California energy agencies: Water cutbacks threaten the grid

California supply and demand, 7/5/14. Orange is available resources, dark blue is current demand. Right now things are fine. In the peak of summer demand can be 75 GW, and that when it could get dicey this year. Credit:
California supply and demand, 7/5/14.  Right now things are fine. In the peak of summer, demand can be 75000 MW, and that’s when it could get dicey this year. Credit:

The California drought threatens energy supplies with a triple whammy; less natural-gas generation, less hydropower, increased chances of wildfires on transmission lines. In an unprecedented move, the big three energy regulators in California have told the Water Resources Control Board that their planned water rationing threatens electricity generation.

Water cutbacks to gas-fired steam plants puts 1.1 GW of generation at risk during the summer when it is needed the most, said the California Energy Commission, the Public Utilities Commission and California ISO. Also, hydropower generation could drop by as much as 1.6 GW during the hot season. Further, the continuing extreme drought heightens the possibility of wildfires in remote areas where major transmission lines are.

The shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station complicates things further as its steady baseline of 2 GW of power is no longer available. California does have substantial amount of solar and wind energy now. However, it can’t possibly fill the gap especially since, by definition, renewable energy is generated intermittently.


The agencies recommended “a mechanism allowing for swift response in the event of an actual or threatened emergency to California’s electricity grid or supplies,”


This summer California is caught on the horns of a dilemma of drought and energy. If it curtails water deliveries to agricultural users with junior water rights, as planned, this will conserve water needed for carryover into 2015. But doing so may also result in threatening the reliability of the electric grid for the summer of 2014.

California decision-makers may be facing the quandary of holding water for fish this year, for farmers next year — or releasing it this summer for steam power plants to keep alive grandmothers on respirators and dialysis machines.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.