Federal Bill Aims to Tie Water & E=MC2

By Published On: March 13, 2009

National legislation to ensure water efficiency becomes an integral part of energy policy was introduced by U.S. Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). S 531, introduced March 6, seeks to ensure that energy development and climate change strategies don’t escalate the power industry’s water consumption. “Developing new policies that integrate energy and water solutions will become increasingly vital as populations grow, environmental needs increase, and a changing climate continues to affect our nation’s energy and water resources,” stated Bingaman. After the bill’s introduction, Bingaman, chair of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, held a hearing with water and energy experts, including two from California. They testified about preferred strategies for linking policy and management for the two resources. “The energy-water relationship introduces vulnerabilities whereby constraints of one resource introduces constraints in the other,” Michael Webber, University of Texas at Austin professor, said March 10. After irrigation, the power industry is the largest user of the nation’s water resources. Traditional power plants withdraw about 40 percent of the country’s water and consume about three percent, according to the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory. Coal sequestration, the development of tar sands, and expansion of alternative transportation fuels that rely on irrigated agriculture further threaten finite water supplies, according to the speakers. Expanding corn-based ethanol under the federal mandate would more than double that industry’s water consumption, Webber warned In addition, water resources are impacted by the type of electricity used to fuel hybrid cars. For example, using power from wet-cooled power plants cooled with large amounts of fresh water takes a much larger toll on the liquid resource than does juice derived from photovoltaic generated power. The biggest user of energy in California is the water sector. Large chunks of power are needed to move water around the state, treat it, and warm and cool it. Federal tax incentives, like those given to promote renewable energy development, are being sought by industry groups. Almost half of water supplies in the nation are consumed by power plants and other industries. “That percentage can and should decrease, especially through the establishment of incentives that reduce the capital costs of installing water management equipment,” said Stephen Boize, GE Energy president and CEO of power and water. Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, and member of the National Academy of Sciences, urged adoption of additional appliance efficiency standards, appliance labeling that informs the consumer of both the energy and water use of a product, such as a washing machine, and strategies for saving hot water, which takes large amounts of power to warm, The Bingaman-Murkowski legislation, which was welcomed by the speakers, would do the following: -Direct the Department of Energy to identify methods for bolstering power generation’s water and energy efficiency; -Require a study to assess water use in electricity production and alternative transportation fuels; -Seek legislation to promote the powering of energy-intensive desalination facilities with renewable energy; and -Direct the Bureau of Reclamation to study the energy impacts of its water storage and delivery operations, as well as conservation opportunities.

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