A lot of the discussion about climate change revolves around what will happen in the future. But global warming started to have impacts in Africa more than a decade ago. Now, the US Department of Energy has released a report documenting past and present impacts in the US, particularly on the US energy system.
This is a classic example of a feedback loop. The effects of global warming are now directly damaging the fossil fuel and water based industries that are creating global warming.
The effects are already being felt, the report says. Power plants are shutting down or reducing output because of a shortage of cooling water. Barges carrying coal and oil are being delayed by low water levels in major waterways. Floods and storm surges are inundating ports, refineries, pipelines and rail yards. Powerful windstorms and raging wildfires are felling transformers and transmission lines.
“We don’t have a robust energy system, and the costs are significant,” said Jonathan Pershing, the deputy assistant secretary of energy for climate change policy and technology, who oversaw production of the report. “The cost today is measured in the billions. Over the coming decades, it will be in the trillions. You can’t just put your head in the sand anymore.”
The DoE report notes the particular dependence of the centralized US electrical system on steam power, which depends on massive amounts of water to generate electricity. Whether a steam turbine is driven by the latest natural gas, coal or nuclear technology, it is still essentially a nineteenth century water-based machine. Power plants this dependent on water can no longer be sited in a growing expanse of the drought stricken western US.
We have seen these impacts in WV over the past ten years. As a result of recent severe storm damage, the WV PSC has promised all West Virginians that their electric rates will rise significantly over the coming years.
The alternatives are clear, decentralized renewable generation and investment in efficiency.