Across the country electric plants are cutting production due to water shortages. Nuclear power plants in the east and Midwest reported temporary shut downs when the water needed to cool the plants was too warm or gone. Hydro dams have reduced production due to lower water flows.
In the Seattle Times September 23, "Drought puts the Squeeze on the Electric Grid" it was reported that the Bureau of Reclamation is in the process of installing new turbines at Hoover Dam that are more efficient. Even with the changes "the bureau's most recent projections suggest that in the next 50 years, the lower Colorado River's flow will decline between 9 and 10 percent because of climate change, with demand exceeding supply by more than a third."
Locally Washington State Climate Impacts Group, a nationally recognized award winning research team predicts that even with the potential of future wetter winters, the warmer temperatures projected for the Pacific North West by global climate models for the mid-21st century would:
- Cause more winter precipitation to fall as rain instead of snow, increasing winter stream flow;
- Elevate the typical winter snowline in the Pacific North West;
- Decrease the snow covered area in the mountains and total winter snowpack
- Result in snow-melt earlier in the season, moving spring peak flows earlier in the year and increasing the time between snowmelt and fall rains.
- In the transient snow zone, where mid-winter temperatures are currently close to freezing, stream flow timing would shift even more for the same warming;
- Decrease summer stream flow, increasing the frequency of significant low flow events (even with projected increases in winter precipitation); and
- Result in significant water resources impacts within the next few decades in watersheds at moderate elevations in the Cascade Mountains and in the southern interior of the Columbia River basin (e.g., the Snake River basin)
All this means less water for hydropower in the summer and an increase in the cost for electricity.
Meanwhile, the cost for Solar power has already come down significantly. As the price for electricity continues to rise, the option of generating power from solar panels for domestic and commercial use and selling the excess energy back to utilities will continue to grow in popularity.
Rising energy costs should also serve as a motivation for more communities to follow Seattle's example of Benchmarking programs. Benchmarking is a term used for recording how much energy is used in a building so that property owners can track and prioritize energy and money-saving upgrades.
In a September 18 press release from the Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment,new legislation was announced that according to Jill Simmons, Director of the Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment "will make the benchmarking program more effective, and allow for additional outreach to building owners."
"To date, about 45% of large non-residential buildings have reported, representing nearly 82 million square feet of building stock."
As part of their program the City of Seattle offers free services to help building owners learn about the requirements and help them comply, including a drop-in help center, benchmarking workshops, and a how-to guide. Businesses outside of Seattle can also access the how-to guide on the Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment website.