Monthly Archives: August 2012

A Way Forward for Hydroelectricity in South America

In recent years, governments in South America have turned to large-scale hydropower as a cost-effective way to improve livelihoods while addressing the energy “trilemma:” ensuring that future energy technologies provide effective solutions to climate change, environmental degradation, and supply security.

Patricio Zambrano-Barragan (MCP ’12) explored the rapidly-changing context for hydropower in South America by looking at three flagship projects: Ecuador’s Coca-Codo-Sinclair (1,500MW), Chile’s HidroAysén (2,750MW), and Perú’s Inambari (2,000MW).

Photo credit: Jorge Uzon

Patricio makes three claims:
1) Large-scale hydropower projects are evaluated against a small universe of alternatives. The projects are not considered among a variety of potential plans, but rather with respect to one plan’s possible iterations vis-à-vis a specific political goal, such as security and sovereignty, fast GDP growth, or regional integration. This approach has resulted in considerable social and environmental conflict.

2) State mediation of conflict has been further complicated by the presence of new sources of financing for large infrastructure development – what Patricio calls “south-south development ventures” – through which national governments spearhead domestic infrastructure development that does not rely on “traditional” financing sources from multilateral organizations. The prominence of these money sources denotes a clear historical departure away from universal standards and toward bilateral management of decision-making processes.

3) Regardless of the regulatory framework governing energy planning, the state creates makeshift regulatory or judicial solutions to deal with the overlap of diverse ecosystems and settlements on and around hydropower sites. Public opposition resulting from these solutions reveals clear inadequacies in the way these countries plan and develop high-interest infrastructure projects.

The implication in Patricio’s findings is that opportunities exist to make hydropower a credible option to meet the energy trilemma if state actors are willing to think beyond the “decide-announce-defend” model of decision-making, and if South American countries can set up a regional, independent, third-party oversight body to mediate between the state, project sponsors, and civil society actors. Read more in Patricio’s thesis.

Vancouver 2010 – A Lesson in Olympic Sustainability

The London games began with a quirky opening ceremony on July 27, 2012, and will wrap up August 12. Ever wondered whether the new Olympic stadiums are LEED certified, or what happens to the city on August 13? Have the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) done their jobs with long-term sustainability principles in mind?

Photo credit: Carri Hulet

The answer is mostly, yes (you can download the LOCOG’s sustainability plan here), but how well the plan will play out over time in London remains to be seen. It appears that Vancouver, when it hosted the 2010 winter Olympics, set a high bar in this arena, according to DUSP 2012 graduate Ksenia Mokrushina. She studied Vancouver’s sustainability plans and practices in order to draw lessons for future host cities, including Sochi, Russia (2014), where Ksenia is from.

As Ksenia points out in her thesis, since the late 1960s, Olympic organizing committees have given varying degrees of attention to questions of environmental impact, community involvement, and development versus growth strategies. These are big challenges. The planning takes place in an accelerated timeframe, and in countries with vastly different commitments to basic sustainability principles. Ksenia concludes, for example, that when developing countries host the games, the IOC should be prepared to provide extra support for the planning and execution of the games if they expect sustainable practices to be taken seriously.

Hosting the Olympics gives cities an unprecedented opportunity to experiment with an “urban laboratory” of sorts. How have they done? Are the costs (financial, social, and environment) too high? Should we support one critic’s suggestion to stop moving the Olympics around the world and instead invest in a single site that can host the games repeatedly? Please comment and share your thoughts!