Drought Costs Californians An Extra $2 Billion In Electricity Expenses

A new report from the Pacific Institute has tallied how four years of drought has impacted electricity prices and pollution from the electricity sector. Reduced flows of surface water has meant less hydropower and more natural gas, which is not good for the wallet or the environment.

Water and energy are interconnected and California’s drought is providing another reminder of that fact. Last week the Pacific Institute released a report that calculated the impact of four years of drought on hydropower in California.

“When we don’t get surface water, we don’t get hydropower,” said Peter Gleick, author of the report and president of the Pacific Institute. “When we don’t get hydropower we have to burn more natural gas, when we burn more natural gas it costs more money and there are more pollutants emitted.”

The report found that California ratepayers had to cough up an additional $2 billion in electricity costs over the last four years of drought to pay for more expensive natural gas that had to be stepped up to fill in for decreased hydropower.

Due to decreased surface water flows from limited rain and snowpack, hydropower declined during the drought and most substantially in 2015. In a normal hydrologic year, says Gleick, California gets about 18 percent of its electricity from hydropower, second only to natural gas. By 2015 that number had fallen as low at 7 percent. And Californians paid the price for it.

“The way it appears is that it’s an incremental cost on all our electric bills, we paid more for electricity than we would otherwise because those costs are passed on directly to ratepayers over time,” said Gleick.

There is also an environmental price. Hydroelectricity is one of the cleanest sources of energy and adding more natural gas means greater —> Read More