Richard Golladay is a PEC member and a conservative Republican. He is also an environmentalist and an advocate for renewable energy. He owns a residential solar array and generates enough electricity to offset most of his electric bill. Golladay enjoys fishing in the Highland Lakes area. As an engineer, he has studied the science on the relationship between energy and water consumption (the water-energy nexus). He believes the evidence that Lake Buchanan and Lake Travis are at risk due to continued drought, with implications to the ERCOT-managed Texas power grid.
With LCRA’s Ferguson plant now in operation on Lake LBJ and requiring access to enormous amounts of water, Lake Buchanan becomes imperiled in a sustained drought. In making his analysis, Golladay makes the argument in favor of renewable energy investment at PEC. Renewable energy requires virtually no water in the production of electricity.
Lakes Buchanan and Travis Are At Risk, Thanks to Drought
___RICHARD GOLLADAY Special Contributor
The Pedernales Electric Co-op has in place a renewable energy goal, which in small part could help save lakes Buchanan and Travis.
How can this be?
In 2011, during the peak of our new “drought of record,” Kent Saathoff, ERCOT’s vice president grid planning and operations, warned that without rain in the coming months, “there could be several thousand megawatts of generators that won’t have sufficient cooling water to operate.” Rain eventually arrived to avert that disruption. But this year a 400-megawatt plant west of Fort Worth went offline because it lacked sufficient cooling water. These are harbingers of things to come.
The summer of 2011 shocked state regulators. ERCOT commissioned consultant Black & Veatch to assess the vulnerability of power plant reservoirs to sustain operation during drought years. From a series of studies and presentations made in 2012 and 2013, several conclusions were drawn.
First, “single-year droughts do not appear to impact generation capacity due to storage improvements.” But, “multiyear droughts are expected to affect capacity due to water supply availability and temperature effects for cooling.”
An eye-catching statement from that report states: “In the lower Colorado river basin, the system is operated slightly differently, in that two reservoirs, Buchanan and Travis, are the main reservoirs behind the operation and health of all the other reservoirs in this system. In essence, these two reservoirs keep all the other reservoirs at a stable level.” Reading between the lines this means that Buchanan and Travis will be the last resort for keeping critical LCRA and city of Austin power plants running during future multiyear droughts.
But the 2013 Black & Veatch study appears to be sanitized to ignore input from climatology. A simplistic “synthetic climate profile” was developed to predict rainfall out to 2035, whose basis was historical data from 1900 to 2011. This “synthetic climate profile” predicted 2015 to be one of the wettest years in the period.
Unfortunately, hardball climate science has something different to say. Some sobering new drought predictions have been released with respect to long-term, climate-change warming.
For example: The prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science, in its new journal Science Advances, includes a paper titled “Unprecedented 21st Century Drought Risk in the American Southwest and Central Plains.” Based on climate modeling, the dire prediction is that drought risk going forward will exceed the worst droughts of the last 1,000 years.
And from at least two climatologists in Texas, we’re told that climate change will cause reductions in rainfall between 15 and 20 percent in coming decades, with increased temperatures and higher evaporation rates.
Bruce Melton, an Austin researcher, makes the following points: “Drought is not caused by lack of rainfall alone. When temperatures warm, evaporation increases … A little warming creates a lot more evaporation. And critically, warming often results in longer dry periods with rain coming in shorter but more intense cloudbursts. With longer dry periods, deep soil moisture decreases. Less soil moisture means that when it does rain, more soaks in and less runs off into our streams and lakes. This leads to … a lake-level drought.”
These predictions present a huge implication for the future of the ERCOT-managed Texas power grid.
During the next drought, Lake Buchanan will be a sacrificial lake. The $500 million LCRA Ferguson power plant on Lake LBJ must continue to operate. The Llano and Colorado rivers will not sustain Ferguson’s operation without drawing down Buchanan.
Golladay lives near Kingsland and is a member of Friends of PEC.
JAYJANNER / AMERICANSTATESMAN