Coastal Agency and CEC Butt Heads over Morro Bay Project

By Published On: January 31, 2004

Duke Energy?s Morro Bay power plant overhaul, which proposes to continue to use large amounts of estuary water to cool the expanded facility, faces ongoing opposition from the California Coastal Commission. That agency recently reiterated its objections to the California Energy Commission?s proposed decision released last November that approves use of wet cooling at the 1,200 MW project along the Central California coast. (<i>Energy Circuit</i>, December 1, 2003.) ?We continue to disagree with several of the document?s significant conclusions? and find there is insufficient evidence ?to determine once-through cooling would have no significant environmental impact on Morro Bay,? wrote the Coastal Commission in a January 13 letter to the CEC. The coastal agency also disagreed with the tentative decision?s finding that the mitigation plan pitched by Duke adequately addressed the impacts to aquatic resources pulled into the plant and harmed by the heated wastewater the plant churns out. The energy commission has sole permitting authority over the project but is required to consult with its sister agency. The Coastal Commission is less than happy with the consultation process. In December 2002, the Coastal Commission unanimously approved a report that found using once-through cooling at the Morro Bay power project did not conform with the California Coastal Act. That report was sent to the CEC, but the proposed decision stated that the report was ?not timely.? It also questioned its sister agency?s review process. The coastal agency called the timing conclusion ?erroneous,? adding it was not for the CEC ?to speculate how the Coastal Commission weighed information and weighed its determinations.? The power plant siting committee, consisting of CEC members Bill Keese and Jim Boyd, will meet next week and take up the issue. ?They will decide whether to respond and if so, what to say,? said CEC spokesperson Chris Davis. ?We?re just waiting to see what the final decision does,? said Tom Luster, environmental specialist with the Coastal Commission. The energy commission is expected to make a decision later this year. It will not act until the regional water board issues a decision on the requisite wastewater discharge permit for Duke?s facility. The water board postponed the matter last September and may take up the wastewater discharge permit application in March.

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