cranes for loading and unloading cargo ships.

Most of us, however, associate hydropower with the production of electricity or hydroelectricity—for use in homes, public buildings, and commercial establishments.
Hydroelectric generation stations, such as the one located at Niagara Falls, which was completed in 1886, take advantage of the natural falls. However, most hydroelectric projects require a dam and an associated reservoir to provide what is called the "head." The head is simply the pressure exerted by the weight of the water, based upon elevation (or distance) between the top of the water and the generating equipment. When the water is released and allowed to flow, it provides the power necessary to drive the turbines.

The 1930's saw large scale projects, such as the construction of Hoover Dam (creating Lake Mead), which was completed in 1936 on the Arizona/Nevada border, and also saw the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in 1933.  The TVA constructed dams and reservoirs for flood control and hydroelectric power in seven states.  In addition, these projects provided much-needed employment during the Great Depression. The TVA also advanced efforts in reforestation and malaria control and trained farmers in techniques for improving crop yield and soil conservation.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers provides a historical perspective on hydropower:
"Unlike the West, where irrigation became the focus of attention, the East was more concerned over hydropower development. Beginning in the early 1880's, when a plant in Appleton, Wisconsin, first used falling water to produce electricity, the construction of hydroelectric dams on the nation's waterways proliferated.  These private dams threatened navigation and forced Congress, acting through the Corps of Engineers, to regulate dam construction. The Rivers and Harbors Acts of 1890 and 1899 required that dam sites and plans be approved by the Secretary of War and the Corps of Engineers before construction.  The General Dam Act of 1906 empowered the federal government to compel dam owners to construct, operate, and maintain navigation facilities without compensation whenever necessary at hydroelectric power sites." See: U. S. Corps of Engineers: ipurposeWaterwayDevelopment.aspx.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers also offer this explanation of the process of hydroelectric power:
"A hydraulic turbine converts the energy of flowing water into mechanical energy. A hydroelectric generator converts this mechanical energy into electricity.  The operation of a generator is based on the principles discovered by Faraday. He found that when a magnet is moved past a conductor, it causes electricity to flow. In a large generator, electromagnets are made by circulating direct current through loops of wire wound around stacks of magnetic steel laminations. These are called field poles and are mounted on the perimeter of the rotor. The rotor is attached to the turbine shaft and rotates at a fixed speed. When the rotor turns, it causes the field poles (the electromagnets) to move past the conductors mounted in the stator.   
This, in turn, causes electricity to flow and a voltage to develop at the generator output terminals." See: The U.S Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation:

Dams and reservoirs are expensive, create challenges to navigation and aquatic life, and take up valuable real estate. More recently, we have seen the development of tidal power, or dam-less power. One example of tidal power is located in the East River in New York City. A New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) publication explains this process:
"Capturing the natural ebb and flow of the tides has always been a challenge filled with potential benefit.  For the past century, hydropower was created by building dams to channel water through powerhouses, where giant turbines captured the power of the falling water. Recently, increased attention to hydrogeneration has centered around a kinetic method of hydropower. By using dozens of small generators in a section of the East River off of Roosevelt Island, near midtown Manhattan, a project is demonstrating kinetic generation. The Roosevelt Island project features tri- bladed turbines capable of turning on their horizontal axes to capture both the ebb and flow of the East River. Submerged prototypes have shown positive results, and regulatory approval is underway for a section of river covering a little over one acre. The potential is to generate 5 to 10 MW of electricity by 2010." See: NYSERDA: General Reports, "Renewal—Tidal Power," p. 13: General-Reports/~/media/Files/Publications/NYSERDA/05- 06%20Section%201.ashx.

Hydroelectric stations are appropriate for any geographic location that has moving water. This form of power is the most common renewable energy source worldwide and accounts for almost half of all renewables in the United States. According to The Need Project (2008), hydropower produces 20 per cent of the world's electricity; and in the United States, New York ranks third in the use of hydropower for the generation of electricity:          Hydropower is the cheapest way to generate electricity in the United States—cheaper than coal or nuclear plants—and produces no air pollution because it does not burn fuel.

For consumers
Hydroelectric power produces no air pollution, promoting a healthier living environment for community residents.
The lower cost of hydroelectric power makes homeownership and rental costs more affordable for older people, individuals with disabilities, and families, supporting their ability to remain living in their communities.

For the community
The lower cost of hydroelectric power supports the activities of the business community and lowers the operating costs of other community sectors, such as health care facilities and schools.
Hydroelectric power is a renewable energy source, reducing reliance on traditional non-renewable fuels.
Hydroelectric power avoids fuel costs in the production of electricity, and, therefore, stabilizes the cost of energy over the life of the plant.
The avoidance of fossil fuels makes hydroelectric power more environmentally friendly and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Lakes created by hydroelectric dams can also contribute to flood control, irrigation, recreation, and wildlife.
Impediments or barriers to development or implementation:
Hydroelectric power is dependent upon rainfall for the supply of flowing water.
Hydroelectric stations must be sited in areas with moving water.
Hydroelectric generation is a long-term investment.
Hydroelectric generation may require the construction of a dam and reservoir.
Hydroelectric projects may have an impact on aquatic life.

Higley Hydroelectric Station, Lower Raquette River, St. Lawrence County, NY—as part of NYRSERDA’s Renewable Portfolio standard, this station was re-powered to increase output from 4.5Mw to 6.2 Mw:

Katie Horner (January 13, 2011), "Could East River Tides Help Power NYC," Water Matters—News from the Columbia Water Center, State of the Planet On Line: power-nyc/.

Resource—written and web:
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:
Hydropower - Renewable, Reliable, Energy Independence for America: p_hydropower.pdf.

The U. S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, "Managing Water in the West":

Resource—technical assistance contact names:
Frank W Mace, LEED AP, DGCP
Distributed Generation Certified Professional NYSERDA
17 Columbia Circle
Albany, New York 12203-6399 (518) 862-1090, ext. 3433

A Chinese-Backed Dam Project Leaves Myanmar in a Bind

Asia Pacific
MARCH 31, 2017 

An ethnic Kachin fisherman hauling his net in the Irrawaddy River, near the planned Myitsone Dam in Myitkyina, Myanmar. Critics said the dam would irreparably harm the river and destroy fish stocks downstream. Credit Minzayar Oo for The New York Times
AUNG MYIN THA, Myanmar — For six years, Daw Kaw Bu has waited to return to the village she was forced to leave to make way for a dam that has yet to be built.
“I pray to God to let me work on my own land again,” she said on a recent afternoon, sitting outside the wood-shingled home in Aung Myin Tha, where she was resettled in early 2011.
She may get her answer soon, when a government-appointed commission makes a recommendation on the fate of the $3.6 billion, Chinese-financed Myitsone Dam.

The confluence of the Mali Hka and N’mai Hka tributaries of the Irrawaddy near the site of the dam project. A government-appointed commission will soon make a recommendation on the fate of the dam. Credit Minzayar Oo for The New York Times
The decision is a daunting test for Myanmar’s leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who risks angering China, the region’s economic powerhouse, if she cancels the project, or the public if she lets it go forward.
Analysts say the commission’s report would provide her the political cover to kill an unpopular white elephant that she inherited from Myanmar’s former military government.
But getting out of the deal would be difficult. If her government cancels the project outright, it could have to repay some $800 million that the state-owned Chinese developer says it has already spent on the project.

Myitsone Dam
Bay of
200 Miles
Myitsone Dam
Bay of
200 Miles
MARCH 31, 2017
By The New York Times 

If Myanmar offers China other dam projects in return, a compromise her government has floated, they are likely to impinge on disputed ethnic areas where they could threaten the peace talks she has championed since her political party came to power last year.
“If she is the leader she claims to be, I think she should cancel” the dam, said Yun Sun, a specialist on China-Myanmar relations at the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. “But then she has to somehow deal with an $800 million disbursed investment: It cannot be swept under the carpet without giving China something major, and I cannot think of anything that she could give to China without generating a bigger pushback.”
The Myitsone Dam is among the largest of many Chinese-financed energy and mining projects approved by the military junta that ruled Myanmar until 2011. It is especially contentious because it would be the first dam to cross the Irrawaddy River, the mythic cradle of civilization for Myanmar’s ethnic Burman majority.

Resettlement housing in Aung Myin Tha, where about 300 families were relocated. Residents said that their new village had some advantages, but most families now have less farmland and diminished access to the Irrawaddy. Credit Minzayar Oo for The New York Times
But as Myanmar moved toward democracy and controls loosened on public expression, rising anti-Chinese sentiment burst into the open, and the dam became a focus of protest. While officials said the dam would provide Myanmar much-needed cash and electricity, critics said it would cause irreparable harm to the river, destroy fish stocks downstream and displace thousands of villagers.
But perhaps the most incendiary objection was that under the deal struck by the ruling generals, 90 percent of the dam’s electricity could go to China. As protests spread to Myanmar’s cities, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s revered pro-democracy leader at the time, spoke out against the dam.
In 2011, the military-backed transitional government yielded to public pressure and suspended the project.

A woman from the Myitsone area collecting banana leaves and other vegetables and plants to sell. If the government cancels the dam outright, it could have to repay some $800 million that the state-owned Chinese developer says it has already spent on the initiative. Credit Minzayar Oo for The New York Times
The decision, widely seen as a victory for the forces of democracy, shocked Chinese officials and businessmen. Many remain incredulous that the dam was delayed at all in a country that needs more electricity to power its fast-growing economy.
Although the contract has never been publicly disclosed, details have leaked out over the years. A person who supports the dam and is familiar with the contract, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Myanmar was guaranteed 10 percent of the dam’s electricity at no cost and could buy more on request.
The government’s 15 percent stake in the dam would earn it about $18 billion over a 50-year concession period, analysts and local news reports said.

The site of the Chinese dam project. If Myanmar offers China other dam projects in return, they are likely to impinge on disputed ethnic areas where they could threaten peace talks. Credit Minzayar Oo for The New York Times
Asia World, a domestic conglomerate with deep ties to the military and roots in the heroin trade, owns 5 percent and also stands to profit handsomely, they said. Asia World is subject to American sanctions because of its ties to the junta.
The Chinese developer owns the remaining 80 percent.
The Myitsone was meant to be the first and largest of seven dams planned by the Chinese developer. It would generate more power than the entire country produces now, according to some estimates, but would still not cure the country’s chronic energy shortages.
One reason for that, experts say, is that there is no grid connecting the dam to Myanmar’s major towns and cities.
Roadwork along the Irrawaddy River near the site of the planned dam. It would be the first dam to cross the river, the mythic cradle of civilization for Myanmar’s ethnic Burman majority. Credit Minzayar Oo for The New York Times
“Does Myanmar need electricity? Yes, for sure,” said David Dapice, an economist at Harvard who has studied Myanmar’s hydropower sector. “Does it need Myitsone? No. There are many other hydro sites that could be developed. And in the country’s south, gas generation would be cheaper than transmitting hydro over long distances.”
Canceling the dam, however, would upset relations with China, Myanmar’s biggest trading partner.
Recognition is growing among Chinese officials and experts, analysts said, that the diplomatic and business strategies that worked well when Myanmar was ruled by generals are no longer viable.
 “We’ve learned our lesson from focusing too much on the elites, and now we know that deals and agreements are not solid if they are not based on people-to-people relations,” said Fan Hongwei, a Myanmar specialist at Xiamen University in China.

A gold mine in the village of Myitsone. Under the deal struck by Myanmar’s former ruling generals, 90 percent of the dam’s electricity could go to China. Credit Minzayar Oo for The New York Times
But the dam’s developer, State Power Investment Corporation, has already spent $800 million on feasibility and technical studies, bridges, electrical grid updates and other supporting infrastructure, the person familiar with the dam contract said. The money was borrowed from commercial banks, he said, so the cost keeps growing as the loans accrue interest.
Executives at the company declined a request for an interview. But in a written statement, Wang Qiyue, the project’s general manager, said that the company would “listen carefully and offer our practical advice” to any new proposals from Myanmar officials.
The dam would provide Myanmar “its own cheap, renewable energy,” he said, a better option than importing power or using more expensive or nonrenewable energy sources.

Breng Nan, 42, and his daughter Awng Ding, 4, cooking in their old house in the village of Tan Hpre, whose residents were relocated to Aung Myin Tha. His family moved back to its old villages even though some relatives remain in Aung Myin Tha. Credit Minzayar Oo for The New York Times
Officials close to Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi have said that negotiations were underway for Myanmar to pay China, or apply the money to other projects, if the dam is not built.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s spokesman, U Zaw Htay, said last year that as a compromise for not building the Myitsone Dam, she was prepared to offer the Chinese a series of smaller hydropower projects that are less of a threat to the environment.
But Myanmar’s best potential hydropower sites are all in conflict areas, said Tom Kramer, a researcher in Yangon at the Transnational Institute, a Dutch organization that studies ethnic issues in Myanmar. Approving new projects there, he said, could set off renewed fighting among the very armed groups that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is struggling to bring to the negotiating table as part of a fragile national peace dialogue.
But whether the money is used to repay China or build alternative dams, it is not clear where Myanmar would come up with $800 million, a sum greater than its roughly $600 million health budget.
A more palatable alternative, some analysts say, may be for Myanmar to grant further concessions to China in the western port town of Kyaukpyu, where state-owned Chinese companies have already won contracts to develop an industrial zone and a deepwater port.
On a recent afternoon near the site of the Myitsone Dam, there was no sign of Chinese workers or dam-building equipment. From the bank of the Irrawaddy, the only movement visible near the unfinished dam site was a slender fishing skiff that drifted lazily on the current.
Residents of Aung Myin Tha, a nearby village where about 300 families were resettled, said it had some advantages, like the 16-bed hospital and roads built by the dam developer. But most families now have less farmland and diminished access to the Irrawaddy and traditional hunting grounds, and opposition to the dam remains strong.
“If the Lady lets it happen, Kachin people will protest,” said one villager, Daw Ja Khawn, using the popular moniker for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. “We’ll get the whole country behind us, which will be easy because the whole country is already against it.”
Dozens of families have taken matters into their own hands, moving back to their old villages, even though electricity was cut off there.
“I built my house to challenge the Chinese,” said one, Daw Lu Ra, who was eating a freshly caught fish by candlelight at a restaurant overlooking the headwaters. “Even if they told me to move again, I wouldn’t.”
Wai Moe contributed reporting from Yangon, Myanmar. Yufan Huang contributed research.
Supported by
A Dam Project in Myanmar
APRIL 17, 2017

An ethnic Kachin fisherman hauling his net in the Irrawaddy River, near the planned Myitsone Dam in Myitkyina, Myanmar. Critics said the dam would irreparably harm the river and destroy fish stocks downstream. Credit Minzayar Oo for The New York Times 

To the Editor:
A Chinese-Backed Dam Project Puts Myanmar in a Bind” (news article, April 2), about the Myitsone Dam and China-Myanmar affairs, is important in reminding your readers of a critical relationship.
We should also remember that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s leader, set up a government commission on the fate of the dam just before her trip to Beijing last year, presumably so that she would not have to deal with the Chinese on this thorny issue on her first visit as state counselor.
Now she must decide, and there are no good options for her. Her acclaim has diminished internally because of limited progress on reforms, and internationally because she has not spoken out on human rights issues related to the Rohingya and Muslims.
She has said her highest priority is the peace process — ending decades of various insurgencies among ethnic groups — but approving this or more dams in their areas further jeopardizes her government’s credibility. Any decision she makes will antagonize important political elements.

The writer is professor emeritus of Asian studies at Georgetown University.