Lakes Buchanan and Travis at risk
The Pedernales Electric Co-op has in place a renewable energy goal, which in small part could help save lakes Buchanan and Travis. How can this be?
In 2011, during the peak of our new “drought of record,” Kent Saathoff, ERCOT’s vice president grid planning and operations, warned that without rain in the coming months, “there could be several thousand megawatts of generators that won’t have sufficient cooling water to operate.” Rain eventually arrived to avert that disruption. But this year a 400-megawatt plant west of Fort Worth went offline because it lacked sufficient cooling water. These are harbingers of things to come.
The summer of 2011 shocked state regulators. ERCOT commissioned consultant Black & Veatch to assess the vulnerability of power plant reservoirs to sustain operation during drought years. From a series of studies and presentations made in 2012 and 2013, several conclusions were drawn.
First, “single-year droughts do not appear to impact generation capacity due to storage improvements.” But: “Multiyear droughts are expected to affect capacity due to water supply availability and temperature effects for cooling.”
An eye-catching statement from that report states: “In the lower Colorado river basin the system is operated slightly differently, in that two reservoirs, Buchanan and Travis, are the main reservoirs behind the operation and health of all the other reservoirs in this system. In essence, these two reservoirs keep all the other reservoirs at a stable level.” Reading between the lines this means that Buchanan and Travis will be the last resort for keeping critical LCRA and city of Austin power plants running during future multiyear droughts.
But the 2013 Black & Veatch study appears to be sanitized to ignore input from climatology. A simplistic “synthetic climate profile” was developed to predict rainfall out to 2035, whose basis was merely historical data from 1900 to 2011. This “synthetic climate profile” even predicted 2015 to be one of the wettest years in the period.
Unfortunately, hardball climate science has something different to say. Some sobering new drought predictions have been released with respect to long-term, climate-change warming — which is an emerging influence apparently not considered by ERCOT.
For example: The prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science, in its new journal “Science Advances,” includes a paper titled: “Unprecedented 21st Century Drought Risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains.” Based on climate modeling, the dire prediction is that drought risk going forward will exceed the worst droughts of the last 1,000 years.