California Drought Dries Up Hydro, But Power Stays On (National Geographic)

dry earth

Image credit: Flickr user Mr. Cody

California’s record drought has parched crops, but hasn’t yet dimmed lights or choked the flow of electricity, even though the Golden State, with more than 300 dams, has long been a hydroelectricity leader among U.S. states.

California’s hydro plants generated less power in 2013 than they had in 21 years, but the state’s water crisis hasn’t turned into an energy crisis, thanks to a mix of renewable energy, natural gas, and planning.

“From an electricity generation and reliability standpoint, the drought isn’t going to have a major impact,” said Edward Randolph, director of the energy division of the California Public Utilities Commission. “There [are] ample resources to meet demand.”

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was set to tour a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation pumping station in Byron on Tuesday, to highlight the federal response to the drought. But when it comes to energy, it’s been state policy that has helped bolster California’s resilience. California has invested both in new energy sources and in steps to make its system more reliable in response to the energy crisis of 2001 and major heat storms in 2006. Regulations now require utilities to procure, ahead of time, reserve electricity at least 15 percent in excess of their forecasted demand, Randolph said, to ensure they can meet demand even in worst-case scenarios. “California has wild swings in weather from year to year,” he said. “There’s plenty of resources out there to meet shortfalls caused by extreme weather.”

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