Ensuring adequate water supplies amid the ongoing drought is one of the most pressing issues facing the state of Texas. Our strong economy is at great risk if we cannot ensure enough water for future growth.
Voters face a crucial decision on Nov. 5th, when they’ll have the chance to vote on Proposition 6, which will create a funding mechanism to pay for water projects identified in the State Water Plan.
As a major water user, CPS Energy has been involved in conservation efforts for decades, and will continue to make decisions that allow us to reduce the water intensity of our business.
There is no separating energy and water use. Water cannot be pumped without electricity, and most power plants cannot generate electricity without water to cool them. San Antonio is fortunate that collaboration between its two utilities goes back almost 60 years, resulting in the world’s first large-scale use of recycled water to cool power plants.
After the worst drought in Texas history in the 1950s, San Antonio leaders knew they had to find ways to preserve Edwards Aquifer water, the city’s sole source of drinking water.
CPS Energy took on the challenge, building Braunig Lake to cool its plants, and using recycled water from the predecessor of SAWS to fill it. The experiment was so successful that CPS Energy built the larger Calaveras Lake in 1967.
Since then, CPS Energy has avoided using almost 1 million acre feet, or 320 billion gallons, of Edwards Aquifer drinking water. That’s enough water to serve all SAWS households for roughly four years.
And because our lakes are filled with recycled water, they remain full, unlike many lakes around the state, and so are still a source of recreation for our community.
While that collaboration has had the most impact, it’s not the only area where CPS Energy and SAWS (and the San Antonio River Authority) have coordinated in pursuit of best water management practices.
For example, CPS Energy has informal agreements with those agencies to allow at least 55,000 acre-feet to flow downstream of the lakes, for wildlife and agricultural use. We also back off pumping water into the lakes during periods of low flow.
CPS Energy’s commitment to conservation doesn’t stop at the lakes. Our core strategy to diversify our generation portfolio, and reduce emissions, also reduces the water needs of our power plant fleet.
Solar and wind power need no water for production, and CPS Energy now has more than 1,000 MW under contract. That includes the two, 30 MW-total solar farms operated by SunEdison, located on brownfields at SAWS’ Dos Rios Water Recycling Center. As renewable technologies continue to mature, we will continue to invest in these water-free sources of power.
Even more traditional sources of power are becoming more water efficient. The combined cycle natural gas plant we aquired last year uses roughly half the water that traditional steam-cooled gas and coal plants use. And when the Deely units are shuttered in 2018, CPS Energy’s water use will decrease even further.
Just as the cheapest megawatt of power is that which doesn’t have to be produced, water is also saved through energy efficiency. CPS Energy has made energy efficiency and conservation a priority through our Save for Tomorrow Energy Plan, or STEP, which has delayed the construction of the next power plant to serve our growing customer base.
Taken together, our renewables and STEP program have saved 26,342 acre-feet, or 8,584 million gallons, of water since 2002.
But there is only so much we can do on the local level.
I applaud the leadership of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and bill authors Rep. Alan Ritter and Sen. Troy Fraser, and the entire legislature for passing legislation that gives Texans the opportunity to vote to ensure that water resources are in place to meet the future needs of a growing San Antonio and Texas.
As CEO of the largest municipally owned electric and gas utility in the country, I understand the need to identify funding for statewide water projects to ensure that Texas maintains the energy and water resources necessary to address our resource challenges. I encourage voters to educate themselves on Proposition 6 and to take the time and go to the polls and vote in the Nov. 5th election.
Full disclosure: The Arsenal Group LLC, which publishes the Rivard Report, conducted an independent four-month review of CPS Energy communications for the utility starting in June 2012. Monika Maeckle, a former member of the The Arsenal Group and wife of Robert Rivard, now works at CPS as its Director of Integrated Communications.