Bill Aims to Make Water-Cooled Power Plants Outlaws

By Published On: January 9, 2009

Under SB 42 by Senator Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro), all once-through cooled power plants would be phased out by 2015. The bill, introduced January 6, would also prohibit new water-cooled generating facilities and require existing wet-cooled plants to pay a fee to the State Water Resources Control Board beginning in 2011 for projects aimed at reducing the killing of fish and other water-borne creatures. The use of evanescent water to cool power plants has been an issue in the Legislature and also on regulators’ radar for years. Concerns are heightened not only by the current drought, impacts to dwindling fish populations, but because more than a dozen power plants that consume large quantities of coastal water to cool spinning turbines are operating with expired state water permits. Among the plants cited are Pacific Gas & Electric’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. The facility is permitted to use about 2.5 billion gallons of seawater a day. Also lacking renewed licenses are facilities owned by AES, Dynegy, Mirant, Reliant Energy, and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (see sidebar). The water is used in the plants to cool down turbines. Not only is water pulled into the plant intakes but so too is marine flora and fauna. The resulting outflow is a higher temperature than the seawater, causing the discharges to further impact the marine ecosystem. State and federal agencies have grappled for a number of years on rule parameters aimed at mitigating harm to fish and other aquatic organisms affected by power plant intakes and heated wastewater discharges. The state water control agencies and the California Energy Commission, Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission, and state grid operator have tried to reach agreement on regulations that reduce the harm of once-through power plant cooling to fish and other aquatic critters while avoiding any loss of system reliability. More stringent once-through rules under the federal Clean Water Act issued by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency were put on hold last year. Implemen-tation is in limbo until the highest court of the land decides whether the federal agency gave proper consideration to the economic impacts of best available technology requirements for power plant intakes. Opponents of Mirant’s Potrero Power plant in San Francisco are challenging its continued operation. The plant’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit expired at the end of last year. Power plants in the state are allowed to operate until the authorized water board takes action. Last month, the San Francisco City Attorney urged the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Board, which handles the discharge permit renewal, to reject Mirant’s application because of the plant’s ongoing environmental impacts. “If the Water Board fails to do so, the City intends to take all appropriate legal action to protect the Bay and the public,” stated Dennis Herrera in a December 12 letter. Two years ago, the regional water board issued a short-term license with conditions to protect the San Francisco Bay. The city attorney did not take issue with the permit, said Theresa Mueller, deputy city attorney. “The board issued a great permit, they now need to enforce it.” Power Plants Sans Water Discharge Permits -AES’s Alamitos facility, permit expired May 2005 -AES’s Redondo plant, expired May 2005 -Dynegy’s Morro Bay facility, expired March 2000 -Dynegy’s Moss Power plant, expired October 2000 -LADWP’s Haynes plant, expired May 2005 -LADWP’s Harbor facility, expired June 2008 -LADWP’s Scattergood facility, expired May 2005 -Mirant’s Contra Costa plant, expired April 2006 -Mirant’s Pittsburg plant, expired May 2007 -Mirant’s Potrero facility, expired December 2008 -PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, expired May 1995 -Reliant’s Ormond Beach, expired May 2006 -Reliant’s Mandalay generating station, expired March 2006 Source: State Water Resources Control Board

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