Water, Energy and Climate Change: Stretching Every Dollar – An Interview with Fran Spivy-Weber
Earlier this summer, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a comprehensive study of the U.S. water/energy/climate nexus, and two Carpe Diem West leaders were struck by the power of its findings.
Under some of the scenarios laid out in the report, water withdrawals for power generation would drop by 97 percent from current levels by 2050, with most of that drop within the next 20 years as outdated, water-intensive technology is replaced with renewables. That would cut carbon emissions 90 percent from current levels, mostly in the near term. An expansion of renewable energy generation would also be a much cheaper path for consumers.
Connecting the dots between energy, water use and planning, and climate change, has long been of interest to our network. Fran Spivy-Weber with the California Water Resources Control Board shares her take on the importance of the study, and its relevance to the water sector.
What most struck you about this very dense, very comprehensive study?
What most struck me was the integration that’s acknowledged between energy and water and climate. This is the first national look at this integration that I’ve seen. The take-home for the energy audience is that there is very low-hanging fruit for those who are interested in reducing GHG emissions. On the energy side, they’ve worked to do lighting, home retrofits, efficiency, electric cars. And all that needs to happen. But if you want to take it up a notch at the home and business level, water is the best entry to getting GHG savings faster, better and easier. The nice thing is there is often a cost-sharing component between energy and water utilities, so that everyone can stretch their dollars.
Why is this work “connecting the dots” so important to the water community?
For the water community, there are big opportunities in shared projects, and particularly in the financing side of shared projects. In California it’s particularly interesting because of the possibility of shared projects using cap and trade funding, or energy efficiency funding. Those are new funding sources for water agencies. The trick will be to understand what metrics the energy companies use to verify GHG savings. It’s not enough just to say, I saved it. So water agencies will need to be able to show exactly how saving water saved energy, and thus reduced emissions. In different states those criteria will be different.
This report also does obliquely bring up the issue of prioritizing and stretching water supplies, and that always brings up the issue of rate structures. If an agency becomes 100% conserving, and puts into practice the many recommendations in this report, it may need to have its rates restructured. For energy companies, this need is largely taken care of in California. But in the water world, we have a much more decentralized agency structure, and they vary tremendously in their approach to rates and rate structures. So it’s not an easy fix on that front. But in any case, the report’s suggestion for a “water-smart energy policy” is a good one.
What are the study’s most interesting recommendations?
To me, the most interesting recommendations are that nationwide, there is a much stronger need than people have recognized for the energy side of each state and the federal government to include water, and vice versa. That is really the point. If you’re going to achieve your climate and energy reduction goals, it just makes sense to include water. They’ve already included transportation in addressing those climate and energy goals, and water really is next. Pursuing an energy policy that considers water use, both in terms of GHG reductions and the potential risks to water supply (either from drought or competition with other big users), is just good risk analysis.
And there is another noteworthy point here: this is the first report that has addressed the water impacts of energy, and the energy impacts of water. It addresses both sides, and that makes it very comprehensive. I’m thrilled whenever I see water being treated as seriously as it is in this report. The most useful part of this analysis is that it dealt so well and so thoroughly with water use in energy production. And quite frankly we haven’t looked at it very carefully in California, but we will now.
What are the policy implications of this more serious “treatment” of water issues in the energy context?
In terms of policy, the challenge on the policy side is that the management of water and energy resources are frequently in completely different silos whether we’re talking about the federal, state or local levels. So the challenge in following up on this report is how do you each take the other seriously, and incorporate and take account of the other sector’s practices? It’s not impossible. But it does call for people at the highest levels of government in both the energy and water worlds to take it on. It cannot be done at the worker bee level.
Fran Spivy-Weber is Vice Chair of California’s State Water Resources Control Board.