Water Board Sticks to Once-Through Cooling Policy

By Published On: December 17, 2010

The State Water Resources Control Board retained its policy to phase out power plants’ use of seawater to cool down spinning turbines. On a majority vote Dec. 14, the board rejected exempting major coastal power plants from its phase out to protect marine life. “I like the policy we’ve got,” said Frances Spivy-Weber, Water Board vice chair. The move supports the state’s plan to shut down power plants that use billions of gallons of sea and other state waters daily. The policy aims to revitalize ecosystems. Power plant intakes and discharges are implicated in the deaths of huge numbers of fish, and other marine wildlife as well as habitat destruction, according to the state. The board spent years developing its “once-through” cooling policy. The policy is expected to wean the electric power plant system off water to cool turbines. That could occur via “dry cooling” techniques and closed loop wet cooling. The rejected amendment to the board’s phase-out plan was floated Sept. 29 by staff. Initially it was directed at exceptions for three major combined-cycle power units: LADWP’s 560 MW Haynes and 466 MW Harbor plants and Dynegy’s 1,060 MW Moss Landing power plant. Water Board staff justified the carve-out because the combined-cycle turbine technology is energy efficient and uses less cooling water than simple cycle plants. The plants would have been allowed to run indefinitely in exchange for a $3/million gallon mitigation fee. The “amendment” then was expanded to cover many more facilities. In addition to the three major power plants, the proposal confronting the board Dec. 14 covered all fossil coastal plants in the state. It would have allowed these once-through cooled plants to run until the end of their “useful lives.” “I can’t honestly sit here and say that is a viable course,” said board chair Charles Hoppin. The Los Angeles Department of Water & Power was the mover behind the amendment. LADWP said that the state policy adopted last May would force it to spend more than $2 billion on plant retrofits, causing rate hikes in a bad economy. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Marine Fisheries Service, and numerous coastal conservancy groups opposed the amendment. “The existing policy provides more than enough flexibility,” said Joe Dillon, NMFS director of water quality for the Southwest region. The amendment before the board largely failed because it was not backed by adequate data. In addition, a majority of the board noted the policy for the state’s 19 once-through cooled coastal power plants only became effective in October. Thus, it is not known how it will work in practice.

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