Drought diminishes hydroelectric power in Texas as river authorities restrict release of water
Hydroelectric power in Texas has all but dried up as the state’s drought continues, according to a statewide review of generation sources.
The amount of hydropower generated across Texas dropped 24 percent from 2012 to 2013, the Austin American-Statesman reported.
Only a fraction of the state’s energy needs come from hydroelectricity but the downturn is yet another consequence of the drought.
“You can really see the impact of drought over time,” said Robbie Searcy, a spokeswoman for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s energy grid.
Apart from an energy emergency, hydropower is rarely used in Texas anymore, with coal and natural gas-fired power plants producing most of the state’s electricity needs.
As a young congressman, Lyndon B. Johnson worked to establish a series of dams to control flooding in the Austin area. The power generated by the water rushing through those dams was delivered to the Hill Country, vastly improving the standard of living for what was then among the poorest areas in the U.S.
Half a century ago, the Lower Colorado River Authority’s hydroelectric capacity made up about half of its overall generating capacity. Today it’s a mere 5 percent, according to Ryan Rowney, vice president for water operations.
In 2011, the LCRA generated 221,069 megawatt-hours of hydroelectricity. Last year, it generated only 69,118 megawatt-hours. An average household uses about one megawatt-hour per month.
Currently, the authority only releases water for fish and wildlife and some mandated irrigation needs, and has impounded billions of gallons of water that used to be released to farmers downriver.
The combined storage of Lakes Travis and Buchanan, the chief reservoirs for Central Texas, has dwindled to 35 percent of capacity, and customers may have to cut water use 20 percent by midsummer if the drought continues.