Electricity’s Thirst for Water
Coal and nuclear power plants in North Carolina that guzzle water for their operations are stressing our water supplies, according to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a team of more than a dozen scientists.
The research examined the local water supply in major watersheds, focusing on areas where power plant demands were the largest contributor to water body stress.
According to the report, two rivers in NC, the Catawba and the Upper Dan are impacted by the substantial water withdrawals from power plants. The Upper Catawba and South Fork Catawba water supplies are strained by power plants that together withdraw one to three trillion gallons of water per year, and consume between five and 19 billion gallons.
Recent drought years have worsened the situation: in 2007 a heat wave compounded months of drought, resulting in water levels so low that Duke Energy had to modify a water intake on its McGuire Nuclear Plant so it could reach the dropping water level in Lake Norman.
Power plants also stress the river by discharging cooling water at temperatures that can be as hot as 107 degrees Fahrenheit. This causes problems for fish and wildlife and for the power plants themselves. In 2007, when cooling water discharge temperatures exceeded safe limits, Duke had to cut generation at the G.G. Allen and Riverbend coal plants in Gaston County, causing blackouts throughout the area.
Duke Energy has other plants along the Catawba in North and South Carolina – the Marshall coal plant in Catawba County and another nuclear plant – Catawba in York County.
The report highlights that future energy choices must not only focus on reducing fossil fuels, but also protecting our most precious resource, our water supplies. Water use in energy plants is often overlooked but with coal and nuclear using enormous quantities of water, this aspect of our energy future must be front and center in our state’s decision making.