Alerts and Updates

Energy, Environment and Resources Update

Issue 23 | May 2018

California Approves Water Tunnel Plan

By Thomas M. Berliner

On April 10, 2018, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) took a historic vote. The nation’s largest metropolitan water district voted to pay for the lion’s share of costs to construct new water conveyance tunnels that would assist in moving water from Northern California to Southern California. The California WaterFix project involves the construction of two tunnels—each one 35 miles long, 40 feet in diameter and placed 150 feet underground—to convey as much as 18,000 acre feet per day of water. An acre foot is sufficient to serve two to three families per year. Currently the state of California is conducting extensive multiyear hearings to determine whether a water permit should be issued to allow this new conveyance to occur. Currently, this water is conveyed down rivers through the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, through sloughs that were constructed almost 150 years ago to allow the Bay-Delta Estuary area to be farmed.

Over the years, environmentalists have contended that this through-delta conveyance of water has caused problems for fisheries and water quality. Over 20 million Californians and millions of acres of agricultural rely on the water system. California’s economy is one of the largest in the world and the state grows about 40 percent of the nation’s fruits, nuts and vegetables.

The current cost estimate for the project is approximately $17 billion. It will take about 14 years to design, permit and construct. The proponents argue that the project is necessary to provide a reliable water supply to the Silicon Valley, central coast and Southern California. Further, there are fishery benefits by separating water supply operations from fish habitat and migration corridors. The water supply aspects of the project would be paid for by the beneficiaries.

The Evolving Role of Microgrids

By Patrick L. Morand

The latest hurricane season, which left millions without power for substantial periods of time, was yet another reminder of the urgent need to make America’s electrical grid more resilient. The increasing frequency and intensity of such storms is exposing the vulnerabilities of the aging electrical grid, i.e., the network of transmission and distribution lines often spanning long distances between power generation sources and population centers. Service on these lines can be disrupted by falling trees, flying debris, or extreme heat or cold, while substations can be destroyed by flooding, leaving tens of thousands of customers at a time without power.

Microgrids, which provide more localized power generation and distribution, can play a vital role in providing resilience by islanding themselves from the rest of the grid during such outages while continuing to provide power to critical facilities. In addition to providing resiliency, microgrids have other potential benefits, such as reducing peak demands for the larger grid through optimization of resources, reducing carbon emissions through increased energy efficiency and the deployment of renewable energy resources, as well as acting as market participants in the organized wholesale electricity markets. These evolving roles for microgrids raise legal questions for state and federal regulatory authorities, which are racing to catch up with this technology to provide appropriate guidance and regulation.

Visit the Section of Energy, Environment and Resources of the American Bar Association website to read the full article.

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