Brussels v Bonnelli: Perverse impacts of renewable targets

When the European Commission’s policies prompt people to follow the steps of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu it is time to reflect on this monstrous organisation.

Energias de Portugal has a plan to put a 170MW power plant across the river Sabor1. This power plant will destroy the “last wild river in Europe”, damaging flora and fauna, threatening rare populations of wolves and spelling the end for Europe’s last few Bonnelli’s eagles.

Flash back to the 1960’s when Romania was run by a young Nicolae Ceauşescu. Not a nice chap. He was also of the ilk that felt that if something was in the way, you just bulldozed it. Or flooded it. Where the Danube flows along Romania’s western border with Yugoslavia it runs into a steep mountainous valley at a point called the Iron Gates, just upstream from Turnu Severin. The waters were once wild and dangerous, and the dictator demanded they be tamed. The valley was dammed and a power plant built. What was good for power generation was a disaster for nature.

Patrick Leigh Fermor’s beautiful account of his journey on foot across Europe in the 1930s describes the Iron Gates at Turnu Severin before the construction of the dam, comparing it with the dull sleepy expanse of water he encountered when retracing his steps fifty years later2. The dam had destroyed the homes and communities of some 17,000 people and it tamed for ever a dramatic and awe-inspiring landscape. For anyone with spirit, this is a grievous thing.

So how is it that the Portuguese want to bury Europe’s last wild river just like Ceausescu castrated the Danube at the Iron Gates?

On the face of it, the dam is a measure aimed at meeting the European Union’s renewable energy targets and cutting CO2 emissions. A 170MW plant running full pelt should generate just under 1,500 MWh a year, cutting CO2 emissions from electricity generation by around one million tonnes. Take off the additional methane emissions from rotting vegetation under the dam and you get several hundred thousand tonnes a year. About 0.01% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile the insistence on renewable energy targets provides a convenient cover for ambitious little Ceauşescus around the continent. With projects come big budgets, and with big budgets come expense accounts and cronyism. Euro 350 million will go to making or maintaining a few millionaires. After all, EdP’s “passion for living and a deep respect for nature”3 can only go so far.

Because the European Union insists on setting renewable energy targets, it becomes ok to destroy unique landscapes and habitats. It’s so ok that we are prepared to knock out the Bonnelli’s Eagle for 0.01% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The mantra of emissions trading is that it does not matter where the emissions happen, because we are talking about a global problem. You can turn that on its head and conclude that since it does not matter where emission reductions happen, there is all the more reason to take care of local sensitivities.

Justifying rare habitat destruction for a 0.01% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is the best of Kafka, Orwell, and Ceauşescu. More attention to energy efficiency and demand management and less obsession with batty renewables targets would be a far better approach.


1. Financial Times, 6th February 2008

2. Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor


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1 Response to Brussels v Bonnelli: Perverse impacts of renewable targets

  1. SvenAERTS228 says:

    I don’t understand… in the procedure to estimate the feasibility to obtain the CO2e-certificates, an environmental impact study must be made… and can be commented … if you’d post that the eagle’s habitat would be destroyed… and the project developer cannot show it is taken care of … the project cannot go through imho.

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