By Chris Clarke
18 March 2015
(KCET) – In a typical year, California gets almost a fifth of its energy from dams on its rivers and streams. But the last several years have been anything but typical: the ongoing drought has shrunk the state's reservoirs and cut the amount of hydro power the state can generate by about a third.
And since our consumption of energy hasn't dropped to make up the shortfall, says a report released this week by the Pacific Institute, California has stepped up its consumption of power from plants that burn expensive, carbon-polluting natural gas to fill the gap left by the drought.
As a result, says the report, ratepayers are shelling out almost half a billion additional dollars per year, and emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants from California power plants have risen significantly.
The report, entitled "Impacts of California's Ongoing Drought: Hydroelectricity Generation," also cites increased imports of out of state electricity (likely increasing the state's coal footprint) and more wind and solar as other ways in which the state's power managers have been dealing with the hydropower shortfall.
"This severe drought has many negative consequences. One of them that receives little attention is how the drought has fundamentally changed the way our electricity is produced," said the report's author, Pacific Institute President Peter Gleick.
Before you look at that razor-thin one percent of California's power mix filled by burning coal and start thinking our state was nearly coal-free in 2013, remember that in-state generation isn't the whole story. According to the California Energy Commission, we imported enough coal-fired power from out of state in 2013 to make up almost 8 percent of the state's total use for that year. The Pacific Institute chose to omit imported energy from its calculations because a lot of the electrical power the state imports -- around 12.5 percent in 2013 -- isn't assignable to a specific energy source. [more]