In this space two years ago, I wrote about the energy-water nexus – specifically, how meeting electricity demand with renewable energy, such as wind and solar, could begin to address water scarcity and conservation.
And as drought conditions worsen – particularly in the western and southeastern U.S. – it is again time to raise awareness, as issues surrounding the energy-water nexus will only intensify.
Simply put, the wider electric power industry has a water addiction. Did you know that more water is used in the U.S. to cool power plants than is used for agriculture? Taken further, cooling needs affect not only power plants but also water resources, through withdrawals and consumption. As such, water-related constraints can increase costs and threaten reliability of electricity supplies.
However, there is a ray of hope amidst the gloom.
Last November, the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) passed a resolution urging states and federal authorities to recognize the important role
of water supply and related risks in making power-supply investment decisions and the need to properly identify and allocate water-related risks and benefits. Going forward, NARUC will seek input from water resource agencies, water commissions and other relevant stakeholders on the long-term effects of power-supply decisions (including new construction, retrofits and retirements) on the broader water supply-and-demand issue.
Acknowledgement from an organization such as NARUC is significant and is proof positive that state and federal regulators may finally be getting the message. More than ever, water conservation will be among the most important factors in utility planning, notes Tom Darin, director of western state policy at the American Wind Energy Association.
“It’s an acknowledgement between the electricity sector and state regulators that water availability is a growing concern that needs more attention,” he says, adding that the decision to focus wind advocacy efforts in the regulatory arena – as opposed to, say, editorials in local newspapers or billboard advertising – was a better use of the organization’s resources. “That’s where the decisions are made.”
The good news is that industry advocacy efforts appear to be paying dividends. The wind industry is on the correct side of the issue. Wind energy requires no water – period. And wind developers planning projects can help their own cause by hammering the message home. Therefore, wind developers planning projects from San Antonio to Sacramento should be incorporating such messaging when communicating with state regulators. w