By Elizabeth Zach, RCAC staff writer

Coal fired power plantAccording to a Stanford University study, California’s chronic drought conditions seem to have led to more fossil fuel use as a result of less water available for hydropower.

“Water is used in electricity generation, both directly for hydropower and indirectly for cooling in thermoelectric power plants,” climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh, the Kara J. Foundation professor in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences (Stanford Earth) and senior author of the study, told Stanford News. “We find that in a number of western states where hydropower plays a key role in the clean energy portfolio, droughts cause an increase in emissions as natural gas or coal-fired power plants are brought online to pick up the slack when water for hydropower comes up short.”

In recent years, intense drought has plagued the American West. The new research seems to indicate a stronger relationship between drought and clean air and water.

“To have reliable and clean electricity, you have to make sure you have an energy portfolio that’s diverse, such that low-emissions electricity sources are able to kick in during a drought when hydropower cannot fully operate,” said Julio Herrera-Estrada, another author of the study. “For California, Oregon and Washington, which generate a lot of hydropower, the drought-induced increases in carbon dioxide emissions represent substantial fractions of their Clean Power Plan targets.”

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