WASHINGTON (AP) — Climate change and extreme weather
already are causing disruptions in the U.S. energy supply that are likely
to worsen as more intense storms, higher temperatures and more frequent
droughts occur, the government says in a new report.
The report, released Thursday by the Energy Department, says blackouts and
other problems caused by Superstorm Sandy and other extreme weather events
are likely to be repeated across the country as an aging energy
infrastructure struggles to adapt to rising seas, higher storm surges and
increased flooding. A range of energy sources are at risk, from coal-fired
power plants to oil wells, hydroelectric dams and nuclear power plants.
Climate-related disasters have already costs tens of billions of dollars,
and the report says costs could grow exponentially unless a more
comprehensive and accelerated response is adopted.
On the Gulf Coast, for instance, the report cites a study by an energy
company and wetland foundation projecting that by 2030, nearly $1 trillion
in energy assets in the region will be at risk from rising sea levels and
more intense hurricanes. Based on an analysis of hazards, assets and
vulnerabilities, the Gulf Coast energy sector faces an average annual loss
from climate change and extreme weather of $8 billion in 2030, the report
The report urges private companies, governments and research institutions
to take action to further understand the risks of climate change and
reduce them. The report does not offer immediate recommendations, but says
power plants and oil companies should use less water and recycle what they
Electricity providers should harden transmission grids and build emergency
backup systems, the report says, and operators of hydroelectric dams
should improve turbine efficiency. The report also recommends that
governments and utilities work together to reduce demand for electricity.
"Water is obviously the big question," said Jonathan Pershing, deputy
assistant secretary of energy for climate change policy and technology,
who oversaw the report. "In drought you don't have enough water. As seas
rise, you have too much."
While the risks from drought, floods and hurricanes are clear, water plays
an important role in less obvious ways as well, Pershing said. Both
coal-fired and nuclear power plants, for instance, need large volumes of
water for cooling. As temperatures rise, that becomes more difficult.
The report cites several examples from 2012, the warmest year in the
United States since record-keeping began in 1895:
— In August, a nuclear power station in Connecticut shut down one reactor
because the temperature of the intake cooling water, withdrawn from Long
Island Sound, was too high. The two-week shutdown resulted in the loss of
255,000 megawatt-hours of power, worth several million dollars, the report
—In the Midwest, drought and low river water depths disrupted the
transportation of commodities, such as petroleum and coal, delivered by
barges along the Mississippi River.
—In California, reduced snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains limited
hydroelectric power generation capacity by about 8 percent.
"Costs are already happening and it's getting worse," Pershing said. "We
are seeing damages across all parts of the energy sector."
Pershing said the report sends a "significant message about the risks and
vulnerabilities" facing the U.S. energy sector. The report should provide
a blueprint for states and municipalities to consider, along with
utilities and other energy providers and even consumers, who can do their
part by reducing energy use or seeking alternative forms of energy,
The report is the first of many to be produced across a range of economic
sectors as the Obama administration responds to climate change and makes
recommendations, Pershing said.
President Barack Obama announced a wide-ranging plan last month to combat
global warming. The plan for the first time would put limits on carbon
pollution from new and existing power plants as well as boost renewable
energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and
prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.