Dr. Benjamin K. Sovacool *

Alex Gilbert **

Existing and planned reliance on thermoelectric power plants—facilities that burn oil, natural gas, coal, and biomass, or fission atoms—depends too heavily on assumptions of widespread, abundant water resources. As the Union of Concerned Scientists has estimated, power plants in the United States take in almost triple the average amount of water flowing over Niagara Falls each minute to meet their cooling needs.[1] Or, put another way, on a typical day more than 500 billion liters of fresh water travel through power plants in the United States—more than twice the amount flowing through the entire Nile River.[2] Yet water is a critical constraint often overlooked in electricity and energy decisions. When considered, it challenges us to think more broadly about integrated resource planning, reliability challenges, and resource selection.

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*     Institute for Energy and the Environment, Vermont Law School and Center for Energy Technologies, School of Business and Social Sciences, Aarhus University. Ph.D., 2006, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University; M.A., 2003, Wayne State University; B.A., 2001, John Carroll University.

** Energy Analyst, Haynes and Boone, LLP, and former research fellow at Vermont Law School’s Institute for Energy and the Environment. M.A. in Energy Regulation and Law, 2013, Vermont Law School; B.A., Lake Forest College, Environmental Studies and International Relations, summa cum laude.

        [1].    Kristen Averyt et al., Union of Concerned Scientists, Freshwater use by U.S. Power Plants: Electricity’s Thirst for a Precious Resource 1 (2011) [hereinafter Freshwater Use], available at http://www.synapse-energy.com/Downloads/Synapse Report.2011-11.UCS.Freshwater-Use-by-US-Power-Plants.10-028.pdf.

        [2].    The Coming Clash Between Water and Energy, IEEE Spectrum (May 28, 2010, 12:25 PM), http://spectrum.ieee.org/energy/environment/the-coming-clash-between-water-and-energy.