Natural gas-fired electricity generation would pick up the slack in California left by the state’s drought-compromised hydropower resources, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

In a recent analysis, researchers found that California’s extended drought could cut the share of summer electricity generation from hydropower to only 8%, or 6.8 million MWh, from June through September. Under normal precipitation conditions, hydro accounts for 15%, or 13.2 million MWh of generation during the four-month period, said EIA.

This past winter’s below-average snowpack, needed to replenish hydroelectric reservoirs, has exacerbated the situation, according to the North American Electric Reliability Corp.

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EIA’s researchers noted that hydropower “is typically the third-largest source of electricity in California.” However, the state’s overall snowpack was 40% below normal levels as of April 1, when “snowpack typically reaches peak levels.”

By early April, Northern California’s snowpack was 26% of normal levels, while Central and Southern California’s snowpack were each at 42%, said EIA.

“Less snow in the mountains means that as temperatures begin to warm in the spring, less snow will melt and flow into California’s reservoirs,” researchers said.

To compensate for the hydropower shortfall, summertime gas-fired generation would increase by 8% to 42.7 million MWh, EIA said. Moreover, California’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions would increase by 6%, or 978,000 tons. 

The West’s wholesale electricity prices would on average rise 5% region-wide, researchers said.

California’s higher pull on gas-fired generation could also translate into $10-plus natural gas for the state this summer, according to NGI’s Forward Look.

“California has a diverse electricity fuel mix and is highly interconnected with the regional electric grid, but our study shows that a significant decrease in hydropower generation this summer could lead to higher electricity prices, among other effects,” said EIA Administrator Joe DeCarolis.