California's thermal electric generation plants, most of them natural gas-fired, have become more efficient and drought-resilient, according to the chairman of the California Energy Commission (CEC), which introduced a new mapping technology Monday for tracking water-energy usage statewide.

The online map includes data on water and energy at the state’s 100 largest generation plants. "The map identified the water-energy nexus at plants of 75 MW or larger," said a CEC spokesperson.

With the CEC map, online information is immediately available about potential impact on water sources for thermal power plant operators. Among the 100 largest plants, half use recycled and degraded groundwater, 30 use surface water and 20 use groundwater.

Under an executive order from California's governor on drought mitigation, the CEC has set an expedited process for power plant requests seeking to secure alternate supplies of water. CEC's data shows that reliance on water is spread around, with no single water district supplying any more than 8% of the state's generation capacity.

"California has made significant progress toward reducing water consumption and increasing recycled water usage at the state's largest power plants," said CEC Chairman Robert Weisenmiller, adding that the plants have "become more efficient and more drought resilient."

"Since 2003, the CEC has worked with power plant applicants to build new facilities to reduce water consumption through use of recycled water and water-efficient technologies, such as dry cooling," the CEC spokesman said. "These sources and technologies provide a more environmentally responsible option and make the associated power plants more resilient to drought conditions."

Over the past 11 years, CEC statistics show that 9,000 MW of combined cycle, mostly gas-fired projects have been built, and about 85% of that capacity uses recycled water or dry cooling, significantly lowering fresh water demand.

The power plants shown on the new CEC map comprise about 45% of the state's overall in-state generation capacity.