Local View: Can wind save our water?

By Gary Aksamit Journal Star:

A recent Lincoln Journal Star editorial “Plan for next drought” (LJS, Aug. 21) appropriately stated that Nebraska “should spur adoption of better water conservation practices in the public and private spheres.” Nebraska public power entities are reviewing their electricity generation portfolios and determining what role — if any — wind and other renewable energy will play. As Nebraska’s drought worsens, how Nebraska’s current electricity generation affects Nebraska’s most precious natural resource — water — should be considered.

Nebraska ranks fourth in the United States for wind resource. Nebraskans also should know water use and coal-fired electricity generation facilities are joined at the hip, using tens of thousands of acre-feet of Nebraska’s surface and groundwater to cool their plants. Wind, however, uses no water to generate electricity. Wind is Nebraska’s second most valuable natural resource behind water. Wind is “mechanical generation” — gears turning a generator. Coal, natural gas and nuclear are “thermal generation” — combustion creating steam to turn a generator.

Nebraska’s coal-powered generation units use billions of gallons of water yearly from the Ogallala Aquifer and Platte River, yet no one asks how much that impacts the state’s irrigation, industrial and residential water supply. A wind turbine operates at full capacity 40-50 percent of the time. But, 70 percent of every BTU in the combustion process of a coal generation unit goes unused due to expended steam or unused heated water. The 150-degree water discharged at the end of the process takes BTUs to heat even though it’s not creating steam at that temperature.

Nebraska currently exchanges local electricity rate payers’ dollars for Wyoming coal, but coal is exploiting Nebraska’s water. And perhaps more unsettling… Read more

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