Blogging About Critters Since 2007

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Renewable Energy Push Threatens Portuguese Wildlife

I support the concern about climate change and global warming. I've had fights at work about it. But I believe that these issues have overshadowed the environmental agenda and become the cause du jour. In particular, it is overshadowing the increasing loss of biodiversity.

And here is another example.


The EU is investing in renewable energy in order to cut greenhouse emissions. This is important and I support that. But they are including hydropower as a renewable resource and I DON'T support that. As a resident of the Northwest, we get cheap power, but look at the damage done to our wildlife and salmon as a result of damming the Columbia and Snake rivers. Gargantuan impacts.

I'm afraid Europe is following the same mistaken path. And Portugal is a willing victim.

Portugal has long wanted to dam the Sabor, which runs from near the Spanish border to the Douro, the majestic river flanked by port vineyards. The 170 megawatt power station, costing €354m ($518m, £264m), is part of a €1bn hydroelectric investment by the Energias de Portugal power company.

While most EU countries have fully exploited hydro­electric potential, mountainous Portugal's is only half used. It is vital to meet the country's EU-assigned goal of lifting renewable generation from 20.5 per cent to 31 per cent in 2020.

But when the plans were unveiled a decade ago, environmental activists and 260 scientists opposed the move, fearing that western Europe's last wild river would be tamed. They brought a legal case, the European Commission backed them and work stalled.

In late August, Brussels suddenly shelved its enforcement action after EdP produced mitigation plans. Within days José Sócrates, Portugal's prime minister, and António Mexia, EdP chief executive, visited Sabor to announce that work would begin.


Bárbara Fráguas, who studies Bonelli's eagles, said: "This is a very, very important area because it is the last wild river in Europe. It is like a giant corridor connecting the north of Portugal ... The dam will divide the animal populations and they cannot survive. EDP says they will build bridges for the wolves to cross but animals don't use bridges."

Vegetation would become scarcer, she says, reducing the number of small animals that some of the last 1,000 Bonelli's eagles in Europe rely on for food.

Ms Fráguas admits that local politicians and residents support the project. For generations the young people of Trás-os-Montes, the spiritual heart of Portugal, have left to find work.


Of course, they support this dam. I'm a Luso-American and I love my heritage. But Portugal is a poor country that had a glorious past. Right now, after so many years of religious and dictatorial oppression, it is still evolving in national conscience to appreciate and understand the environment, nature, and values other than money and the Church. Wildlife was always a nuisance, never a benefit. But it also wants to be taken seriously as a cooperative and progressive member of the EU. And they want the EU's money. Based on what I've seen of my trips there, they will do what they can to get it. Sometimes this is good. Sometimes this is bad.

In this case, it's bad.

Photo by PEstevao.

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