Building on Success: Governor Signs UCS-Sponsored Water-Energy Bill

September 26, 2016 | 1:44 pm
Juliet Christian-Smith
Western States Regional Director

Over the weekend, California Governor Brown signed a bill authored by Senator Fran Pavley and sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), creating a voluntary Water-Energy Nexus Registry. The Climate Registry provides this guest blog, explaining how the bill builds on The Climate Registry’s efforts to develop consistent benchmarks to track the relationship among water, energy, and greenhouse gases. This type of information is needed for the water sector to become part of the climate solution, according to a recent UCS report: Clean Energy Opportunities in California’s Water Sector.

California Governor Jerry Brown’s recent signing of SB 32 extends and intensifies California’s climate goals, indicating that the state has taken an even deeper plunge in the fight against climate change. Now boasting the most stringent environmental policy of any state, California agencies, businesses and citizens alike must take action to reduce emissions and meet the 2030 reduction goals.

While utilities may be one of the largest players in reducing California’s emissions, they certainly are not the only players. Many people do not realize that the transportation, use, and treatment of water, California’s most strained resource, accounts for nearly 20% of the state’s electricity consumption. That’s right: a fifth of all energy usage is embedded in the state’s water sector. This is only expected to increase as drought and population growth continue to stress the water supply.

The water sector undoubtedly plays a large role in the state’s energy and climate goals. However, a UCS report identified inconsistent or nonexistent data as one of the key barriers to improvement. Fran Spivy-Weber, Vice-Chair of the California State Water Resources Control Board underscores the importance of consistent metrics: “Metrics are important. Benchmarks help us to understand where we are, where we have been, and what we need to do to get to where we want to go. The ability to comprehensively assess the relationships among water, energy and greenhouse gas emissions will lead to more efficient investments, more effective programs, and more resilient markets.”

Recognizing the interconnected nature of water and energy, and the need for better, more standardized data on water sector emissions, The Climate Registry (TCR), in partnership with Southern California Edison (SCE), created the Water-Energy GHG Guidance (WEG). Launched in 2015, the Guidance seeks to provide water suppliers with a clear and consistent methodology to quantify, compare, and analyze the energy embedded in the water use cycle throughout the state. Using the Guidance will allow water suppliers to:

  • Compare data using consistent and transparent methodology;
  • Benchmark data from which to assess changes in water-energy intensity;
  • Claim credit for reducing energy use and GHGs associated with water; and
  • Communicate the benefits of water, energy, and GHG reduction efforts to customers

Developed using a stakeholder process with water agencies, government officials, scientists, and NGOs, this fall the project is moving into its pilot phase. TCR is working with select SCE business customers to test the Guidance using data previously reported to TCR’s voluntary program to develop a spreadsheet reporting tool. Experiences in the pilot will then be used to continue refining and informing the guidance moving forward. The project has broad support from government, NGO, and business stakeholders.

There are major obstacles to overcome as we envision California’s water sector as a climate leader, yet there are also major successes that point to opportunities for the water sector. By achieving carbon neutrality in 2015, Sonoma County Water demonstrated how focused efforts could have substantial impacts. Projects like this will serve as a motivation for utilities working in the pilot this fall.

Key initiatives, like those in Sonoma and the development of the WEG Guidance, have encouraged the California Legislature to pass SB 1425 and the Governor to sign it, which charges the California EPA with the creation of a Water-Energy Nexus Registry. This voluntary registry would build on the work done by TCR and SCE, with the ultimate goal of reducing the GHG intensity inherent in the state’s water system. TCR Executive Director, David Rosenheim states, “While there is no silver-bullet in meeting the ambitious reduction targets of California, efforts towards understanding the relationship between water and energy marks a significant jump forward.”