Alternative Energy Projects Stumble on a Need for Water
- Alternative Energy Projects Stumble on a Need for Water
By TODD WOODY
AMARGOSA VALLEY, Nev. --- In a rural corner of Nevada reeling from the
recession, a bit of salvation seemed to arrive last year. A German
developer, Solar Millennium, announced plans to build two large solar
farms here that would harness the sun to generate electricity, creating
hundreds of jobs.
But then things got messy. The company revealed that its preferred
method of cooling the power plants would consume 1.3 billion gallons of
water a year, about 20 percent of this desert valley's available water.
Now Solar Millennium finds itself in the midst of a new-age version of a
Western water war. The public is divided, pitting some people who hope
to make money selling water rights to the company against others
concerned about the project's impact on the community and the environment.
"I'm worried about my well and the wells of my neighbors," George
Tucker, a retired chemical engineer, said on a blazing afternoon.
Here is an inconvenient truth about renewable energy: It can sometimes
demand a huge amount of water. Many of the proposed solutions to the
nation's energy problems, from certain types of solar farms to biofuel
refineries to cleaner coal plants, could consume billions of gallons of
water every year.
"When push comes to shove, water could become the real throttle on
renewable energy," said Michael E. Webber, an assistant professor at the
University of Texas in Austin who studies the relationship between
energy and water.
Conflicts over water could shape the future of many energy technologies.
The most water-efficient renewable technologies are not necessarily the
most economical, but water shortages could give them a competitive edge.
In California, solar developers have already been forced to switch to...
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