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Report: California's Five-Year Drought Increased Electricity Costs By $2.45B

April 26, 2017 1:35 p.m.

Report: California's Five-Year Drought Increased Electricity Costs By $2.45B


Peter Gleick, author, "Impacts of California's Five-Year (2012-2016) Drought on Hydroelectricity Generation"

Related Story: Report: California's Five-Year Drought Increased Electricity Costs By $2.45B


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Jerry Brown officially declare that drought over. Some of the cost of the five-year water shortage are still being calculated. The nonprofit Pacific Institute which studies global water issues released a report on one of the impacts of the drought. It turns out that the loss of hydropower costs the state almost $2.5 billion over the last five years and made our electricity production significantly worse for the environment. Joining me is Peter Glick cofounder of the report. Welcome to the program.
Thank you for having me on.
Four years California has taken for granted that the force of rivers around the state could be used to generate electricity. What happened to that assumption during the drought?
California has been very fortunate over the years to have a pretty substantial amount of electricity normally made by hydropower. Of course, the last five years have been remarkably dry. We had a terrible drought. One of the consequences of that was a decrease in water in the rivers and reservoirs and in Hydro generation. When we lose hydropower, we have to make that up somehow. Unfortunately, we make it up by burning more natural gas which is both more and -- expensive and of course dirtier for the environment. That has been one of the consequences of the last five years of drought.
How important is hydropower to the electricity production tax
It is very important. We've been very fortunate in being able to build dams that can produce hydropower. In an average year we get 15% of our electricity from hydroelectric generation. That drops when we do not have the water. It has dropped tremendously during the five years of the drought. During the worst years, it was under 10%, close to 7% of the total electricity. When we don't have the water in the hydropower, we have to do something else. That means we burn more natural gas animate more pollution. That is a cost to consumers and the environment.
Is is the first time that we have seen this type of decrease in hydropower, or is this the sort of thing that happens when there are dropped in California?
California experiences flat years in dry years. In a dry year when we get less water, we get less hydropower. That is normal for the energy scene. Last five years have been extraordinarily dry. Not only have they been dry but that drought has been worsened by rising temperatures from climate change. We have seen not just a decrease in rainfall but an increase in temperature. That is made -- has made the drought worse and led to more than that normal drop in hydropower. Weirs sort of suffering from both ends of this extreme.
The report finds that the reliance on natural gas, because we did not get enough hydropower, increase the amount of money that we spent on electricity by almost $2.5 billion. It made a difference in the environment because burning natural gas to generate electricity is dirtier than hydropower. What about the study that steady increase that we have had in solar and wind electricity generation likes why were those not able to raise -- replace the hydroelectric generation.
One good piece of good news has been eight big increase in solar and wind. We will take all of that that we can get from some of these new facilities being put in. When we lose hydropower, the marginal choice is natural gas. We thnik all of the wind and solar we can get. We are always consuming all of that that is produced. When there is a shortfall, it is natural gas that makes up the difference. Interesting enough, we also saw the shutdown of the nuclear plant. The wind and solar that has increased over the last few years has offset the nuclear power. The drought has led to this big increase. That is -- has really been the consequent of the drought.
You write that Hydro generation has remained constant wall demand has increased. Can you explain to us why that is?
Another feature of California's energy situation is that we are not expending Hydro capacity and generation in California. We have builds on all the good dam sites. We will not build many more big dams and they will not have much Hydro power capacity I don't foresee that being expanded. We may replace some of the old turbines with more efficient turbines but that will not expand during the coming years. Are Hydro capacity is limited by what we have put in place at the dams and by the climate and how much water we get in our rivers and streams.
That is a point. Even though this drought is over, client scientist tell us that California will get hotter and drier with more frequent droughts. What you think is the take away from this report?
One thing to understand is that there have been a lot of impacts of the drought. It is been damaging for our agricultural system, very damaging for forest in the Sierras, damaging for fisheries which are already under terrible threat. It is had these economic impacts that we did not think about, the loss of hydropower an increase in omissions in combustion. This is a consequence. As the climate changes, we know it is already changing, we're going to have to think about, in the long run, what climate change will mean for our energy system, water system, force, agriculture. I don't think we're thinking about these as carefully as we should be.
I have been speaking with Peter Glick, Inc. you. -- Thank you.