10 Things to Know about Power Plant Water Use, 10 Reasons to Care

10 Things to Know:

  1. Some things get better with age. Not power plants. The nation’s older power plants that still rely on antiquated and damaging once-through cooling systems have a huge thirst for water. These plants are capable of withdrawing approximately 100 trillion gallons each year directly from rivers, lakes, estuaries and oceans; profiting from a free public resource.
  2. A single plant with an outmoded once-through cooling system can take in several billion gallons of water in a single day – more than a million gallons per minute.
  3. Outdated power plant cooling water intake systems indiscriminately devour aquatic life, sucking in eggs and larvae, trapping adult fish and wildlife on intake screens, and spewing heated, lifeless, chemical-laden water downstream.
  4. The killing of trillions of fish, shellfish and other species at all life stages through this practice has stressed and depleted our waters, disrupted the food chain and undermined ecological integrity.
  5. Power plants' toll on some fisheries rivals, and in some cases exceeds, that of the fishing industry.
  6. This destruction has been going on for decades while power companies have tenaciously resisted upgrading their cooling systems. As a result, roughly half of U.S. power plants still use once-through cooling and …
  7. … these same plants also pollute the air because most of them are old, inefficient, and lack emissions controls.
  8. The federal Clean Water Act requires power plants to use the Best Technology Available (BTA) to minimize the adverse environmental impacts of cooling water intake structures.
  9. In 2001, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued national regulations identifying closed-cycle cooling as BTA for new plants.
  10. The EPA is expected to release their final BTA requirements for existing power plants in summer 2013. Environmental groups and others are disappointed in the proposed requirements.  You can read the draft rule and its supporting documents for yourself on the EPA website.

10 Reasons to Care:

  1. None of this damage is necessary because modern closed-cycle cooling (CCC) systems recirculate cooling water, reducing withdrawals and fish kills by about 95 percent. Virtually all gas-fired plants and more than 75 percent of coal-fired plants built in the past 30 years (as well as 40 percent of existing nuclear plants) use CCC.
  2. Requiring the electric power industry to significantly reduce its water withdrawal/water use will be good for fish and other aquatic life…
  3. …and if it’s good for fish and other aquatic life then it is good for the ecosystem as a whole…
  4. …and if it’s good for the ecosystem then it’s good for water-dependent businesses …
  5. …and good for local fisheries that support recreational and commercial fishing…
  6. …and that’s all good for the local economy.
  7. Contrary to the power industry’s claims, requiring older plants to install the same cooling technology as their modern counterparts would cost consumers pennies or at most a few dollars per month on household electric bills.
  8. Only the most antiquated and marginal plants that can barely afford to operate might choose to close down rather than upgrade to CCC.
  9. Requiring cooling system upgrades may even clean the air. As a nation we need to phase out the older, polluting and inefficient power plants by pursuing renewable energy and energy efficiency.
  10. As mentioned above, the EPA is expected to release their final BTA requirements for existing power plants in summer 2013. The agency’s proposed rule puts a heavy burden on state agencies, citizen groups and community organizations.  Without a strong federal rule to protect fish and aquatic ecosystems, local communities will routinely need to get mobilized, informed, and engaged with state environmental agencies.