Skip to main content

Power Marketing Administrations: Additional Steps Are Needed to Better Manage Climate-Related Risks

GAO-23-106224 Published: Mar 29, 2023. Publicly Released: Mar 30, 2023.
Jump To:

Fast Facts

Four "power marketing administrations" sell electricity generated from federal hydropower dams to public utilities, rural cooperatives, and Indian Tribes in over 30 states.

The four entities face a number of climate-related risks to their operations. For example, decreasing water availability that resulted from droughts could reduce the amount of electricity generated from dams—affecting their ability to provide power.

In 2022, two of the administrations identified weaknesses associated with climate change and developed plans to address them. But the other two have not yet done so. We recommended that they develop such plans.

Low Water Levels at Glen Canyon Dam

aerial view of a concrete-arch dam with a bridge in the background

Skip to Highlights

Highlights

What GAO Found

The Power Marketing Administrations (PMA)—the Bonneville Power Administration, the Southeastern Power Administration, the Southwestern Power Administration, and the Western Area Power Administration—face several climate-related risks to their operations. For example, decreasing water availability resulting from drought could reduce electricity generation from federal hydropower dams, such as the Hoover Dam. Warmer temperatures and drier conditions could lead to more frequent wildfires, which could disrupt operations. For example, in September 2020, 38 of the Bonneville Power Administration's transmission lines were out of service because of wildfires, with some lines out of service momentarily and others for over a week. While it is not possible to attribute an individual event, such as a wildfire, to climate change, such events provide insights into the risks climate change poses to PMA operations.

Low Water Levels at the Hoover Dam in August 2021

G:\106224\Graphics\High01_5_v1_106224.png

The PMAs have taken some steps to manage climate-related risks. For example, through a series of congressionally mandated assessments, all of the PMAs have identified risks that climate change poses to federal hydropower generation. In addition, the Bonneville Power Administration and the Southwestern Power Administration have conducted assessments of critical assets vulnerable to climate change and developed resilience plans to address climate-related risks, as called for by the Department of Energy's (DOE) Vulnerability Assessment and Resilience Planning Guidance. The Southeastern Power Administration and the Western Area Power Administration, however, have not yet done so. Identifying critical assets vulnerable to climate change would help these entities develop resilience measures to address climate-related risks and determine whether mitigating certain risks is worth the investment. As GAO and others have reported, investing in resilience can reduce the need for more costly actions in the future. This, in turn, would help the PMAs fulfill their mission of providing reliable and affordable power to their customers.

Why GAO Did This Study

The four PMAs play a significant role in selling and transmitting electricity to public power utilities, cooperatives, and Indian Tribes, in over 30 states. However, more frequent extreme weather events and other risks associated with climate change could cost utilities and customers billions of dollars from power outages and infrastructure damage. DOE's Office of the Under Secretary for Infrastructure oversees the PMAs.

GAO was asked to examine U.S. energy infrastructure resilience to climate change. This report examines (1) the risks climate change poses to PMA operations and (2) steps the PMAs have taken to manage climate-related risks and additional steps needed. GAO analyzed relevant reports, including the Fourth National Climate Assessment; and interviewed PMA officials, as well as 18 knowledgeable stakeholders from risk management; consumer, trade association, and environmental groups; and staff from five DOE national laboratories.

Recommendations

GAO is making seven recommendations, including that the Southeastern Power Administration and the Western Area Power Administration develop vulnerability assessments and resilience plans, as directed by DOE. DOE agreed with GAO's recommendations. The Southeastern Power Administration and the Western Area Power Administration plan to develop plans by December 31, 2023.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Southeastern Power Administration The Administrator of the Southeastern Power Administration should direct staff to develop a climate change vulnerability assessment that identifies critical assets, infrastructure systems, and programs vulnerable to climate change. (Recommendation 1)
Open
DOE agreed with this recommendation. In September 2023, DOE stated that SEPA will complete a Vulnerability Assessment and Resilience Plan that will identify critical assets, infrastructure systems, and programs vulnerable to climate change by December 31, 2023.
Southeastern Power Administration The Administrator of the Southeastern Power Administration should direct staff to develop a resilience plan that identifies and prioritizes climate resilience measures needed to address climate-related risks. (Recommendation 2)
Open
DOE agreed with this recommendation. In September 2023, DOE stated that SEPA will complete a Vulnerability Assessment and Resilience Plan that identifies and prioritizes climate resilience measures needed to address climate-related risks by December 31, 2023.
Southeastern Power Administration The Administrator of the Southeastern Power Administration should direct staff to establish a plan to routinely reassess its vulnerability assessment and resilience plan to incorporate updated information about climate science and implemented resilience measures. (Recommendation 3)
Open
DOE agreed with this recommendation. In September 2023, DOE stated that SEPA's Vulnerability Assessment and Resilience Plan will be reassessed every four years to incorporate updated information about climate science and implemented measures.
Western Area Power Administration The Administrator of the Western Area Power Administration should direct staff to develop a climate change vulnerability assessment that identifies critical assets, infrastructure systems, and programs vulnerable to climate change. (Recommendation 4)
Open
DOE agreed with this recommendation. In September 2023, DOE stated that WAPA will complete a Vulnerability Assessment and Resilience Plan that will identify critical assets, infrastructure systems, and programs vulnerable to climate change by December 31, 2023.
Western Area Power Administration The Administrator of the Western Area Power Administration should direct staff to develop a resilience plan that identifies and prioritizes climate resilience measures needed to address climate-related risks. (Recommendation 5)
Open
DOE agreed with this recommendation. In September 2023, DOE stated that WAPA will complete a Vulnerability Assessment and Resilience Plan that identifies and prioritizes climate resilience measures needed to address climate-related risks by December 31, 2023.
Western Area Power Administration The Administrator of the Western Area Power Administration should direct staff to establish a plan to routinely reassess its vulnerability assessment and resilience plan to incorporate updated information about climate science and implemented resilience measures. (Recommendation 6)
Open
DOE agreed with this recommendation. In September 2023, DOE stated that WAPA's Vulnerability Assessment and Resilience Plan will be reassessed every four years to incorporate updated information about climate science and implemented measures.
Department of Energy The Secretary of Energy should take steps to determine the need for future assessments of the effects of climate change on federal hydropower and on the marketing of power from federal facilities. (Recommendation 7)
Open
DOE agreed with this recommendation. In September 2023, DOE stated that the department will review the submitted assessments to determine the need for continued assessments regarding the effects of climate change on federal hydropower and on the marketing of power from these facilities. DOE added that the department will make its recommendations before the next cycle of assessments.

Full Report

GAO Contacts

Office of Public Affairs

Topics

ClimateClimate changeDamsDroughtsElectricityRisk managementTransmission linesWater powerWildfiresExtreme weather