The numbers on the drought gripping the South Central U.S. are grim–68 percent of Oklahoma "exceptional" (worst) or "extreme," 79 percent of New Mexico, 83 percent of Louisiana, and a stunning 92 percent of Texas–but the effects are even more so.
A sampling from a drought report in AgriLife Today, a publication of Texas A&M University:
– "Livestock producers were culling herds because of shortages of forage and of hay."
– "Very large numbers of grasshoppers were reported."
– "Fish in Henderson County were dying from depleted water-oxygen levels."
– "Wildlife visited towns at night to feed on green grass in home lawns."
– "Some irrigation wells were pumping only air."
– "Some producers lost cattle after moving them when water tanks dried up. In the new pastures, cattle died of water intoxication from drinking too much, too fast."
– "Whitetail deer were also suffering from the drought. Does were having problems carrying fawns to term. Prematurely born fawns were found; most were not surviving."
With water supplies deeply stressed throughout a region that also possesses outstanding wind resources–Texas has enough wind to generate more electricity than the entire U.S. currently uses–wind power's ability to provide energy without using water is a critical quality that policy makers would do well to keep in mind.
A research brief from wind turbine manufacturer Vestas details the comparative water requirements for various electricity generation technologies. To generate as much electricity as a single average American home uses each year, the following amounts of water would be needed:
Solar photovoltaic: 0
Natural gas combined cycle: 2,000 gallons
Natural gas combined cycle with carbon capture and storage: 3,800 gallons
Pulverized coal: 4,900 gallons
Nuclear: 6,700 gallons
Concentrated solar power (trough): 8,700 gallons
Pulverized coal with carbon capture and storage: 9,300 gallons
Wind already provides an "insurance policy" against fuel price spikes, because it uses no fuel–making it possible for wind farm developers to sign long-term contracts at guaranteed prices. The fact that it also uses no water is another type of insurance, helping to protect against water shortages during the type of calamitous weather we are currently seeing in the Southern Plains.
Think tank: Water needs may limit shale gas, some renewables, June 29, 2011
Water anxiety? Wind power can help, June 16, 2011
Report sees water as utility investment risk factor, October 27, 2010
Use wind, save water, September 20, 2010
20% Wind Energy by 2030 Summary Presentation (pdf)
The Wind/Water Nexus, U.S. Department of Energy fact sheet, 2006 (pdf)