Earlier this week, three major utilities agreed to significantly expand reporting and disclosure on water availability risks and plans for mitigating those risks in direct response to shareholder requests.
The negative environmental impacts of extracting and using nuclear energy, coal, oil and natural gas are well known, but few people realize that these industries require an estimated 136 billion gallons of water a day for generating and cooling the steam that drives electric turbines. This represents almost 40 percent of all freshwater withdrawals in the United States.
Water risks are already leading some utilities in drought-prone regions in the U.S. West to turn away from water-intensive coal-fired power generation. Some power plants have been blocked from obtaining water permits as they have attempted to expand or build new coal-fired facilities.
Investors filed shareholder resolutions with Dominion, Southern and PPL several months ago asking them to evaluate and disclose their strategies for wide-ranging water risks, including low flows, thermal impacts, and emerging regulations.
“Water scarcity is a growing risk to many public utilities and investors want to know how companies are preparing for increased competition for supplies, emerging regulations and potential revenue losses from shortages,” said Mindy S. Lubber, president of Ceres and director of the $9.5 trillion Investor Network on Climate Risk.
Southern Company, one of the nation’s largest electric generators, agreed to prepare a comprehensive “water action report,” describing its water management philosophy, water use and consumption by generation type, water discharges, and water risks in its fuel supply chain.
PPL agreed to report on the water intensity of its generation, its water resources and cooling system types and water rights of major facilities. The company will provide the information in its upcoming CSR report.
Virginia-based Dominion agreed to participate in the Carbon Disclosure Project’s water survey, which asks companies to report their water use and risks associated with changing water availability.
Image Credit: Flickr - Cimm