There's an argument brewing out west regarding the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River upstream of the Grand Canyon. The Sierra Club and Glen Canyon Institute want to get rid of it, which would drain Lake Powell and put an end to the hydroelectric power generated by the dam. Paul Ostapuk, a member of the Friends of Lake Powell group, countered some of the “facts” put forth by the Sierra Club and the Institute concerning energy.

Myth #1: We don't need hydropower because there's a huge glut of power in the West.

The availability of power fluctuates from year to year based on the strength of the economy and construction of new power plants. Usually there is a two to three-year lag between demand and supply. And while it might look as though there's a surplus of power considering all the plants in the area, the situation is deceptive. All of those plants are not operated at full load, and all plants must be powered down to some degree for maintenance.

The hydroelectric plants related to Lake Powell generate about 22,000 GW-hr of electricity annually. This is enough to serve the entire residential population of Arizona (5 million people). Replacing that power with gas turbines would cost over $2 billion, a figure that doesn't include the cost of natural gas needed to run the plants. To replace that power with alternative forms of energy like wind, solar, and fuel cells would cost anywhere from $30 billion to $100 billion dollars.

Myth #2: Hydroelectric power can be easily replaced.

Here are some facts Ostapuk claims make such a statement irresponsible and wrong:

  • Hydroelectricity does not put out by-products that contribute to acid rain or global warming. Nor does it contribute to the country's nuclear -disposal problems.

    This means, in part, that the electric power from the Glen Canyon Dam has prevented over 320 billion lb of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. And this figure continues to grow by about 11 billion lb /year.

  • Electricity generated at Lake Powell is critical to the Western Power Grid. (Currently, there are three separate power grids in the U.S.: the Western, Eastern, and Texas grids, and they are connected by high-voltage dc lines.). Glen Canyon Dam has played a key role in getting the Western Grid back on line after each of several large-scale power outages in the Western U. S. over the last 20 years. That's because a hydroelectric plant can provide full power in a matter of minutes, whereas large coal-fired units can take hours or days to get back to full load and require a significant amount of power from an off-site source (preferably a hydroelectric generator).

  • All forms of power come with some form of environmental cost. For example, the Sierra Club has already protested solar plants in the southwest because they destroy desert habitat. Plus, the solar energy generated during the day must be stored for later use, and batteries and other storage devices all extract a toll on the environment. The Sierra Club has also come down against wind turbines, calling them “Cuisinarts in the air” because of the many birds of prey killed each year by spinning blades as they hunt for small game around the structures.

In addition, wind turbines generate noise and consume habitat acreage. Replacing the power produced by Lake Powell with wind turbines would eat up 7,000 square miles with towers. Even then, these towers would only produce power about 20%, given the kinds of winds common in Arizona.