Analyze and discuss how energy projects are also projects of national development.
(Note: This summary of readings was written in the second half of 2020 as part of a Mega development course)
Same as their non-renewable counterparts — fossil fuel and coal — energy infrastructure promoted as environmentally sustainable could have significant negative impacts in places where they are located. These projects are associated with displacement of persons from their homes and sources of livelihoods, deforestation, environmental pollution, and other disruptive activities. Using the words of Francos T. R. (2019), these projects are located where “ecosystems and human lives are seen as disposable or deemed to lack political influence.”
There is also the issue of the huge capital outlay needed to set up these infrastructures and the mechanism of financing and the fact that the political class, and elites in these communities whose interests in most cases are not pro-poor or pro-people often take up important decision making roles. Howe and Boyer (2016) in their article titled Aeolian Infrastructures, Aoelian publics mention how residents near the Isthmus wind parks in Oaxaca, Mexico complain that “only a small group of wealthy landowners had amassed the promised benefits” of the wind parks and that revenues meant for community development projects are being used by these few individuals to build “fancy trucks and new homes.” In the final analysis, these “energy infrastructure projects” described as “environmentally sustainable” in their conceptualization and implementation end up being anti-development.
Therefore, “securing reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable energy supplies” may not be “one of the grand challenges of the 21st century.” The grand challenge is to provide environmentally sustainable energy in a pro-people and pro-environmentally sustainable way. One is tempted to assume that this sense of need and urgency is a false alarm created by players interested in financing the trillion dollar investments needed to transition to environmentally sustainable energy. Howe and Boyer (2016) also mention how the regulatory environment created for renewables by the Mexican government is “highly advantageous to foreign direct investment” and how those opposed to the wind park describe it as nueva conquista (new conquest) because they see a replay of colonial exploitation through transnational capital in action.
The proponents of environmentally sustainable energy seem to think an overnight revolution is possible. They laud the benefits of environmentally sustainable energy; “they remove the most serious concerns over international security of supply that are associated with imported hydrocarbons” and “they provide superior consumer access to electricity” (Stevens, P. (2019)). These assertions are surface level statements, whether intended or not intended, that divert attention from the complexity of storage for renewable energy, the extraction of Lithium, and the environmental pollution associated with this extraction. There is also an element of optimism bias in the assumption that current fossil fuel and coal suppliers will take a bow and leave the stage. In my opinion, we can only hope for a transition with current fossil fuel and coal suppliers on board and negotiating what changes they are open to and in which time periods those changes are feasible. Working towards a transition might be more productive than hoping for a transition that excludes current energy players.
In addition, Stevens, P. (2019) article note how much prices of renewable energy options have fallen with respect to the baseline prices of renewable energy. They they do not say what those initial costs are and how the prices of the renewable energy options being considered compare to the current price of using fossil fuel or coal. This lack of clarity or inadequate information may be setting up a scheme supportive of the survival of the unfittest.
Finally, we need a balance that works for people and the planet. There is definitely “more than the storage, transmission or conversion of energy at stake in energy infrastructure” (Bridge et al, 2018). These factors and how they are addressed will determine if the energy project is a project of national development or not.