This commentary originally appeared on EDF's Texas Clean Air Matters blog.
With Labor Day behind us, Texans can look forward to a welcome respite from the hundred-degree days of August. The pending arrival of fall may signal milder temperatures for now, but the latest report from John Nielson-Gammon, Texas’ state climatologist, tells a different story about Texas’ long-term climate trend. The study released last month indicates that peak summer temperatures may increase by up to five degrees by 2060. What we once thought of as a unique heat wave (think back to 2011) are likely to become the new normal, and will eventually – according to Nielson-Gammon – be replaced by even hotter temperatures.
At the same time, increasing temperatures would place further severe stress on the state’s energy and water systems. Texas’ recent extreme summers have already plunged much of the state into drought. The latest data released by the U.S. Drought Monitor predict water emergencies could occur in at least nine U.S. cities—five of which are in Texas. And experts expect the drought will persist for years to come as climate change intensifies.
Texas lawmakers must take these grim projections into account as they plan the state’s energy and water futures. Some Texas decision makers are already calling for more fossil-fuel power plants to cover the need for more power (to run all those air conditioners) in light of 2011’s historic summer highs, which will emit more carbon pollution into the air and add to the warming. These same Texas lawmakers insist we should keep our heads in the sand, ignore the mounting evidence pointing to a new climate normal and do nothing to alleviate or adapt to the problem.
To meet the state’s energy and water needs in these changing times, we should prioritize energy resources that don’t contribute to a worsening climate and have little or no water or carbon footprint. Clean energy sources such as wind energy and solar photovoltaics have the potential to produce all the energy we need while consuming little water and releasing negligible carbon emissions. Other customer-facing resources like energy efficiency and demand response help reduce the need for power altogether. On top of that, these technologies actually save customers money on their energy bill and pay Texans for conserving energy.
The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that the amount of water required by fossil fuel power plants will increase as global warming progresses. To avoid a compounding problem, Texas should turn away from water-intensive sources of electricity, like fossil fuel power plants. Anything we can do to reduce the impact of climate change while freeing up water for agriculture, thirsty cities and drought-stricken waterways should become a priority for the state.
If we don’t act now, we might find ourselves with an energy and water system irreconcilably crippled by the effects of climate change.