They Love Us, They Love Us Not

I had a reporting professor during my first semester as a journalism major who, in an effort to teach a class of aspiring 18-year old Joseph Pulitzers not to take everything at face value, was fond of starting the year with a lecture he’d titled, “Your Mother Says She Loves You, But How Do You Really Know?”

For a generation of would-be journalists whose concepts of reporting are based more on the practices of Perez Hilton than Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the question seemed — and still seems — entirely asinine, but even for those not of Generation X, supplying a definitive answer might prove more difficult than it appears.

The immediate (and common) gut reaction was that our mothers love us because they tell us they love us, to which we were asked, “Yes, but how do you really know your mothers are telling the truth?”

The answer was, invariably, that we just knew, and again we were asked, “But are you sure?”

Granted, the exercise wasn’t intended to foster feelings of mother/child insecurity, but rather, to demonstrate that simplicity in even the most basic of questions and statements almost always belies a need for tangible, empirical supporting evidence.

It was perhaps inevitable then that I immediately thought of this lecture when American Municipal Power President and CEO Marc Gerken emphatically told me “I love hydro” during the National Hydropower Association Annual Conference in April.

Gerken, now president of the NHA, said his affection for hydro power comes not only for his company’s need to provide energy for its customers, but also due to its non-existent fuel costs and lack of a waste stream.

“This is a great asset because as a CEO, you have headaches with carbon, you have headaches with fuel, you have headaches with environmental permitting,” Gerken said.

Speaking purely in terms as a member of the cynical media then, I’d say that Gerken’s remarks — though nice — are nothing without substance, and certainly, Gerken is making sure AMP is doing its part to give credence to his words.

The utility currently generates 16% of its power through hydroelectricity, and that percentage will continue to increase.

“It’s not state-mandated,” Gerken said. “We just feel it’s the right thing to do.”

The attitude is not one held exclusively by AMP, and I’ve written at length about the many pieces of legislature currently making their way through the United States Congress that would further improve opportunities for hydroelectric development.

Luckily for the industry, however, is that the international community is taking — or perhaps more accurately, retaking — note of hydro power and its role in energy production, water supply and flood control.

Nowhere was this more evident than at the International Hydropower Association’s World Congress this past month where the World Bank announced the reversal of its two-decade long practice of shunning large hydro project investments.

Though the bank had continued to finance smaller projects through the years, large projects like Africa’s 4,000-GW Grand Inga would have almost certainly been snubbed as they didn’t fit the bank’s development goals.

Now, however, the World Bank says all hydropower plants are an essential means of providing power, building industry, providing potable water, encouraging agriculture and decreasing carbon emissions — particularly in the world’s most impoverished of nations, where hydroelectric projects provide an economical means of supplying all those ends.

So, given the emphasis I’ve made on putting one’s money where their mouths are, the World Bank is doing that in literal terms with more than US$1 billion invested in large hydropower projects alone since revising its investment strategies in the early 2000s.

And just as AMP is not the only utility showing its love for hydro power, neither is the World Bank the only global lending institution showing its love for hydro power.

Just what this “love” ultimately means for the hydropower industry still remains to be seen, but at the very least, the answer to “How do you know?” is perhaps becoming a bit clearer.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for HydroWorld.com.

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