Lack of hydropower has put pressure on the power grid during the drought.

ST LOUIS – The central hydroelectric plant that feeds it shut down after water levels in the California Dam dropped to a historic low this summer. Hoover Dam in Nevada, one of the largest hydropower generators in the country, has a 25 percent lower output. If a severe drought persists, federal officials say a dam in Arizona could cut power generation in the coming years.

Severe droughts in the western regions this year have depleted water resources, reduced hydropower generation and put more emphasis on the region’s power grid. And as the weather becomes more common with climate change, grid operators are adjusting to the swings in hydropower generation.

“The challenge is to find the right resource, or a combination of resources, that can provide hydro-like energy and power generation,” said Lindsay Buckley, a spokeswoman for the California Energy Commission.

According to a recent federal forecast, US hydropower production is expected to decline by 14% compared to 2020. Expected drops are concentrated in western states that rely heavily on hydropower, with California production expected to decline by about half.

Reductions complicate grid operations because hydropower is a relatively flexible flexible renewable energy source that can be easily turned up or down, experts say, such as in the evening when the sun sets and solar energy is produced. Is reduced.

“Hydro is a big part of the plan to make the whole system work together,” said Severin Bornstein, a renewable energy expert at the University of California, Berkeley and a board member of the California Independent Systems Operator, which handles the state’s electric grid. Said.

Bornstein noted that hydropower is important because the state works to build its own electricity storage options, including installing batteries that can send energy when needed.

Ben Kojala of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which oversees power planning for the Columbia River Basin, also noted how grid operators have deployed hydropower in recent years to ensure It completes solar and wind energy.

Power grids connecting western areas also provide some relief. Although California can experience dry weather for many years, the Pacific Northwest usually receives plenty of rain in the winter to export and generate hydropower.

But this year, the Northwest was also affected by extreme heat and low rainfall, according to Crystal Raymond, a climate change researcher at the University of Washington. Although energy planners account for dry years, Raymond said long-term climate change could further reduce the amount of melting snow in the mountains that replenishes reservoirs in the spring.

In August, California officials shut down the Edward Hyatt hydropower plant for the first time in its 60-year history when the water level in Lake Orwell sank to a historic level. The plant can generate enough electricity for up to 750,000 homes, but generally operates at a lower level.

On Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah border, federal officials recently said there is a 34 percent chance that the Glen Valley Dam will not be able to generate electricity at some point in 2023, if a severe drought persists from next year’s 3 percent chance. Is

In California, hydropower production fell this summer with heat waves, forcing the state to buy additional electricity. To prevent a shutdown in late September, state officials said they were deploying temporary emergency generators.

“Drought has made it harder to meet demand,” said Jordan Karen, an energy and water systems expert at North Carolina State University.

In some northwestern states, hydropower generation has returned to normal levels, well below its 10-year low earlier this year. California’s hydropower levels remained below the state’s 10-year limit until June. The federal forecast says drought is expected in most parts of the west by the end of the year.

The decline in hydropower generation means disruption to production for other sources of energy. According to the federal forecast, natural gas power is expected to increase by 7% in California and 6% in the Northwest this year. Coal production in the Northwest is expected to increase by 12%.

The California Air Resources Board says the state has managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector despite changes in hydropower production in recent years.


The Associated Press is supported by the Walton Family Foundation for water and environmental policy coverage. The AP is fully responsible for all content. See for all environmental coverage of the AP.


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