Policy Makers Dive into Water-Energy Nexus

By Published On: August 21, 2014

With the drought providing impetus, the California Public Utilities Commission last week publicly focused on the complexity entailed in connecting its energy regulation with water management. A decision on low-income efficiency funding that urges investor-owned utilities to tie their efficiency plans to water conservation efforts was approved Aug. 14 (Current, Aug. 15, 2014). In addition, the commission addressed this water-energy “nexus” with a briefing from dozens of representatives from state and local governments, utilities, farmers, and residential organizations. Commission president Mike Peevey, along with commissioners Catherine Sandoval and Mike Florio, were poised to absorb information on activities from the witnesses Aug. 13. It was an effort to help shape what may become commission policy on managing energy to manage water. “What activities can we take, and what should we take at the CPUC?” Sandoval queried the assembly. The current rulemaking set to cover this emerging policy began in late 2013. It’s set to conclude with a commission vote in May 2015. It may address future water management and drought, but regulators don’t expect results this year. One thing being developed at the commission that may be available earlier is a “cost-effectiveness calculator.” The methodology would “evaluate contemplated programs” for efficiency and predict if they are worth the investment ahead of time, according to Patrick Hoglund, commission utilities engineer. “We hope to facilitate rapid deployment.” Finding leaks in the state’s massive water conveyance systems, as well as in residences and businesses, is on the front lines. “Water leaks are low-hanging fruit,” said Jared Blumenfeld U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 administrator. He recounted that leaks on the state system account for: • 283 billion gallons of water/year; • 2.5 billion kWh in wasted energy; and • $2.5 million “going down the drain.” Southern California Edison has tested about 60 percent of its 500 miles of water pipes, according to Veronica Gutierrez, vice president of local public affairs. That, she said, accounts for 40 million gallons, although the utility didn’t have information on associated energy savings by plugging those leaks. Because agriculture consumes 80 percent of the state’s water, according to Sandoval, commission staff recommended a good place to begin addressing that segment is sponsoring a “hackathon” to develop apps for agricultural conservation tips. The commission appears eager to help manage water efficiency through energy regulation, but Blumenfeld chastised regulators for being slow on the uptake. He said that while the commission did a “great” job at educating the public during the 2000-01 energy crisis, “It is absolutely not happened with water statewide.” “You need a common, clear, message,” he added.

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