Skip to comments.Electricity demand guzzling state's water
Posted on 11/18/2007 4:46:29 AM PST by Oshkalaboomboom
As the historic drought worsens and the tri-state water battle escalates, Georgia policymakers are all but ignoring the region's biggest water guzzler.
Electric utilities are the single largest users of the region's freshwater. A family of four can use three times more water to power their home than they use to drink, bathe and water their lawn.
In Georgia, electric utilities use 68 percent of all surface water, the single largest user in the state, according to 2000 data from the U.S. Geological Survey, the latest year available.
"We've been working really hard over the years to tell people when they flip that light switch, the water is running," said Sara Barczak, with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, an advocacy group.
Yet the link between power generation and water use has been virtually ignored in the debate over how to fairly allocate the region's water resources and plan for growth.
Neither of the region's principal blueprints for water use the state water plan and the North Georgia metro water plan include strategies for managing water demand by the power industry.
Where does water come up? In the state's official energy plan. It quotes research that makes the connection: The public "may indirectly consume as much water turning on the lights and running appliances as they directly use taking showers and watering lawns."
Carol Couch, director of the state Environmental Protection Division, declined an interview request to explain why the state water strategy doesn't include conservation by the biggest water user. Kevin Chambers, an EPD spokesman, said utility water use would be discussed in the next round of planning, examining the specific water requirements in the state's 14 water basins.
Water flowing through Georgia and its neighboring states is controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. To the corps, power generation is a top priority.
In Georgia, Alabama and Florida, most electricity is produced by Atlanta-based Southern Co., the nation's second-largest utility holding company with $14.3 billion in annual revenue.
Southern owns plants in all three states, which are locked in a legal battle over rights to much of the water the company uses. Southern has filed hundreds of pages of legal motions in the dispute, now in its 17th year.
Southern executives always come first in the pecking order when the corps holds its weekly conference calls to get updates on effects of the drought.
Last Thursday's call was typical.
The corps asked first for an update from Southern Co. subsidiary Georgia Power before hearing from Georgia, Alabama and Florida officials, congressional staff or municipal drinking water chiefs.
The company had a quick report: "Our steam plants on the Chattahoochee are doing fine right now, thank you."
Water released as steam
With the drought bearing down, Southern has teams looking at ways to cut water use at every power plant in the region, said Jerry Stewart, an executive vice president who oversees non-nuclear generation. "They are trying to conserve all that they can," Stewart said.
Utility water use has escaped scrutiny, in part, because false assumptions have guided public policy in water planning. Utilities have argued for years that their use doesn't matter because they return virtually all the water they use.
But use does matter when drought shrinks the water supply, and consumption from other sources puts pressure on reservoirs and rivers.
A Southern Co. coal-fired plant in Florida or its Farley nuclear plant in Alabama may put at least half of the water used back into the Chattahoochee River. But that water isn't going back to Lake Lanier.
Power plants also require minimum river flows to keep operating. Low flows on the Coosa River forced Georgia Power to cut back energy output at one plant this summer.
On Friday, the Department of Energy convened a meeting in Atlanta with the Southeast's major electric utilities, including Southern and North Carolina's Duke Energy, to begin figuring out how they'll provide power if water levels drop too low.
Meanwhile, newer cooling technologies at power plants have increased the amount of the region's water that is actually lost through evaporation. The large clouds hanging over Alabama's Plant Farley aren't smoke, they're steam.
Stewart said calculating water use per unit of energy is tricky, and said Southern does not make those calculations.
Government agencies, however, have calculated that thermoelectric plants with once-through cooling use an average of 25 gallons of water to produce one kilowatt hour of power.
The average Georgia household burns 1,100 kilowatt hours of electricity a month. That translates to about 27,000 gallons of water.
By comparison, a family of four goes through about 9,000 gallons a month for household uses such as washing clothes, flushing toilets and showering.
Pressure on water supply
Cheap and abundant power is key to the Southeast's economic growth. But bigger demand for cheap energy is clashing with the availability of water, the state energy strategy warns.
"The pressures of a growing population and industries will tighten water supplies in more regions of Georgia, making even less water available for energy production," the report says.
Meanwhile, policymakers such as Gov. Sonny Perdue focus public outrage about the drought on environmental laws protecting mollusks in Florida, rather than the region's growing demand for power and its impact on water. The task of raising that issue has fallen to other players in the water war.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley tried to make the point last month by holding a news conference about water rights outside Southern's Plant Farley. Perdue scoffed and talked mussels while Southern Co. stayed away from Riley's news conference, keeping its head down.
When Barczak came to Georgia eight years ago, she said, state officials repeatedly told her to ignore water use by the power industry, saying it returned what it used.
"Then when I really looked into the numbers, it was, like, 'No, that really isn't the case,' " said Barczak.
In water terminology, use refers to water withdrawn from a water source; consumption refers to water that is lost, usually to evaporation.
In 2000, electric plants in Georgia almost all owned by Southern Co. withdrew an average of 3.3 billion gallons per day, more than half of all the surface and ground water used in the state, according to the geological survey.
People and utilities demand more water and power in the summer, especially during a drought.
In August, power plants in the Appalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin withdrew an average of 875 million gallons a day, according to Georgia Power.
Metro Atlanta, using the same river basin, withdrew 510 million gallons a day.
Water goes up in smoke
Georgia Power's oldest plants use once-through, or open loop, cooling systems to condense the steam used to generate electricity. The water flows in one end of the plant, condenses steam into water, and then returns to the river out the other end.
The quantities of water required are enormous up to 500 million gallons a day for a medium-sized coal plant. In Georgia, the thirstiest plant uses more than double that.
Coal-fired plants employing once-through cooling use up to 27 gallons of water to generate one kilowatt hour of electricity, according to the federal Department of Energy. Nuclear power plants use more than 31 gallons for the same output.
Georgia Power must report to state environmental officials how much water its plants consume during the heat-exchange process.
For plants that use once-through cooling, Georgia Power reports zero or negligible water loss because the water is returned to the river.
The reporting, however, fails to account for millions of gallons of water that disappear as vapor once the hot water from the plant returns to the cooler water in the river, a phenomenon known as downstream evaporation. Southern's Stewart said such losses are minimal.
But the Electric Power Research Institute, a Washington research group supported by the nation's largest power companies, estimates significant water loss, as much as two-thirds the amount evaporated from newer, recirculating systems.
The Energy Department estimates that thermoelectric power generation in the United States could consume more than 9 billion gallons of water a day by 2030, three times the amount consumed in 1995.
Georgia Power's newer plants no longer use once-through cooling systems because of environmental concerns. The newer plants recirculate cooling water in closed-loop systems, sending hot water from the condenser to be air cooled in tall towers. These reciruclating cooling systems withdraw a fraction of the water used by once-through systems.
But recirculating systems lose much more water to evaporation about a half gallon of water for every kilowatt hour of electricity, according to the energy department. Over time, Georgia Power has been replacing older once-through systems with recirculating ones.
Georgia Power's Plant Yates, located on the Chattahoochee River in Coweta County, once used about 477 million gallons a day more than the average daily requirements of metro Atlanta. After switching to cooling towers, its water use dropped to about 32 million gallons a day.
But the plant lost 51 percent of that, or about 16 million gallons, to evaporation and "blowdown," a process that periodically flushes mineral deposits and slurry out of the cooling towers.
While roughly 80 percent of the evaporated water returns to the atmosphere as vapor, it doesn't return to where it was withdrawn. It drifts away, coming down as rain elsewhere.
Conservation is key
The best strategy for reducing water use, environmentalists say, is to reduce energy consumption, which is rising sharply in Georgia. According to Georgia Power, the average consumer used 13,216 kilowatts a year in 2006, up 11 percent from 1996. On average, consumer electricity use grows 1.5 percent a year.
A study paid for by the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority, the state's energy planning agency, found that aggressive statewide conservation could save 164 million gallons per day by 2015. Most of that savings 159 million gallons would come from slowing the rate at which power use grows.
The numbers put conventional water saving measures in perspective. "It's important for us to use low-flow shower heads," Barczak said, "but the real savings can come at the electric utilities."
Shut down the newspaper and there will not be a need for electricity. This article sounds like a bunch of falsehoods as the steam is put back into the air and falls back as rain in some location so the water is recycled as is ALL water except for the 20 to 40 tons per minute, of new water, that arrives from outer space.
“...water except for the 20 to 40 tons per minute, of new water, that arrives from outer space.”
Please explain this.
The real question here is not water use but waste heat, and how to make a profit from it.
Most of the energy from fossil and nuclear ends up as waste heat before its end use..
Turn out the lights, the party’s over.
IIRC, Georgia only has one nuclear reactor for electricity production and that is Plant Hatch in Baxley. Whatever Georgia Power doesn't get from it's own generation facilities they probably buy from TVA, Carolina Power and others.
One thing that is never mentioned in these sorts of articles is the fact that the primary uses for Lakes Lanier and Lake Alatoona were for power generation and flood control. Water supply and recreation were secondary and the local state, county and municiple leaders in 1957 fully agreed to those terms with the Corps of Engineers. The powers that be following them allowed unbridled building for over 25 years in and around Atlanta without any concern as to adding additional water reservoir supply to ease the burdon on the existing supply sources.
Although this water shortage was initially caused by the drought, it has been made far worse because the "planners" in the Atlanta Regional Planning Commission sat back and did nothing for 25 years while 5 million people moved into the area. Now, gooberner Perdue acts like divine intervention is the only way to solve the crisis. Funny, I didn't hear any politco's clamoring for new reservoirs to be built 3 years ago when Georgia was receiving record rainfall. Ya get what's ya pays for, gooberner Sonny.....
A heat exchanger is a heat exchanger. A nuke plant, a coal plant, or a natural gas plant operating at the same temperature all require the same cooling.
But the whole premise of the article is BS, as all that water IS returned to the local watershed. The ANSWER to the problem (which the eco-fanatics probably won't let happen), is to build more and larger reservoirs.
I'm thinkin' a better answer is to invite 'rats (~50% of the pop) to move to the paradise of Venezuela.
We need a gummint program to control those pesky clouds from drifting away. Just another, "The sky is falling" msm scare piece.
It seems to me that simply running the vented steam through X length of pipe with a heat sink will return it immediately to water. What a dumb waste when there is a shortage.
Two. There's also Plant Vogle in Waynesboro.
Cooling water used by nuclear power plants goes back into the cooling water source (like lakes). The water isn’t sucked up and vaporized like this article implies.
If utilities were using up (and not able to reuse) this much water, there would have been a lot of screaming a lot sooner.
Go shut down the hydroelectric dams in GA, to keep the water from just flowing downstream. It would have more impact on their water supply.
Instead of putting it back into the Chattahoochee River, why don't they just route it back through Atlanta or Montgomery or Mobile or Tallahassee or whatever?
And if they've got a nuclear plant in Alabama, why can't they make electricity from uranium or something like that, and why do they need all that water?
Maybe they could collect the steam in a gigantic distiller. That would purify the water too.
These policymakers would exhibit a stroke of genius if they would abolish Georgia's absurd "Department of Natural Resources" (wasn't that established by Jimmy Carter? That speaks volumes right there) and use the money saved to discover and establish new sources of power and useful water.
I am glad to know I am not the only one that was suprised to hear that.
Can you post some information about that claim?
The Chattahoochee River’s western bank is the Alabama/Georgia border. Alabama has three or four nuclear power plants that need cooling. Point, none.
Blah blah blah,,, we need rain!
Build the desal plants.
Build another desal plant.
Put the same restrictions on the protected “mussels” that humans have! Which is ‘No Outside Watering’!
Where are mussels? OUTSIDE! :-)
Seed the clouds!
Take a sponge bath in the washing machine that you filled with dish washing rinse water.
Rinse off the sponge, wash clothes.
Collect rinse water to flush toilets.
In the dark. (hydro-electric too) :-)
In their latest meeting (between the Corps of Engineers and politicians from the three states that get water from the Chattahoochee)they decided that Lake Lanier had 79 days worth of water left. I wonder what they will do if the water gets so low that they can’t physically put enough downstream to cool all of these power plants?
The party may not be over yet but it's definitely ending for politicians. This is a pol's worst nightmare come true: a looming disaster they can't make hollow promises on and pass off to the next administration.
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