Arnold Kling  

Alex Tabarrok on Innovation

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At The Atlantic.


The U.S. Department of Energy, for example, estimates that small and environmentally friendly hydro-electric projects could generate at least 30,000 MWs of power annually. That's equivalent to the generating capacity of about 30 nuclear power plants. Moreover, since 97% of U.S. dams are generating zero power today, these projects would not require building any new dams. So what's the problem? The problem is that building even a small hydro-electric project requires the approval of numerous agencies, including the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, State Environmental Departments and State Historic Preservation Departments. It's simply too expensive, time-consuming and risky to build these projects when any of these agencies could veto it at any time. The net result is that we generate more electricity than necessary by leveling mountains, burning coal, and filling our air with dangerous particulates and climate-changing CO2.

It's based on his recent e-book. Read the whole thing.



COMMENTS (7 to date)
Waldo writes:

So which bureaucrat, in which committee, in which agency, would be the first to eliminate existing regulations? Essentially saying, "Well, I guess you don't need me anymore, so I'll just resign." Was it Veblen who said an institution's first order of business is self-preservation?

Chris Koresko writes:

Alex Tabarrok: ...Small and environmentally friendly hydro-electric projects could generate at least 30,000 MWs of power annually.... The problem is that building even a small hydro-electric project requires the approval of numerous agencies...

Tabarrok sounds a lot like Newt Gingrich here.

Bryan Willman writes:

To add to the "fun" there are fairly strong groups opposed to damns, usually over environmental issues, but sometimes over fishing rights issues. (The fishing rights thing has been a big deal in the Pacific NW.)

So in addition to permit-to-build-it hell, there will be permit-use-water-for-power and permit-to-store-water hell. (Which even minor installations such as Grand Coulee Damn are affected by.)

This is not all nonsense - damns make life harder for fish. Fish are an important resource and environmental element.

In short, the whole statement misses the Real Point which is that there is a policy of not using damns because "we" prefer fish, and this policy has not been publicly weighed against the costs of air pollution that arise from it.
(More fish but more coal burned is one trade-off "we" have taken, but it's never been put up to a transparent vote.)

Kevin writes:

With $3.00 natural gas there's no way to get a return on hydropower, even if the state rentiers weren't raising barriers to entry and scalping entrepreneurs' revenue, which they obviously excel at.

James Oswald writes:

I had a friend in college whose father worked for a department of a government agency who approved dams (I don't know which one). He said it often cost more to get approval to build a dam than actually building it, even when the cost benefit analysis was highly favorable.

Glen Smith writes:

When a business wants to lay off risk, they don't get to do it for free.

Chris Cresci writes:

I believe we already tried the "small and environmentally friendly" HE dams during the New Deal period. Most of them are not being used or have been removed because they were unprofitable. It must also be said that while one dam maybe environmentally friendly the amount of dams needed to produce 30,000 MW of power in the aggregate is arguably not. Why not simply build 30 nuclear power plants without all of the approvals for the same amount of energy and less environmental impact?

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