Every Drop Counts: Valuing Water Used To Generate Electricity

Via The Energy Collective, an article about a fascinating new report published by Western Resource Advocates titled ‘Every Drop Counts: Valuing the Water Used to Generate Electricity.’ Analyzing the water use for electrical power generation, in competition with growing agricultural and domestic water demand, this report concludes:

  • At a minimum, utilities across the region should report water consumption for existing facilities, along with projected water consumption for different proposed portfolios, as part of their integrated resource plans.
  • In considering new water-intensive power plants, utilities and regulators should assess the value of water today, the potential value of water in the future, and the opportunity cost of using water for power generation over the lifetime of the power plant.
  • Regulators and electric utilities should consider the benefits of maintaining flexibility, and the role of water-efficient forms of generation and energy efficiency as a hedge against short- or long-term drought.

For more on the report itself:

“…The most important natural resource for generating electricity in the United States isn’t coal, natural gas, or uranium.

It’s water.

All of these fuels (and solar power, too) rely on water as a coolant, consuming massive quantities of a precious resource that is dwindling in many parts of the Southwest. Climate change means even less water in the future for the arid lands of the West — while energy consumption continues to grow.

[Water is also used in other parts of the energy cycle. For example, an average of 3 million gallons of water are used per natural gas well in the controversial "fracking" process -- the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary, Gasland.]

According to a new study, “Every Drop Counts: Valuing the Water Used to Generate Electricity,” by Western Resource Advocates, electrical power plants in six Western states — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — used a staggering 129 billion gallons of water in 2005.

As the report points out, such intensive use of water “impact(s) our region’s rivers and aquifers, and tie(s) up water that could meet growing urban, agricultural, or environmental needs.”

There’s a growing awareness of the Water/Energy Nexus — at least among researchers, environmental organizations and within the power industry itself. “Every Drop Counts” is a welcome addition to the literature on one of the nation’s most pressing — and least reported — issues.

From “Every Drop Counts,” Executive Summary.

The report makes an important distinction between three usually interchangeable terms: Value, cost, and price.

  • Value – the amount that the user is willing to pay for it.
  • Cost – the cost of delivering water for a particular use.
  • Price – the amount users actually pay.

The price of water is typically far below the value, the authors note, because of subsidies and related political decisions.

The report includes a state-by-state analysis of water and energy policies for each of the six Western states. In Arizona, for example, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) under the leadership of Chair Kris Mayes helped lead the Western states in factoring water into the electrical utility equation. (Mayes was recently term-limited off the ACC. Early indications from the new commissioners suggest that the ACC may forfeit many of the gains made under Mayes.)

In 2005, as part of a settlement on a rate-making case, the ACC ordered Arizona Public Service (APS) to consider the feasibility of expanding utility-scale solar generation at existing coal-fired power plants, noting the environmental benefits of potential water savings associated with solar generation.

The report also praises the state’s largest utility, APS, for its water policies. In 2009, the utility began reporting how much water was consumed by its electrical generation. The APS nuclear power plant at Palo Verde (the largest in the nation) uses only recycled water.

“Every Drop Counts” — which could also be titled “Count Every Drop” — may be a bit wonkish for the average reader. That said, the report will help Western residents make sense of their utility bills and give them the information they need to lobby for responsible, positive change.”

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 1st, 2011 at 10:34 am and is filed under Uncategorized.  You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.  You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. 

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About This Blog And Its Author
As the scarcity of water and energy continues to grow, the linkage between these two critical resources will become more defined and even more acute in the months ahead.  This blog is committed to analyzing and referencing articles, reports, and interviews that can help unlock the nascent, complex and expanding linkages between water and energy -- The Watergy Nexus -- and will endeavor to provide a central clearinghouse for insightful articles and comments for all to consider.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has held a lifelong interest in environmental and conservation issues, primarily as they relate to freshwater scarcity, renewable energy, and national park policy.  Working from a water-scarce base in Las Vegas with his wife and son, he is the founder of Water Politics, an organization dedicated to the identification and analysis of geopolitical water issues arising from the world’s growing and vast water deficits, and is also a co-founder of SmartMarkets, an eco-preneurial venture that applies web 2.0 technology and online social networking innovations to motivate energy & water conservation.  He previously worked for an independent power producer in Central Asia; co-authored an article appearing in the Summer 2010 issue of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal, titled: “The Water Ethic: The Inexorable Birth Of A Certain Alienable Right”; and authored an article appearing in the inaugural issue of Johns Hopkins University's Global Water Magazine in July 2010 titled: “H2Own: The Water Ethic and an Equitable Market for the Exchange of Individual Water Efficiency Credits.”