Watch CBS News

Hydroelectric Power Cut In Half During California's Drought, State Using More Natural Gas

SISKIYOU COUNTY (KPIX 5) – For decades now, California has been trying to draw more of its energy from renewable resources. But this year, that green ambition is taking a hit and the drought is to blame.

Since the 1960s, the Iron Gate Dam has been pumping energy into Northern California, compliments of the Klamath River.

"Unfortunately, during a drought year it becomes very difficult, and there's a lot of individuals who need the usage of that water," said Todd Andres of Pacific Power.

So this year, on behalf of farmers and a whole lot of salmon, the federal government asked Pacific Power" if it could borrow some water.

"I think the spirit of cooperation is very critical during drought years," Andres said.

And while that move was good for the fish, it meant a little less juice from the Iron Gate powerhouse.

"Yes. When there's a drought - that obviously impacts our water efforts," Andres said.

With the same problem unfolding on nearly every river - it's starting to change the state's energy balance.

So far this year, hydropower generated in California isn't just dropping, it has actually been cut in half.

"Hydropower has dropped from 20 percent to about 10 percent of its contribution to California's electricity," said Michelle Bowman of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Filling the gap has been a bit more wind power. But the bigger push is coming from natural gas, which also fuels a lot of debate, namely about the environmental impact of fracking.

"With renewables, we're blessed with the technology for free fuel. But we're subject to whatever Mother Nature gives us," Bowman said.

So the drought has delivered us yet another challenge: making up for lost wattage - as one source of green energy slowly runs dry.

"You know, we do what we can this year. We hope and pray for a good healthy winter, and then we move on to next year."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.