Slower implementation of EPA power plan would bring big water savings -- study

Allowing Texas to implement U.S. EPA's plan to lower carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants more slowly would bring a steep cut in the amount of water consumed in the state, according to a new study from nonprofit research group CNA Corp.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, and others have been raising concerns about the steep cut in emissions that the plan currently calls for in the initial years, arguing it could create reliability problems. EPA's proposal assigns Texas a deep interim emissions-reduction target beginning in 2020 that assumes the state can shift a significant share of its generation from coal to combined cycle natural gas by that year (EnergyWire, Nov. 19, 2014).

EPA officials have signaled that they are weighing changes to the interim target in the final rule that will be released this summer.

Paul Faeth, director of the energy, water and climate division at CNA, had previously studied what EPA's Clean Power Plan would mean for water consumption in drought-prone Texas. He decided to take a closer look at what slower implementation would mean for the water side of the equation.

In a new study being released tomorrow, Faeth reports that if EPA kept the interim target for reducing greenhouse gases but lets the state implement the plan more slowly, then Texas would see a steep drop in the amount of water consumed by the power sector.

That's because most of the power supplies with low or no greenhouse gas emissions -- natural gas, solar and wind power -- also consume less water.

Keep up to date on the latest national and state-level developments on EPA's greenhouse gas regulations for the power sector. Go to E&E's Power Plan Hub.

Under the current scenario, Texas would hit its interim greenhouse gas reduction goal by making a swift shift from coal to natural gas combined cycle. If that move happened more slowly, the state would need to ultimately take more coal-fired power offline in order to hit the interim goal. And that steeper turn away from coal would also mean steeper reductions in water consumption.

"Every pound that you delay at the beginning has to be made up at the end in order to hit the average," Faeth said. "You're delaying, so you get water savings later, but they're deeper."

Specifically, Faeth found that allowing a slower rate of implementation would mean a 35 percent cut in water consumption compared with 2012, as opposed to a 20 percent cut under EPA's current scenario.

The savings only hold true if the interim target is kept, though. With only a final target, the water savings would be significantly less than the current EPA scenario, the study found.

Faeth is in Austin, Texas, this week briefing state lawmakers and other officials, as well as the Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, which funded the study, on its findings.

While Texas lawmakers have been hostile toward the Obama administration's climate plan, Faeth said that its water implications are grabbing attention.

Texas has had four straight years of drought. Low water flows and high water temperatures have caused problems for water-dependent coal and nuclear plants. During the height of the drought in 2011, ERCOT wrote to warn of possible black-outs as water levels dipped below plants' intake pipes.

"There's definitely a lot more interest in hearing about the water side of things," Faeth said. "There's a lot of interest in things that can save them water because they recognize that there's a big problem there."

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