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President Obama made a historic announcement Wednesday, saying that the federal government is considering investing in the geothermal power in the rock formations under the Salton Sea in Southern California. Considered to be "the most powerful geothermal reservoirs in the world," the Salton Sea announcement could play a critical role in the future management of the Colorado River.
Mud flies as carbon dioxide gas from deep underground fissures escapes through geothermal mudpots or mud volcanoes, over the southern San Andreas earthquake fault near the Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge near Calipatria, California. David McNew
Fifty years ago, Glen Canyon Dam was built above the Grand Canyon, and the Colorado River was enslaved to generate electricity to feed the hunger of the booming southwestern cities and suburbs. The Colorado's pulsing flows had carved and nourished the Grand Canyon for millennium, but that came to a crashing halt when the gates were closed and the water was ponded in Lake Powell. The environmental damage and steady decline of one of our nation's crown jewels has led to many calls for restoration of the natural system through the removal of Glen Canyon Dam.
The dam's ability to provide power has shielded it from any serious attempt to bring it down. Times change though and, over the last 16 years, the historic drought in the Southwest U.S. has drained Lake Powell to historic lows, severely diminishing the potential to generate hydroelectricity from the massive turbines encased in Glen Canyon Dam. Water and electricity managers are scrambling to come up with a plan to prop up the lake above what's called "power pool" so they can continue to generate and sell power. Any such solution is, however, clearly a stop-gap measure to keep the dam operational and is doomed to fail when confronted by the realities of climate change.
Fortunately, Obama's announcement offers a true path to the future.
The Salton Sea announcement could create an opportunity to replace the hydroelectric power generated at Glen Canyon Dam and a path forward to restoring the Grand Canyon. The geothermal reservoirs under the Salton Sea are an untapped resource that could add power to the grid as Lake Powell is slowly drained and Glen Canyon Dam is removed. Lake Powell's water could be put into Lake Mead, its downstream sister, thus keeping one fully functioning hydroelectric facility on the grid. Further, this "geo-hydro power trade" could keep the federal government solvent in its current financial contracts to provide electricity to the Southwest U.S.
The idea has already generated a bit of a buzz when Geothermal Resources retweeted this tweet:
Climate change scientists have painted a bullseye on the Southwest U.S. and the Colorado River, indicating the area will become warmer and dryer with even less flow in the Colorado River. Hydroelectricity is threatened at both Lakes Powell and Mead, as well as reservoirs in California. Salton Sea geothermal power could be a breakthrough in building a climate change-resistant Southwest while also preserving and restoring the lifeblood of the region—the Colorado River.
By Mike Gaworecki
Electricity generation from wind, solar and other renewable energy technologies have set monthly records every month so far in 2016, based on data through June released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) Wednesday.
"Both hydroelectric and nonhydroelectric renewables have contributed to this trend, but in different ways. After a lengthy West Coast drought, hydro generation has increased and is now closer to historical levels. Nonhydro renewable generation continues to increase year-over-year and has exceeded hydro generation in each month since February 2016," the EIA said.
Nellis Solar Power Plant located within Nellis Air Force Base, northeast of Las Vegas. The power plant occupies 140 acres, contains about 70,000 solar panels and generates 14 megawatts of solar power for the base. Wikimedia Commons
According to EIA's data, net U.S. electricity generation from non-hydroelectric, utility-scale renewables—biomass, geothermal, solar and wind—through June 2016 was 17 percent higher than in the first half of 2015. Electricity generation from conventional hydropower also rose, by nearly 12 percent. Combined, production from all utility-scale renewable sources was up 14.5 percent compared to the same period in 2015.
Not only has electricity generated by renewables exceeded previous levels in every month so far in 2016—in other words, more renewable energy was produced in January 2016 than any other January on record, more renewable energy was produced in February 2016 than any other February and so on—but renewable utility-scale electricity generation hit an all-time high of 16.55 percent of total domestic generation.
Those weren't the only records broken, either. Utility-scale wind rose 23.5 percent in the first half of 2016, setting a new six-month record of 5.96 percent of total generation.
Meanwhile, generation from utility-scale solar thermal and photovoltaics grew by 30.3 percent and accounted for 0.87 percent of total utility-scale electrical output. The EIA also estimates that distributed solar photovoltaics or rooftop solar systems, expanded by 34.3 percent. Combined, utility-scale and distributed solar comprised 1.26 percent of total generation. A year ago, solar was responsible for just 0.94 percent of electricity generation.
Together, wind and solar grew by nearly 25 percent over the first half of 2015 and now provide almost as much electricity as conventional hydropower. Biomass and geothermal were the only renewable sources tracked by the EIA that have experienced declines so far in 2016.
Of course, renewables aren't the only record-breakers out there. July 2016 was the 15th record-breaking month in a row in terms of global temperatures, data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association showed. And Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, reported that July 2016 was also "absolutely the hottest month since the instrumental records began."
Electricity generated from coal plummeted by more than 20 percent and nuclear power stagnated, growing just one percent, per the EIA data. Generation fueled by natural gas, on the other hand, was up by 7.7 percent.
Still, Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign, noted that renewable energy has continued to defy projections.
"Renewable energy's share of net electrical generation for the balance of 2016 may dip a little because electrical output from wind and hydropower sources tends to be highest during the first six months of each year," Bossong said. "Nonetheless, the data thus far is swamping EIA's earlier forecast of just 9.5 percent growth by renewables in 2016."