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Water Use for Energy

Clean Energy Policies Save Water

Western Resource Advocates report "A Powerful Thirst" analyzed the water saved by clean energy policies in the Interior West from 2006 - 2010.Clean energy policies over the five year period now save an estimated 6.3 billion gallons per year, or enough to meet the annual needs of approximately 78,000 households. And, even better, clean energy decisions or investments in 2011 and 2012 will almost certainly increase that number. In fact, water use by the electricity sector in the Interior West is now on the decline.

The Water Energy/Nexus

Ever wondered about the connection between energy and water? Or thought about how drought might impact electricity? Stacy Tellinghuisen, Senior Energy/Water Policy Analyst at Western Resource Advocates, explains how these two seemingly different issues are more connected than you might think. Using the 2011 drought in Texas as an example, Tellinghusien explains how the connection between energy and water becomes even more apparent during times of drought. Recent droughts have had unexpected - and unprecedented - impacts on the energy sector, impacting both electricity demands and power plants' ability to meet them.

The Water/Energy Nexus from Western Resource Advocates on Vimeo.

Thermoelectric power plants consume substantial amounts of water each year, impacting the West's valuable rivers, lakes, and groundwater aquifers. New, proposed coal plants threaten to consume even more water. Fortunately, energy efficiency and many forms of renewable energy use negligible amounts of freshwater. Adopting these resources can help meet the West's future energy and water demands.

The water intensity of electricity generation varies considerably, depending on the fuel source and the technology used. Many renewable sources of energy like wind, solar PV, geothermal, and certain types of concentrating solar power consume negligible amounts of water.

Water Intensity of Electricity Generation

Fossil fueled power plants use a tremendous volume of water in the Intermountain West. In the Colorado River basin alone, power plants consume over 167,000 AF of water each year. Scores of other plants rely on groundwater or surface supplies in other watersheds.

Colorado River: Water Use for Power Generation

Energy-Water Intensity Map

Map #

State

Plant

Primary Fuel

Cooling Water Source

Avg. Annual Consumption
(AF/yr)

1

AZ

Desert Basin

gas

Central Arizona Project Canal Water

1,614

2

AZ

Navajo

coal

Lake Powell

26,274

3

AZ

South Point Energy

gas

Colorado River

1,954

4

CO

Craig

coal

Yampa River

14,331

5

CO

Hayden

coal

Yampa River

2,823

6

CO

Nucla

coal

San Miguel River

1,592

7

NM

Four Corners

coal

San Juan River

24,826

8

NM

San Juan

coal

San Juan River

19,977

9

UT

Bonanza

coal

Green River

7,672

10

UT

Carbon

coal

Price River

3,112

11

UT

Hunter

coal

Cottonwood Creek

18,746

12

UT

Huntington

coal

Huntington Creek

12,377

13

WY

Jim Bridger

coal

Green River

25,333

14

WY

Naughton

coal

Hams Fork River

6,080

Total

166,712

Finding Alternatives that Protect the West's Water Resources

As water in the West becomes scarcer, its value will undoubtedly rise. Today, most electric utilities do not adequately value water when they create their future resource plans. And although most regulators in western states have the authority to value water in evaluating utilities' resource plans, most do not. WRA has new research on the prices cities, farmers, electric utilities, and environmental interests are willing to pay for water in the West. Evaluating the value of water - both today and in the future - is an important step toward better integration of water issues in electric resource planning. In an upcoming report, WRA highlights the opportunities for utilities and regulators throughout the region to better integrate water into resource planning processes.

WRA has taken a close look at two regions: the state of Nevada and the Arkansas River Basin in Southeastern Colorado. In both regions, water is fully- or over-allocated, but population, water, and energy demands continue to grow. Our analyses illustrate the growing challenge of meeting the regions' energy and water demands. In both regions, municipal water conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable sources of energy will all be essential measures. In addition, irrigated corn-based ethanol presents an additional, emerging threat to the region's water resources, particularly in the Arkansas River Basin.

WRA Analysis of water-energy issues by region: