Benefits of Clean Power Plan Are Measureable – Drop for Drop

Hallisburg Texas power plantSince EPA released its proposed Clean Power Plan (CPP) in June of this year, the plan has been a hot topic in every state. In Texas alone, the state has held a joint regulatory agency hearing and two days of legislative hearings. Unfortunately, in both cases, the general tone of testimony was that of Chicken Little. But I prefer to view the CPP as a fantastic opportunity and certainly don’t think the sky will fall because of it. In fact, our skies should be considerably brighter without all that carbon pollution clouding them up.

I’ve written before about the opportunity for Texas to amplify current trends and increase our energy efficiency and renewable energy to meet these goals. And there’s an added benefit to transitioning away from coal-fired power plants and toward cleaner energy choices, one that will be critical in a state like Texas that’s in the middle of a multi-year drought: water savings and relief for our parched state.

What if I told you that with the CPP, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which controls the power grid for roughly 80 percent of the state, could save more than 60,000 acre-feet (or nearly 21 billion gallons) of water per year by 2030?

To put this in perspective, ERCOT would save the equivalent of Lady Bird Lake in a little over a month; Lake Bastrop in three months; Lake Worth in six months; Lake Houston in three years; and the entire body of the San Antonio River in four years.

The Clean Power Plan is handing us the opportunity to take a more holistic look at our power resources and choose those that save Texas water.

Why does that matter?

It matters because:

  • almost 90 percent of our electricity generation in Texas comes from fossil fuels or nuclear sources, and they are very thirsty energy resources;
  • over 70 percent of our state is still in drought and many areas are running out of water;
  • recent studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Columbia University determined that much of Texas is at risk for water shortfalls by the mid-21st century, including cities like Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso;
  • climate change will continue to put pressure on water supplies in already water-stressed areas; and
  • businesses and the people they employ won’t want to move to a state that can’t manage its basic resources.

The way to reach the low-carbon goals proposed in the Clean Power Plan is through greater energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as switching from coal-fired power plants to cleaner, more efficient natural gas plants. Natural gas produces less carbon pollution when burned, although methane leakage must be addressed in order to ensure it is providing a climate benefit. Natural gas also uses less water than coal – in fact, coal consumes, on average, around three times more water than efficient natural gas plants. According to an analysis by the University of Texas, replacing Texas coal-fired power plants with cleaner natural gas plants could reduce annual freshwater consumption by 53 billion gallons per year, or 60 percent of Texas coal power’s entire water footprint.[Tweet “The Clean Power Plan is handing us the opportunity to realize significant water savings for parched states “]

But the real bang for the buck comes from deploying more energy efficiency and renewable energy. Wind and solar photovoltaic (PV) energy consume little to no water and generate negligible carbon emissions. Texas is already an international leader for wind power and has the greatest solar potential in the country – much of which is still untapped. To put it bluntly, when it comes to solar, Texas is falling behind other states like New Jersey and Delaware, places not usually thought of as big and sunny like the Lone Star State.

According to modeling by CNA Corporation’s Institute for Public Research, with a 40 percent carbon cap (the proposed Clean Power Plan puts Texas at 39 percent) and a speedy transition from coal to clean energy, we could see a 45 percent reduction in water consumption by 2040. You read that right, Texas could cut its water consumption almost in half.

By reaching the goals set forth in the proposed Clean Power Plan, Texas, and other parched states like California, could see significant water savings. Cleaning the air and preserving our scarce water resources at the same time? Sounds like pretty smart policy to me.

Photo source: Jason Tessman Flickr

This post originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters blog.

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