Friday, July 12, 2013

US power plants at risk from climate change, government says

The Age, July 12, 2013 

Power plants across the US are at increased risk of temporary shutdown and reduced power generation as temperatures and sea levels continue to rise and water becomes less available, the country's Department of Energy said.

By 2030, there will be nearly $US1 trillion in energy assets in the Gulf region alone at risk from increasingly costly extreme hurricanes and sea-level rises, according to the Energy Department report on the impact of climate change on energy infrastructure.

"As President Obama said in his speech last month, climate change is happening," said spokeswoman April Saylor in a statement. "As climate change makes the weather more extreme, we have a moral obligation to prepare the country for its effects."

The report calls on federal, state and local governments to more urgently prepare critical infrastructure - particularly coal, natural gas and nuclear plants - for the compounded risks posed by floods, storms, wildfires and droughts.

"All of our science goes in one direction: the damages are going to get worse," said DOE assistant secretary Jonathan Pershing. "It will take dozens of actors from government and private sectors planning what to do and how to make it cost effective."

Warming up

The report notes that average temperatures have increased 1.5 degrees fahrenheit since 1900. More than 130 extreme weather events costing $US1 billion or more in damage have occurred since 1980.

It says that 2012 was the second most expensive year for weather and climate disasters in the US, with $US115 billion in damage from Hurricane Sandy and extended drought.

Higher peak electricity, costing consumers $US45 billion, will require an additional 34 gigawatts of new power generation capacity in the western United States by 2050. And as infrastructure ages, storm-related power outages are likely to become increasingly frequent, at an annual cost of $US20 billion to $US50 billion.

"More and more communities are analysing vulnerabilities and their risks, and developing plans in response to those risks," said Brian Holland of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives. Holland said more state and federal support is needed for communities, who also pursue private funding.

Greenpeace USA spokesman Robert Gardner said the administration's focus should primarily be transitioning to wind and solar technology, not relying on fossil fuels and nuclear energy.

"The question is why the Department of Energy is really focusing on continuing the problem which has caused this tidal wave of global warming," said Gardner.

Benjamin Cole of the American Energy Alliance, which lobbies for oil and natural gas, said that climate predictions should not be used to justify the "sweeping changes" of Obama's energy proposals, and that alternative energy has not yet lived up to promises.
"We can't continue to dole out money we don't have," for alternative energy, he said.


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