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The potential impacts of climate-change policy on freshwater use in thermoelectric power generation

Chandel MK, LF Pratson, RB Jackson
Energy Policy
Journal Volume/Pages: 
39: 6234-6242

Climate change policy involving a price on carbon would change the mix of power plants and the amount of water they withdraw and consume to generate electricity. We analyze what these changes could entail for electricity generation in the United States under four climate policy scenarios that involve different costs for emitting CO2 and different technology options for reducing emissions out to the year 2030. The potential impacts of the scenarios on the U.S. electric system are modeled using a modified version of the U.S. National Energy Modeling System and water-use factors for thermoelectric power plants derived from electric utility data compiled by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Under all the climate-policy scenarios, freshwater withdrawals decline 2-14% relative to a business-as-usual scenario (BAU) of no U.S. climate policy. Furthermore, water use decreases as the price on CO2 under the climate policies increases. At relatively high carbon prices (>$50/tonne CO2), however, coal plants retrofitting to capture CO2 increase freshwater consumption by 15% nationally and by >30% in Florida, New England, New York and Texas relative to BAU in 2030. Our analysis suggests that climate policies and a carbon price will reduce both electricity generation and freshwater withdrawals compared to BAU except if and when a substantial number of coal plants are retrofitted to capture CO2.

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