What’s Current? Issue #6 – Cover Canals with PV, Fish Friendly Delta Diversions, Real Cause of Wildfires

Thank you for staying with us through issue #6 of our newsletter. Our goal is to provide you information on water and energy developments, focusing on California, that you may not find elsewhere. At the same time, we intend to give you useful quantitative data that you can use to evaluate energy and water proposals and projects. For your reference, we now archive all these newsletters on our website under “NEWS.”

Last decade saw solar generation boom, natural gas slowdown in California

This report tracks the ten year fuel trend for California’s electricity generation. Solar’s up 20X to 48.9 terawatt-hours in 2022. That translates to 5.6 gigawatt-years, a more useful unit of measure, because now we can intuitively compare that to California’s total instate electricity production in 2022, which was 22 gigawatt-years. But California only produces instate 70 percent of the electricity it consumes, last year importing another 9 gigawatt-years from out of state. To completely electrify California’s economy, total electricity consumption will need to triple. And solar, as we all know, is an intermittent and decentralized source of electricity. Are we prepared to deliver the storage and transmission assets sufficient to handle another 10X growth in intermittent renewables?

This idea could save California billions of gallons of water while generating clean energy

San Joaquin Valley’s Turlock Irrigation District has teamed up with the California Dept. of Water Resources and a solar firm to build a pilot project that will cover 1.6 miles of canal sections with solar panels. The goal? Prevent evaporation and generate renewable electricity. They claim to have an innovative design that minimizes cost and makes canal maintenance easier, and that covering 4,000 miles of the state’s canals will save an estimated 63 billion gallons per year. That’s 193,000 acre feet. The power? At 10 watts per square foot, and a 100’ wide average section, full sun output would be 20 gigawatts, which at California’s average yield of 25 percent translates to 5 gigawatts of baseload power. But what are the unknowns, starting with cost?

Practical Infrastructure: Electricity Generation

Back in the 1990s, the prestigious WorldWatch Magazine consistently referred to natural gas as the “transitional fuel,” expected to be widely available until breakthrough technologies arrived such as commercial fusion. Not anymore. Will the new proposed EPA standards for natural gas generating plants create, as this public comment suggests, a “disorderly transition” away from cheap and reliable electricity? And in California, can we embrace new advanced technologies (more on that to come) that use natural gas to generate electricity, if they meet, or even greatly exceed, EPA standards?

Practical Infrastructure: Reliable Water Supply

This analysis, released by the Milken Institute last year, presents an excellent, expert outsider’s view on what California needs to achieve water abundance. It offers a useful checklist of what local, state and federal barriers stand between the status-quo and abundance, and makes a point that can’t be emphasized enough: water agencies and local politicians need to adopt a statewide approach to solutions. We are all in this together. The study does not address an inherent conundrum: To make water affordable to farmers that produce crops with a low value per acre (but extremely high nutritional value!), the price of water has to drop below $500 per acre foot (pick a number). But to stimulate private investment in water supply infrastructure, the market price of water, typically, must be much higher. Government funding must cover this gap in partnership with private investment, overcoming both libertarian objections to using taxpayer money, and left leaning populist objections to any role for the private sector.

California Forest Facts Expose Study’s Flaws

We’ll bury at the end of this week’s newsletter an article with a controversial message: We need energy and water policies that not only address the “climate crisis,” but also make economic and environmental sense. If you want to skip to the data, scroll down to paragraphs 20 through 25, placed just above and below the section “The Real Reason for Catastrophic Wildfires.” You will find links to several authoritative reports documenting the fact that decades of natural fire suppression have left California’s forests overgrown, 3-5 times (or more) their historical density. This leaves trees stressed, dry, and dying, competing for inadequate light and soil nutrients, with a desperate appetite for rainfall that is immediately absorbed and transpirated, leaving less to percolate and fill our streams.