The severe drought in California threatens to significantly undermine the state’s ability to generate hydroelectric power, raising costs for families and driving up planet-warming emissions, according to a federal government forecast.
Assuming drought conditions persist, California’s hydroelectric generation would be 48% less this summer than if water conditions were normal, the US Energy Information Administration said in a blog post on Wednesday.
The EIA flagged that as of April 1, California’s snowpack was about 40% below the median value from 1991 through 2020. That is significant because it means less snow will melt and flow into the state’s reservoirs this spring.
Under the EIA’s drought scenario forecast, which is part of the agency’s Short Term Energy Outlook released last month, hydropower would make up just 8% of California’s total power generation. That’s down from 15% under normal water conditions.
“This shortfall would need to be made up from other sources of electric power supply,” the EIA said.
If the drought persists, which is expected according to NOAA’s summer forecast, California will need to import more electricity from other markets and use more in-state natural gas-fired power generation, the EIA said.
That will translate to higher prices and more planet-warming carbon emissions.
The EIA estimates that in a drought scenario, wholesale power prices in western US electricity markets will be 5% higher and carbon dioxide emissions in California will be 6% higher than under normal conditions.
All of this means the drought, which is being caused by the climate crisis, threatens to worsen both the climate crisis and the inflation crisis raising costs on families.
Drought conditions are compounding a broader supply and demand problem in the US power grid. As CNN’s René Marsh reported on Tuesday, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) says there has been a 2% loss of reliable hydropower from the nation’s power-producing da
NERC has warned several parts of the US are at risk of energy emergencies this summer, including Texas. Energy experts have told CNN that some power grid operators are not taking climate change into account in their planning, making the grid more vulnerable.