California staring at decline in hydro-power due to drought

California is staring at a massive decline in the hydro-power as the state enters fourth year of drought, claimed as an impact of climate change by many. After the scarcity of water for crops and public use, issues for the hydropower sector will be difficult for the state to manage.

California’s energy chief surveyed the Sierra Nevada region and noticed the decline in snowpack to historically low levels. The impact of below average snowfall would be felt by the entire West. The region has received 12 percent of the average snowpack, which would have a major impact on the dams and the feeding rivers.

To meet the growing power demand, the state will have to depend more on fossil-fuels to generate electricity as the share of hydropower will decline. California has set ambitious goals for reducing the carbon footprint and so far, the state has performed as per the goals set by the administration. However, as the snowpack has touched historically low levels, the state will have no option but to depend more on fossil fuels for power.

Robert Weisenmiller, Chairman of the California Energy Commission, said, "We're not concerned about not having power. What we're concerned about is the power is going to come from different sources not as benign as hydroelectricity."

Pacific Institute, a think tank based in Oakland, California has conducted a study indicating $1.4 billion additional charge on utility ratepayers as the state had to meet the power demands using natural gas-fired plants instead of hydroelectricity.

The dependence on fossil fuels has increased CO2 emissions by 8 percent. Natural gas accounted for 61 percent of electricity generation in 2013 compared to 12 percent for hydroelectricity.

The situation is troublesome in Washington and Oregon as well. Washington and Oregon administration recently declared drought emergencies in many regions as the snowpack is hovering at or near record lows.

Sierra Nevada