Nowadays, hydroelectric power plants have been widely used around the world. Hydropower, as a clean and renewable source has a great contribution to energy conservation, reducing the emissions from conventional fossil fuel. However, potential risks in environment have also been found in several aspects. Therefore, the engineering ethics regarding whether to continue to develop hydropower or even dismantle existing hydropower has been indicated.
Why hydropower stations should be built
Whether a hydropower station should be built or not need to be evaluated in multiple ways. First of all, for the residents around the hydropower station, the establishment of the hydropower station can effectively solve the problem of electricity consumption, and it will obviously promote the local economic development. Moreover, compared with other types of power stations, hydropower will not threaten the health of residents. This view is considered from the perspective of utilitarianism. In contrast, for environmentalists, building a hydropower station will destroy the surrounding ecological balance and cause a series of irreversible environmental problems. This view is considered from the perspective of sustainable development and maintaining ecological balance.
Based on the utilitarian framework, the advantages of building hydropower station are obvious. What the residents are most concerned about is whether the hydropower station can provide them with the cheap electricity they need. According to the data, the cost of electricity which is generated by hydropower stations is US$0.10 kWh−1, as low as the current electricity generation cost by thermal plants and low-cost wind turbines, so it can be commercialized. Hydropower stations can also bring some other social benefits, such as increasing employment opportunities and alleviating floods, all of these are what residents longing for. So for riverside areas where electricity is urgently needed, the establishment of a hydropower station is almost the best option.
Although hydropower projects have some impact on land and biology, as a kind of renewable energy source, Hydropower stations generate much less pollutants than thermal power stations. The predictions made by institutions shows that using hydropower not only can save fossil fuels, but also can make contribution to protect the environment. When producing 40000 billion kWh electricity, the hydropower station can save 0.16 billion tons of fossil fuels, with a reduction of CO2 at about 0.4 billion tons. Using hydropower is an efficient way to make environment better. Meanwhile, reducing pollutant emissions is an essential part of environmental protection and public health.
In terms of ecological balance, to maintain ecological processes (such as fish migration) and allow sediment transport downstream, hydropower stations can release more than 30% of the natural discharge to keep natural river flow. In addition, very small hydropower stations built in rural areas do not suffer from such issues. Not only due to the scale of the technology but also because of the scant storage of water. Most mini-, micro- and pico-hydropower plants cannot stop the migration of aquatic organisms. Currently, these small hydropower plants are popular in rural areas where electricity is not available.
In summary, hydropower stations should be built because the benefits it brings are far beyond its disadvantages.
Oppose the construction of hydropower plant
It has been proved that although the construction of a hydroelectric power plant may meet the energy demands and propel economic it has negative impacts on the environment, which leads to the debates about whether the hydroelectric power plant should be built.
The main facts are the construction will affect both natural and social environment. For the natural, aquatic ecosystem is influenced because fish cannot migrate to upstream spawning grounds through dams which may lead to an aquatic organism extinction. In addition, huge amount of water stored in the reservoir will be released at certain times of year to avoid drought while it will lead to a negative impact on downstream plants and animals as a result of low dissolved oxygen and lower temperature of water. When it comes to the social problem, the construction of the power plant will force the surrounding residents to move, thus the infrastructure need to be rebuilt. Meanwhile, historical sites and primitive villages will be irreversibly damaged.
The relevant stakeholders including residents, archaeologists, shipping company operators, downstream fishermen and farmers.Moreover, there are more stakeholders as the hydropower station also affects the habitat of animals and the reproduction of fish. Their interest lies in their houses, the protection of cultural relics, the success of the voyage and whether the changes in water quality will hurt their fisheries and agriculture. For these people, the construction of a hydropower station will affect their interests, and the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages, thus they will oppose the construction.
To be specific, the reconstruction of cultural relics and the places of interest cannot be remedied and reversed while the migration of the residents may cause social problems. Meanwhile, the relocation fees, and the reconstruction of towns and infrastructure are huge sum of expense. The damage to the ecological environment, from the silt accumulation, difficulties of fish migration, water quality, to the invasion of swamps, forests, and animal habitats, are problems cannot be ignored and it takes a longer time and larger cost to repair it. In the past, scientists and engineers considered too much on energy crisis, neglecting long-term and profound environmental damage which may need more cost to repair. Hydropower station indeed has a promoting effect to economy, but firstly the irreversibility of environmental damage can not be ignored, secondly compared with hydropower station efficiency is relatively lower than those of other power stations , which means it can be replaced by other options.
In the formulation of the moral problem, it is obvious that one is focusing on environmental value and the other pay more attention on economic value, as we hold the opinion of environment protection is more important than the economic benefit, we oppose the construction of hydropower plant.