Drought continues to tighten its grip on the Missouri River Basin. Paul Johnston with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it’s not just the crops that already may be past saving, it’s power plants like the big hydro generating stations up in the Dakotas and Montana, which will produce 40-percent less energy than in a normal year.
The river’s also used in other kinds of power plants closer to home. There are seven, three in Iowa and four in Nebraska. The Iowa plants include two at the Neal Station near Sioux City, and the Iowa Power plant in Council Bluffs, in addition to Nebraska’s two coal-fired and two nuclear plants. The limited supply of water flowing down the river and being released from the big hydro dams upstream is still enough for routine use, Johnston says.
There’s “plenty of water,” he says, to provide cooling for the plants and for municipal drinking water, even when October comes and releases of water from the upriver dams are scaled back. But he explains even if there’s enough water, the plants likely will not be allowed to use all they need.
The concern they have right now is the hot weather — the river’s temperature may be enough to make them run afoul of the permits they get from the state. Users of water must return it at about the same temperature it left the river, so it doesn’t disrupt the ecology of the water plants and animals…so when the river’s already warm, the power plants may have to cut back their generation or even shut down.
The problem with cutting back is that it comes about the time Midwestern customers use peak amounts of electricity for high-powered air-conditioning on top of the usual amount they consume from the local power generators.
The power plants have contracts to deliver power to customers and utilities, and when they can’t make it the utility has to go out to the power “grid” and buy power. That’s when demand is the highest and he says “they end up payin’ big dollars for it.” That cost will be passed on to users in turn, so it’s going to show up on your power bill later this summer.