As Water Scarcity Risks Grow, Investors Persuade Electric Utilities to Disclose Water Management Plans

Via Water Efficiency Journal, a report on how – in response to shareholder requests – three leading electric utilities (Dominion, Southern and PPL) have agreed to significantly expand reporting and disclosure on water availability risks and plans for mitigating those risks.  As the article notes:

“…The agreements come as prolonged droughts, growing water demand and climate change place increasing stress on water supplies and create challenges for electric power producers in many parts of the United States. Power plants, including nuclear, coal, oil and natural gas, account for 40 percent of the nation’s freshwater withdrawals, requiring an estimated 136 billion gallons a day for generating and cooling the steam that drives electric turbines.

“Water scarcity is a growing risk to many public utilities and investors want to know how companies are preparing for increased competition for supplies, emerging regulations and potential revenue losses from shortages,” said Mindy S. Lubber, president of Ceres and director of the $9.5 trillion Investor Network on Climate Risk.

Investors filed shareholder resolutions with the utilities several months ago asking them to evaluate and disclose their strategies for wide-ranging water risks, including low flows, thermal impacts, and emerging regulations. The resolutions were withdrawn in recent weeks after the companies agreed to undertake the studies.

Southern Company agreed to prepare a comprehensive “water action report,” describing its water management philosophy, water use and consumption by generation type, water discharges, and emerging risks, including water risks in its fuel supply chain. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, where a federal judicial order may reduce the city’s water withdrawals by as early as 2012, Southern is one of the nation’s largest electric generators, with 42 gigawatts of generation capacity.

“We have asked Southern Company to be mindful of these issues, and are pleased that the company has given shareholders the assurance that it will integrate these considerations into its long-term planning,” said Denise Nappier, Connecticut State Treasurer, whose office manages $24.6 billion in assets and was the lead filer of the resolution. “Southern clearly sees water risk as a strategic challenge that needs to be met to assure the future growth and sustainability of the company, as well as the entire energy sector.”

Investors also persuaded Virginia-based Dominion to commit to respond to the Carbon Disclosure Project’s water survey, which asks companies to report their water use and risks associated with changing water availability.

PPL agreed to report on the water intensity of its generation, its water resources and cooling system types and water rights of major facilities. The company will provide the information in its upcoming CSR report.  Based in Allentown, Pennsylvania PPL’s operating territory includes Pennsylvania, Montana and Kentucky.

“We are pleased with PPL’s willingness to discuss water issues with investors this year,” said Luan Steinhilber, ESG analyst and director of shareholder advocacy at Miller/Howard Investments, the lead filer on the resolution.  “We look forward to working with PPL as the company continues to assess risks and opportunities related to water.”  Miller/Howard Investments has $1.9 billion in assets under management.

Electric power providers face a range of physical risks related to water scarcity, including low and variable water flows and higher water temperatures linked to climate change; regulatory risks linked to new requirements to minimize cooling system impacts on aquatic life; and legal risks as communities increasingly seek to challenge the construction or expansion of power plants in water-stressed regions.

A single nuclear generating unit can use as much as 1.1 million gallons of water per minute. If water levels fall below the intake structure, lowering it can cost upwards of $200 million for a single nuclear or coal power plant and installing a less water-intensive cooling system can cost more than $1 billion.

Water risks are already leading some utilities in drought-prone regions in the U.S. West to turn away from water-intensive coal-fired power generation.  Some power plants have been blocked from obtaining water permits as they have attempted to expand or build new coal-fired facilities.

During the 2007-2008 drought in the southeastern U.S., Southern was forced to buy $33 million in fossil fuels to replace lost power in Atlanta when hydropower generation declined by half due to low water levels. More recently, In August 2010, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was forced to reduce generation at three of its nuclear facilities in Alabama and Tennessee when a heat wave pushed water temperatures to the permitted maximum temperature of 90°F.

The three resolutions are among 29 filed with 19 U.S. electric power companies in the 2011 proxy season on issues ranging from water-scarcity concerns to GHG emissions and usage of renewable energy to mountain top removal.

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 24th, 2011 at 3:09 pm 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.”