A revised state plan to phase out power plant water use along California\u2019s coast would allow deviations for the state\u2019s two nuclear power plants and permit grid reliability concerns to trump marine wildlife impacts. Environmental advocates were unable to comment, saying they had not yet studied the latest policy revisions. The State Water Resources Control Board\u2019s March 23 draft version of a new rule under development for a few years aims to shut down or reduce the impacts of once through cooling systems used by plants along the shore to protect marine life. However, it would open the door to alternative phase out schedules for Pacific Gas & Electric\u2019s Diablo Canyon nuclear facility and Southern California Edison\u2019s San Onofre nuclear reactors. The two plants, with a combined capacity of 4,310 MW, are allowed to take in up to 4.93 billion gallons of seawater a day, according to California Energy Commission data. The state\u2019s 19 once-through water-cooled power plants stretching from Humboldt County to north of San Diego represent 19,000 MW--much of it in Southern California. \u201cThe consensus among regulatory agencies at both the state and federal levels is that [once-through cooling] systems contribute to the degradation of aquatic life,\u201d noted the Water Board. The Energy Commission concluded the facilities have \u201ccontributed to declining fisheries and impaired coastal habitats through the intake of large volumes of water and the discharge of elevated-temperature wastewater,\u201d it added. Jan Smutny Jones, Independent Energy Producers executive director, said, \u201cPrematurely shutting off\u201d some wet cooled plants could impact peak power demands and backup energy for fluctuating wind power resources. He has yet to thoroughly review the revised policy but noted his organization \u201cremains concerned about the impacts of the water board\u2019s policy on system reliability,\u201d particularly in Southern California where a shortage of air emission credits has stalled new power projects. Under the latest draft, if the costs to slash the two nuclear facilities\u2019 intakes is \u201cwholly disproportional\u201d to costs associated with significant intake flow reductions for other fossil-fired water cooled plants then the State Water Board is required to create \u201calternative\u201d restrictions for the two nukes. Edison noted that changing the facility\u2019s cooling is not an option. \u201cRetrofitting the San Onofre facility with cooling towers would be infeasible due to space constraints and the unlikely availability of needed permits,\u201d stated Gil Alexander, utility spokesperson. PG&E raised similar concerns, insisting that phase-in plans for the nuclear plants should factor in constraints, plus emissions and environmental impacts. \u201cPG&E supports an \u201corderly transition away from once-through cooling,\u201d said spokesperson Kristin Inman. The Water Board acknowledges utilities\u2019 concerns in its policy update, released well behind schedule. It specifies the nuclear plants\u2019 water cooling system phase-out would factor in engineering, permit and space restrictions, air emission impacts and other \u201crelevant information.\u201d The draft water cooling policy released this week justifies its revisions on the basis of the state climate protection law, AB 32, stating the two nuclear facilities don\u2019t produce greenhouse gas emission when generating power. (Other aspects of running the plants, like mining and processing uranium for fuel, have greenhouse gas effects.) When determining how to curb the nuclear plants\u2019 impact, the Water Board is to weigh the financial costs of technology retrofits on a per-MWh basis over a 20-year period. At present, San Onofre\u2019s license to operate from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission expires in 2022 and Diablo Canyon\u2019s in 2024. Utility owners are seeking license extensions for their nukes, with Edison revealing its plans months after PG&E (see story above). PG&E and Edison hope to extend their facilities lives an additional two decades. Cooling technology changes at Diablo and San Onofre would be in accordance with studies due to the Water Board three years after the policy is implemented. For the state\u2019s 17 other water-cooled plants, the policy revision would allow delayed retrofits or shut downs of seawater-cooled plants the California Independent System Operator deems necessary to ensure the steady flow of power. If the grid operator claims a generating plant\u2019s output is needed for reliability for up to 90 days, a plant upgrade or shut down would be postponed. If the Energy Commission or California Public Utilities Commission challenge CAISO\u2019s conclusion, the Water Board would hold a hearing on the matter. If a phase-out is put off more than 90 days the board would hold a hearing to assess the justification for the suspension. Plant turbines cooled with water in the smoggy Los Angeles area also would get compliance wiggle room, partly because of the lack of available pollution emission offsets from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Suspended phase-outs for reliability reasons would be allowed if upheld by the Water Board. As in its previous draft, the board\u2019s March 23 proposal sets out two alternative compliance tracks for all the wet cooled plants other than the nukes. They require the once-through cooled plants to use \u201cbest technology available,\u201d such as closed-loop cooling towers, to reduce the inflow within set time frames. Track One facilities would be required to slash water intake by 93 percent at each unit. Track Two would cover plants that prove it is infeasible to meet the first track. However, these facilities still would be required to achieve equivalent mitigation. However, they would have flexibility over how they do so. For instance, rather than having to reduce water use 93 in each of their units, they might be able to use more water in some units in exchange for eliminating use altogether in others or pursuing alternative mitigation techniques. For months, state water regulators and the grid operator battled over who calls the shots on water-cooled coastal power plants. Last December, debate over whether the Water Board or CAISO should be in charge was the focus of a public meeting (Current, Dec. 4, 2009). The Energy Commission has been at the forefront of calling for phasing out plants that use large quantities of coastal and estuarine water for cooling turbines. There is no national rule regulating the intakes of existing once-through cooled power plants though the practice has been the subject of extensive litigation under the Clean Water Act\u2019s section 316(b). Several California plants\u2019 wastewater discharge permits have expired and other plants are operating under short-term renewals. The state\u2019s policy also would require power plants to add physical barriers to keep ocean critters away from their intakes. It also would mandate that when not producing power for the grid, generating units should significantly curb their intake flows. The current phase-out or retrofit schedule is as follows: -Edison\u2019s San Onofre nuke is supposed to meet the new rules via rehabilitation or substitute power by 2022. -PG&E has until the end of 2024 to overhaul its Diablo nuclear plant. -Humboldt Bay and Potrero plants are to meet the inflow reduction mandate within a year of the policy implementation. -South Bay has until the end of 2012. -El Segundo, Morro Bay and the Harbor have until December 2015 to comply. -Encina, Contra Costa, Pittsburg and Moss Landing have until the end of 2017. -The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power\u2019s Haynes and Scattergood plants, as well as the Huntington Beach, Redondo, Alamitos, Mandalay, and Ormond Beach plants, all run by independent generators, have until December 31, 2020. The Water Board is scheduled to vote on the policy May 4.