Texas Lawmakers Agree to Study How Clean Energy Can Solve State’s Water Woes

Texas Senate, House, and Governor sign EDF-supported legislation for renewable energy desalination study into law

June 17, 2015
Catherine Ittner, (512) 691-3458, cittner@edf.org

(AUSTIN – June 17, 2015) Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, signed bipartisan Senate Bill (SB) 991, sponsored by Senator José Rodríguez (D-El Paso) and Representative Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), into law yesterday. This legislation represents an important first step for Texas to understand how its abundant solar and wind energy can power brackish desalination facilities, one of the technologies outlined in the Texas Water Plan.

Traditional desalination is highly energy-intensive. Since 90 percent of energy in Texas comes from fossil-fueled power plants which consume vast amounts of water, desalination is, in turn, highly water-intensive. SB 991 aims to address both the energy and water-intensity of this technology by requiring the General Land Office and the Texas Water Development Board to study the economic and geophysical potential of using clean energy to desalinate brackish groundwater. This is the critical step to measuring how low-water-use renewable energy can help alleviate some of the state’s water scarcity issues.

“Currently, fossil-fueled electricity production used to power desalination plants is very water-intensive, so we’re using water to make water,” said state Senator Rodríguez, who authored the bill. “With the efforts the state has made to develop renewable energy, including on state lands, and the increased focus on developing desalination of brackish water, there are unique synergies that warrant further investigation.”

“Brackish desalination is going to be key to Texas’s future water management strategy,” added bill sponsor Representative Larson. “Texas is the national leader in wind energy and has the highest solar energy potential in the United Sates. We need to harness these sources to develop a robust water supply from the brackish component of our aquifers.”

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) supported SB 991 because understanding the energy needs for desalination facilities, an emerging technology needed to meet the water needs of Texas’ growing cities and agricultural and energy sectors, is essential if Texas wants to ensure taps keep running. Clean energy is a perfect complement to desalination, as it requires zero water to produce electricity, saving our current water supply for other purposes.

“EDF applauds Texas’ legislators, especially Senator Rodríguez and Representative Larson, for their leadership and foresight to harness our abundant clean energy resources to plan for Texas’ reliable water future,” said Kate Zerrenner, EDF Texas clean energy project manager. “Both Senator Rodríguez and Representative Larson are from water-scarce cities that have taken innovative approaches to solving water woes, and this bill is no exception.” 

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