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Energy Sector Vulnerable to Climate Change & Extreme Weather

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"Flooded Refinery." Photo shared through PBS NewsHour photostream on flickr.

“Flooded Refinery.” Photo shared through PBS NewsHour photostream on flickr.

The nation’s energy infrastructure is vulnerable to damage from climate change and extreme weather, concludes a report by the Department of Energy. As a result, the nation is at risk for disruptive interruptions, ranging from electricity outages to gasoline shortages.

Missouri is not immune. Some of the vulnerabilities exist in Missouri. In addition, the nations energy infrastructure is highly interconnected, and problems in other states could disrupt energy supplies here.

The report reviews changes that are expected as a result of climate change and reviews the kinds of impacts they might have on our energy infrastructure. There aren’t any numbers, but there are examples. Over the past decade:

Increasing Temperatures
In at least 10 instances, power generation at nuclear or coal-fired generating stations was reduced or entirely shut down because cooling or discharge water resources had become too hot. In some cases, multiple generating stations were affected.
In at least two cases, heat and/or wildfire damaged transmission lines, causing power outages. Millions of customers were affected over extended periods.

Decreased Water Availability
In at least 5 cases, hydroelectric power generation was curtailed because of low water levels, by amounts up to 45%.
In two cases, water required for natural gas development was curtailed.
In one case, local authorities blocked construction of a solar power generating station because of water shortages.

Storms and Flooding.
In 5 cases, storms led to large power outages, affecting as many as 8 million customers, leading in some cases to extended periods of curtailed power availability.
In one case, a river flooded the grounds of a nuclear generating station. The plant was offline for an entire summer.
In two cases, hurricanes damaged oil and natural gas production facilities in the Gulf of Mexico. In one of them, after 9 months, 22% of production was still off line.
In one case, debris from a flood ruptured an oil pipeline.

Missouri River Floods Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station, 2011. Wikimedia file: Corp of Eng. 6-16-11A. Original source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Missouri River Floods Ft. Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station, 2011. Wikimedia file: Corp of Eng. 6-16-11A. Original source: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The most common vulnerability in these examples involves the cooling water for power plants: either there isn’t enough, or it gets too hot. In an analysis by the National Energy Technology Laboratory, Missouri had 15 power plants with water vulnerabilities. Three were among the 100 most vulnerable in the nation: New Madrid (on the Mississippi River in New Madrid County), Thomas Hill (on the Thomas Hill Reservoir in Randolph County), and Iatan (on the Missouri River in Platte County).

In Missouri, our power grid has proven vulnerable to thunderstorms and ice storms, which have caused repeated widespread power outages in recent years.

Sources:

U.S. Department of Energy. (2013). U.S. Energy Sector Vulnerabilities to Climate Change and Extreme Weather. http://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2013/07/f2/20130710-Energy-Sector-Vulnerabilities-Report.pdf.

National Energy Technology Laboratory. (2010). Water Vulnerabilities for Existing Coal-fired Power Plants. DOE?NETL-2010/1429. http://www.netl.doe.gov/technologies/coalpower/ewr/water/pdfs/DOENETL-2010-1429%20WaterVulnerabilities.pdf.

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