When will water use enter power generation debate?

Perhaps Ontario doesn’t have to worry as much because it sits along Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, but I’m surprised that in other jurisdictions there hasn’t been more discussion related to the water requirements of thermoelectric power plants.

Water scarcity, after all, is considered one of the biggest negative outcomes of climate change, but not many people realize just how much water is required for a nuclear or coal (fossil fuel) power plant. The World Resources Institute estimates that nearly two out of every three gallons of fresh water drawn from the U.S. Southwest is used to cool power plants. One can draw similar conclusions for other regions. Nuclear plants, of course, are the biggest water hogs. You’ll recall that during the heat waves in Europe a few years back France had to ratched down nuclear output because it didn’t have enough water for cooling. It makes one wonder whether it makes sense to build hundreds of new nuclear plants, each with a life of more than 50 years, if a couple of decades down the road we find them crippled by water shortages.

Think about it: If a massive coal plant or nuclear plant had to pay for the amount of water it consumes, the same way individual homeowners must pay, the power would be prohibitively expense. So emissions aren’t the only thing not currently priced into power generation. Water use is a huge externality, and it’s just one more reason to favour renewables and distributed generation, particularly as part of any climate-change adaptation strategy.

Food for thought.

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