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California Drought Leads to Less Hydropower, Increased Natural Gas Generation

U.S. EIA: Today in Energy's picture
US Energy Information Administration

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  • Oct 12, 2014

graph of California drought status, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture Drought Monitor; National Drought Mitigation Center

The drought in California continues to increase in severity since California’s governor declared a state of drought emergency in January 2014. As of September 30, 58% of the state was classified as experiencing exceptional drought, the most intense drought category. These dry conditions limit hydropower generation, requiring generation from other sources to make up for the shortfall.

California’s drought, which began in 2011, has resulted in a significant decline in hydropower generation. On average, hydropower accounted for 20% of California’s in-state generation during the first six months of each year from 2004 to 2013. During the first half of 2014, however, hydropower accounted for only 10% of California’s total generation. Monthly hydropower generation in 2014 has fallen well below the 10-year range for each individual month.

graph of California hydropower net generation, as explained in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly

In California, natural gas-fired capacity is often used to help offset lower levels of generation from hydropower facilities. The chart below shows how this inverse relationship can work: when monthly hydropower generation dips under 10-year average levels, monthly natural gas generation often rises above its 10-year average in response. From January through June of 2014, natural gas generation in California was 3% higher compared to the same period in 2013 and 16% higher compared to the January-June average from the previous 10 years.

Wind and solar generation are also playing an increasingly significant role in California’s generation mix. For the first time, wind generation surpassed hydro generation in California, doing so in both February and March of 2014. In the California Independent System Operator’s (CAISO) Summer Loads & Resource Assessment, CAISO noted that the generation supply was expected to be adequate in order to meet peak electrical demand requirements in spite of drought-related concerns, in part because of recent renewable and natural gas capacity additions.

Natural Gas and Hydro

Graph of monthly natural gas and hydropower generation in California, as described in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly

Electricity Generation

Graph of monthly electricity generation by source in California, as described in the article text

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly

Principal contributor: Michelle Bowman

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 12, 2014

Did the drought lead to increased natural gas generation, or was it the closure of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in June of 2013?

Renewables activists will blame it on the weather. But San Onofre, which reliably generated 1.5 million megawatthours/month, would completely make up for the difference in hydropower generation in the graph above.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Oct 12, 2014

I find myself suffering very little, and sheding very few tears for California. If asked I would tell them the same thing I told my kids when they were little kids: “You reap excactly what you sow.”

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 12, 2014

Paul, whatever are you talking about? The drought is divine retribution for Californians being too liberal?

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Oct 13, 2014

No, I can’t speak for the almighty, but what I am saying is that they dug their own grave with the effects of lower electricity from reservoirs by shutting down SONGS. California would have suffered less from the effects of the drought had they not shut down SONGS.

Californians should understand the they will not be immune from reaping the effects of the actions they have sown, Just Like My KIds.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 14, 2014

Paul, just to be clear: the State of California did not shut down SONGS. Southern California Edison closed it because it made good business sense – an expensive series of protracted fights with antinuclear activists vs. closing it, building gas plants to take its place, and billing ratepayers, as they are entitled to do under California law.

Who were the activists? Some were homegrown, including CA Sen. Barbara Boxer, but ironically very few from the neighborhood of SONGS itself. As I pointed out in another post, the closure resulted in property values 10% lower in nearby San Clemente. More disturbing was interference from DC-based groups like Friends of the Earth and NRDC, which took it upon themselves to submit an unsolicited Amicus Curiae brief in a lawsuit to fight reopening the plant.

Renewable energy was supposed to take up the slack, but now that the verdict is in – 8 millions tons of increased annual carbon emissions – none of the activists or their orgs accept responsibility for the environmental disaster they wrought, instead blaming SCE for following through on what their plan was all along.

The Breakthrough Institute has been on top of this, and I’m hoping one day they start filing lawsuits against FOE, NRDC, and other groups for their ill-fated and ill-considered interventions.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Oct 14, 2014

Thanksforclarifying that. My impression was that California forced them to shut down due to pressure from actvists, which I suppose indirectly happened.

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