By Sean Wardwell

Killeen Daily Herald

Water and power are not only essential in modern society; they're also interdependent, which is why power experts are watching the state's climate with a wary eye.

"The risks of water scarcity to the power sector are real, severe and dangerous," said Michael Webber, associate director for international energy and environmental policy at the University of Texas at Austin. "Droughts and other water extremes expose important vulnerabilities in the Texas power sector."

Webber made those comments Jan. 10 during a Texas Senate hearing on the availability of water for power generation.

He also told members of the Committee on Business and Commerce that power plants account for 40 percent of water usage statewide.

In order to plan ahead, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas - which oversees the majority of the state's power grid - will sponsor a best-practices workshop Monday in Austin with water and power stakeholders.

"The recent rains have improved the current situation, and given our latest information, we don't expect to have significant generation loss due to the drought this summer," said Dottie Roark, ERCOT spokesperson.

"However, if the drought continues into 2013, we could have more severe losses of generation," said Roark. "We think it's important to host this workshop ... to share best practices for managing drought conditions to lessen the chance of generation loss should the drought continue into next year."

Last summer's record drought caused the council to issue 13 warnings to encourage conservation or predict impending blackouts.

Additionally, demand for electricity last summer set new records for usage twice, the latest being 68,379 megawatts in a one-hour period on Aug. 3.

One megawatt of power is enough electricity to power about 200 homes in Texas during hot weather, officials said.

John Fainter, president of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, told the Senate committee on Jan. 10 that power companies using water in the cooling process of electrical generation are among the largest private holders of water rights and water contracts in the state.

He said power companies continue to secure additional water rights, build pipelines to remote water sources and increase pumping capabilities to maintain generation of electricity. But without rain, he said, it won't be enough.

"In short, we need to ensure that continued access to adequate water is available for electric generating units to maintain reliability, especially in times of drought or water shortage."

Contact Sean Wardwell at seanw@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7552.

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