Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

At Hearing on Drought, Signs of Optimism and Concern

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Texas Senate Business and Commerce committee heard testimony from state agencies, scientists, environmental groups and others Tuesday about how an extended drought might affect the state’s power grid. There was talk of cloud seeding, demand response, and even input from the ambassador to Australia on how to best generate power during a drought.

The meeting went for hours, and while it didn’t yield any direct results, there were plenty of ideas for dealing with the drought.  It will be interesting to see which of them the committee picks to present before the next session of the state legislature in 2013.

Rays of Hope

State meteorologist George Bomar testified on where things may be headed, saying that “we have just come through the worst one-year drought in Texas history and it’s not over.” He said the current drought is a “once in a lifetime experience” and that lakes and reservoirs have reached alarmingly low levels. His testimony hit notes of both pessimism and hope:

“There is a ray of hope for Texas. The second phase of La Niña is now near its peak, and all of the computer models that predict its future point to a return to near-normal water temperatures in the central Pacific midway through 2012. It is true that La Niña can resurge a second time (for a third phase)—but that is rather unlikely. Instead, La Niña should be quite weak—if not vanished altogether—before spring is over. But that is not good enough for Texas’ needs.”

There was also testimony about how to get consumers to conserve electricity and have the state use less water to produce it. Trip Doggett, President and CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which runs the grid that provides 85 percent of the state’s power, testified that surface water supplies in Texas hit a ten-year low in October. He said that while the council doesn’t foresee any “significant generation shortfalls” this year due to the drought, if it continues into next year the impact on the grid will become more “severe.”

“Suckin’ Dirt”

The state has weathered the economic downturn well, but can its economy survive a downturn in weather? That’s what troubles State Senator Leticia Van de Putte. She said that during a recent conversation about Texas’ job sector with a lawmaker from Michigan, she heard a dire prediction for Texas’ future. “It was a really uncomfortable situation,” Van de Putte recalled. “The nice legislator from Michigan said, well I just want you to know that in ten to fifteen years, when you Texans are suckin’ dirt, because you don’t have any water, the jobs are gonna come back to Michigan.”

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst directed the committee to examine how the state can withstand an extended drought. The committee has requested additional information from several of the agencies. It will then review the options and make recommendations during the next legislative session.


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