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Hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources - On Drought Issues


Location: Washington, DC

The Committee will come to order. This morning we are going to look at
drought and the impacts to the energy and water sectors. Water is life
and without access to water, the world as we know it ceases to exist, or
at least to run effectively.

* Last year was the warmest on record and combined with the
exceptionally dry conditions, severe drought affected over sixty percent
of our country. Again, that was sixty percent of the country.

* The cost of the damages associated with last year's drought exceeded
$35 billion. That is a very substantial hit for our economy to take at a
time when we have huge economic challenges ahead.

* In addition to last year' drought, the country is seeing increasing
numbers of extreme weather events, and unfortunately it seems like
drought has become almost part of the norm. One reason that we are
focusing on this topic today is to better understand how the recent
drought conditions fit into the overall picture of climate change, and if
there are lessons to be learned to minimize the impact in the current
climate and for the future.

* Drought impacts everything from farmers to power plant operations and
everything in between. Water is a critical resource, and yet, so often it
seems to almost be treated as an afterthought.

* In my home state of Oregon, Oregonians are seeing severe drought in
the Klamath region. The Bureau of Reclamation has told me that the
Klamath Basin has experienced the second driest January through
March on record.

* This is a dire situation. This area is one of our thorniest watersheds. It
has caused the governor of my state and Klamath County to issue
drought declarations last week. In effect this has become a symbol of
the debate over how to deal with droughts and you saw in the important
Wall Street Journal article that recently ran on drought, really
spotlighting what's going on in the Klamath Basin.

* The Bureau of Reclamation will be a key player in the work to address
drought conditions and solve the long-term resource disputes in the
Klamath and other such places across the West, and we have always
worked with the Bureau in a bipartisan way, and we are going to
continue to work with them to meet our goals.

* Water is also a critical resource for generating electricity. Water is
obviously needed for generating hydropower, but it's also critical for
cooling in many other types of thermoelectric generation like nuclear,
biomass, and coal. For those applications, water must not only be
sufficiently available, but also be cool enough to allow the plants to run
safely and efficiently. This means that climate change poses a double
threat to some of these facilities, potentially threatening both water
availability and sufficiently cool intake water.

* Recent history has demonstrated the vulnerability of the power sector to
both drought and high temperatures. In 2001, for example, severe
drought in California and the Pacific Northwest resulted in significantly
reduced hydroelectric generation, causing tight electricity supplies and
high prices throughout the West. That drought was estimated to have an
economic impact of between $2.5 and $6 billion dollars.

* High temperatures have also curtailed generation. In 2007, the
Tennessee Valley Authority had to temporarily shut down its Brown's
Ferry nuclear plant because the intake water temperatures were too
high. In 2012, the Millstone nuclear plant that powers half of Connecticut
had to take 40% of its capacity offline for almost two weeks because the
cooling water it was getting from Long Island Sound was too warm. In
that same year, the Braidwood nuclear plant in Illinois had to get an
exemption to use intake water that was 102 degrees instead of shutting
down during a heat wave.

* The situation in Texas may demonstrate both the concerns and some of
the solutions the best. During the extreme drought conditions of Summer
2011, Texas made it through with only one power plant curtailing. They
did it through extreme conservation efforts by customers, and they were
also helped by having a lot of wind-energy on their system that doesn't
require any water at all. They also bought power on the spot market,
with prices hitting an incredible three thousand dollars per Megawatthour, so consumers definitely felt the impact in their power bills.

* The following summer was also hot and dry in Texas, but caused less
disruption thanks to steps that I had mentioned, which the utilities had
chosen to adopt. An important goal of this hearing is to understand both the risks to the power sector and the strategies for mitigating those risks
for the long-term.

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