Bob Perciasepe’s remarks for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies








FEBRUARY 3, 2015

Thank you for inviting me to your winter conference. It’s great to be here with you.

I know you’ve been talking this morning about reaching out to new partners, and about how those collaborations can lead to new opportunities and solutions.

I’m a believer in bringing diverse groups together because, the truth is, we need broad thinking to address the challenges we face.

That’s what I believed during my years at EPA. And that’s the mission where I work now, at the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. C2ES, as we call it, has built a reputation for bringing together different interests to find common ground.

I want to build on your discussion this morning by talking to you about Opportunities for Water-Energy Partnerships. These opportunities include increasing your energy efficiency and improving your resilience to climate impacts.

First I’ll say a few words about the water-energy-climate nexus – how our water and energy systems are intertwined, and how climate change is affecting you both. Then I’ll talk about the opportunities in the Clean Power Plan to innovate and seek new partners who will help you improve energy efficiency and reduce energy costs. And lastly, I’ll talk about how some of these partnerships and innovations can also improve our water system’s resilience to climate change.

The Water-Energy-Climate Nexus

As this audience well knows, our water and energy systems are intricately linked together, and both systems face impacts from climate change.

Water is needed to extract, transport and process fuels and to cool thermal power plants. Energy is needed to extract, move and heat water and to treat water and wastewater so it can be safely returned to the environment. In many regions, it’s not uncommon for the water utility to be the biggest customer of the electric utility, and vice versa.

Think about this: The average family of four in the US uses about 400 gallons of water a day. At eight pounds a gallon, that’s one and a half tons of water. It takes a lot of energy to deliver one and a half tons of water to a house every day and then, in some cases, pump it back and treat it.

So we can see our water and energy systems are tied together. It’s also clear that climate change is affecting you both. Let me give you a few examples of climate impacts:

Sea level has risen about 8 inches in the last 100 years, and could rise 1 to 4 feet by the end of the century. That will mean more salt water intrusion of our drinking water supplies. It could mean flooding of coastal water treatment and power plants, and other damage to our communities and our infrastructure.

You’re not in the clear if you’re not on the coast. Climate change is increasing the intensity of heavy downpours. These downpours are overwhelming our capacity to deal with stormwater runoff.

Storms can also knock out power, which can knock out water supplies. After Hurricane Sandy, American Water needed 170 generators to keep supplying water to its customers hit by the storm. The Passaic wastewater treatment plant, the fifth largest in the country, was engulfed by Hurricane Sandy and was offline for 45 days.

In other areas, there’s too little water. California is in the fourth year of drought. Despite a wet December, the state’s major reservoirs are still about 40 percent below normal. I was just in Brazil, where the most populous region, the coast, is facing its worst drought in 80 years.

When you add more heat waves due to climate change on top of drought, you get increased water demand when supplies are already under siege.

For the power sector, low water levels and warmer water temperatures also spell trouble, because power plants need lots of cool water. There are examples already of cooling water being too warm.

And all these impacts have costs: For the water industry: Hurricane Sandy caused more than $4 billion in damage to wastewater treatment operations in New York and New Jersey. For the energy industry: The power company Entergy estimates it would take more than $120 billion to reduce the risks to the Gulf region from future storms.

Opportunities for Partnership

So I’ve talked about how our water and energy systems are intertwined, and how climate change impacts both. These give you ample reasons to act. Now I’d like to focus on the opportunities and potential benefits the water industry could see by reaching out to new partners at electric utilities.

It takes smart policies to help make these possibilities a reality. Policies that encourage utilities to be innovative, that ease regulatory constraints and ease financing challenges.

EPA’s Clean Power Plan is one of the policies that can foster innovative and creative partnerships to help us use water and energy more efficiently. Who can argue with the desire to encourage innovation, and the need to use our resources, especially water, wisely?

The plan’s goal is to limit carbon emissions from power plants — emissions that are contributing to climate change. EPA has received more than 2 million comments — including some from C2ES and NACWA — on ways to improve the plan. And we expect a final rule this summer.

What is at the core of this rule, and what is so vital, is its flexibility. This is key. EPA sets a goal and then states are encouraged to innovate to meet it.

States can choose to use more natural gas or more zero-emission energy like nuclear or renewables. They can make their power plants more efficient. 

They can also look at energy efficiency more broadly – reducing the demand for electricity – to help meet the goal. Most studies show that in the near term, this is a win-win for consumers and for reducing greenhouse gases.

Some states may choose to combine efforts with their neighbors. States, acting on their own or with others, have plenty of room for market-based approaches – using the forces of the market to drive innovation and solve problems.

We agree with NACWA’s comments to EPA – that the water sector can play a positive role in the Clean Power Plan by voluntarily increasing energy efficiency and renewable energy generation.

I know you have some concerns — that power plant regulations combined with new discharge treatment mandates will drive up your energy costs.

But done right, by reaching out and building new partnerships, water utilities could actually realize not only lower energy bills, but also increased funding for infrastructure improvements.

It would need to be clear that actions by water utilities to reduce demand or produce renewable power could be used toward compliance with the Clean Power Plan. I’m sure this will be enabled.

In a market-based approach, power companies and/or the state would be financially encouraged to help water utilities make infrastructure improvements to reduce energy usage.

More than $600 billion is needed over the next 20 years to maintain and improve the nation’s clean water infrastructure. This is going to require new partnerships — where cities, states, water and energy utilities, and regulators all work together.

Fortunately, we already have some examples of innovative partnerships that can serve as guideposts.

Examples of partnerships

More than 65 electric utilities in the US are using treated wastewater, instead of drinking water, to cool power plants. In Texas, CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System have been doing this since the 1960s.

Some water utilities are generating power on site, from solar, wind or biogas, to meet their own energy needs or even sell back to the grid. East Bay Municipal Utility District in Oakland, California, was the first in North America to produce more energy on-site than it needs. It uses anaerobic digesters to create biogas, saving about $3 million dollars a year in energy costs.

In Camden County, New Jersey, the Municipal Utilities Authority got a $1 million grant from the local power utility for a demonstration project to extract thermal energy from sewer lines to power steam turbines.

And there are so many more opportunities. Water utility managers could work with electric utilities to time their most energy-intensive processes for off-peak hours for a reduced rate. Wastewater and energy generation facilities could be sited together. That way energy could be generated from wastewater. And power plant waste heat could be used for wastewater treatment.

Wastewater plants could even serve as fueling stations for city fleets.

You can emulate these partnerships or create something entirely new. The point is that these steps can lead to a more efficient water system and reduce our emissions.


Finally, to circle back to the water-energy-climate nexus: When we think about water and energy systems together, we can often realize opportunities to build systems that are more resilient to climate impacts.

When we improve energy or water efficiency, we are buying some resilience benefits. Using less energy makes it less likely that summer peak demands will disrupt power supplies, which can be a challenge for water treatment. And consuming or withdrawing less water provides a buffer in areas prone to drought.

When we start to deploy energy systems on-site, we can make water facilities at least partially immune to disruptions to the grid caused by extreme weather.

And when we reach out beyond our own facilities, we can influence the patterns of development that affect stormwater. Working with city planners and community leaders, we can minimize the impact of new development on the local hydrology. And we can encourage the use of green infrastructure, where it makes sense, to relieve stress on existing stormwater and wastewater systems.

Given the projections for more intense rainfall across large portions of the country, and the trends toward heavier rain that we’ve already seen in the Northeast and Midwest, green infrastructure, from rain gardens to porous pavements, could complement existing systems, and offer environmental and recreational benefits to boot.

A great example of this kind of holistic and long-term approach is Philadelphia’s 25-year Green City, Clean Waters program that has brought together government, private landowners, schools and neighborhood groups and tried to bake-in thinking about stormwater in all aspects of city development.

It’s not about increasing capacity; it’s about decreasing demand.

Our water and energy systems are intertwined and both face costly climate impacts. But by partnering, you can be more efficient, build more resilient systems, and reduce some of our biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

The examples and ideas I outlined aren’t just opportunities for an individual utility or individual city to see economic benefits. They are the building blocks of our national and global response to our climate challenge.

So when you get home, pick up the phone — call your local electric utility, reach out to farmers and mayors and state officials — and start talking about ways to save energy, about ways to generate energy, about ways to work together for a more sustainable future.

I can’t wait to see what we can achieve by working together.