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1/2/2024
For Immediate Release
Contact: Gary Wockner, Save The World’s Rivers, 970-218-8310

Is Pumped Hydropower a Green Energy Scam?

Colorado River, USA: A Dec. 26, 2023, story posted by Cronkite News about the so-called “Black Mesa Pumped Storage Project” on Navajo land above the Colorado River in Arizona highlights the propaganda swirling around this technology.

First and foremost, the report says that the Project will “generate clean, renewable energy,” which is completely false. Pumped hydropower projects do not “generate” energy; rather, they are electricity storage devices, not electricity generating devices. Further, like all electricity storage devices, they are never 100% efficient and actually lose about 25% of the electricity throughout the pumping and storage process. As a general rule, pumped hydropower storage is about 70% – 80% efficient, depending on the project, such that they take more electricity off of the grid, requiring that more total electricity be generated, than they put back onto the grid.

Second, the same statement above claims that pumped hydropower is “clean,” which is also false. In the case of the Black Mesa Project, the environmental harms include: 1) water would have to be depleted from aquifers to operate it, 2) two new dams would have to be built across natural canyons and landscapes, 3) greenhouse gases are created and emitted through the entire process, and 4) new transmission lines would have to be built — all of which would have serious environmental impacts.

Third and finally, the report also makes the outrageous anti-science claim:

  • “But pumped hydropower systems make that a closed loop by using two reservoirs: Water falls from the higher to the lower reservoir at night, generating power in the process. It is pumped back uphill during the day, using less energy than had been generated, and the process is repeated.”

This statement claims that it takes “less energy” to pump the water back uphill to the higher reservoir than was “generated” when the water flowed downhill through the electricity turbine. This statement, of course, violates the laws of physics and would be magic if true. The fact is that it always takes more energy to pump the water uphill than can be generated as the water flows downhill through turbines. Again, this is why pumped hydropower storage is far less than 100% efficient.

The reason why so many pumped hydropower storage projects are being proposed is that private electricity corporations are hoping to make a profit from the schemes. In many parts of the U.S., electricity utilities charge consumers higher rates during peak daytime hours, and lower rates at night. Thus, pumped hydropower schemes propose to pump the water uphill during the night when rates are low, and then sell the electricity back to the grid during the daytime when rates are higher.

“We strongly encourage all regulators, the public, the media, our environmental partners, and tribes to closely scrutinize the claims made by pumped hydropower schemes,” said Gary Wockner of Save The World’s Rivers. “These projects are designed to generate private corporate profit, not electricity, and they have numerous negative impacts to local environments.”

Save The World’s Rivers acknowledges that electricity storage is important, and that the technology around it is rapidly changing. Other types of batteries likely have fewer environmental impacts, are cheaper, and can be built much faster than pumped hydropower storage.

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