Cooling Trend – Power Plants Must Change to Protect Marine Life: Looking Back to 2007

AES power plant in Huntington Beach at Newland and PCH c. 2007. Along the California coast, similar power generators suck up 17 billion gallons of seawater each day (enough to drain the San Francisco Bay in 100 days) significantly contributing to a 60 percent decline in marine life, according to a State Energy Commission report. Photo: Surf City Voice

This story was first published in the print edition of the Orange Coast Voice in September, 2007 and has been edited for clarity. The Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board is scheduled to vote on the Poseidon project on July 31, 2020. This and other previously published stories are being recirculated between now and July 31 for concerned readers who seek background on the project and wish to contact the Regional Board with their concerns at RB8-PoseidonHB.comments@waterboards.ca.gov . Please share this article on social media; and, please donate to the Surf City Voice to help support our efforts to inform you.

By Lisa Wells
OC Voice staff writer

Once-through-cooling (OTC), a process used by power generating plants for cooling, may be on its way out in the United States due to anticipated new marine life protection rules.

OTC was ruled inconsistent with the Clean Water Act in January by the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in response to a lawsuit brought against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the National Resources Defense Council and other environmental protection groups.

That development could drastically change the AES power generating plant that has been operating in Huntington Beach since 1958. AES has an agreement with Poseidon Resources to use its cooling system in the future to suck up 100 million gallons of seawater per day for a desalination plant in wants to build along the coast in the city’s southeast corner.

OTC kills all eggs, larvae, and adult marine life that become entrained or impinged by being sucked up and passed through the system’s filters.

In 2005, the California Energy Commission published a report, “Issues and Environmental Impacts Associated with Once-Through-Cooling at California’s Power Plants”, that says OTC was partly responsible for the degradation of marine-life populations along the coast. According to the report, marine species along the coast have declined by 60 percent since the early 1970s.

“California marine and estuarine environments are in decline and the once through cooling systems of coastal power plants are contributing to the degradation of our coastal waters,” the report says.

John Largier, a professor of coastal oceanography at UC Davis and a contributor to the report, is currently conducting research for a followup CEC report that will be available in about 6 months. His research focuses on the mortality rate of individual species by assessing the proportional loss of larvae and determining what percentage of its total population is being killed by entrainment.

“Entrainment is bad,” says Largier, “but we don’t really know how bad it is. As a researcher, I’d like to continue to create data that can be available worldwide.”

He says that policy changes are coming, but “the wildcard is desal and whether or not it’s going to be fashionable. If that happens, desal may let the power plants slide out of this one.”

The report showed that the Huntington Beach AES plant takes in 500 million gallons of seawater each day, a minimal amount compared to nuclear power plants. The San Onofre power generating plant, for example, takes in 2,580 million gallons of seawater each day.

In 2006 the California State Lands Commission passed a resolution eliminating OTC in California, stating that after 20 years the state will cease leasing land to power plants that use OTC.

Desalination plant developers see economic benefits in using the OTC process to acquire the large quantities of seawater that they wish to convert into large profits in public-private partnerships with local water authorities.

But, Poseidon Resources may have to find a lower-impact method of water extraction.

“It’s the end of once-through-cooling systems in the U.S.”, says Joe Geever, representing the Surfrider Foundation, referring to the lawsuit. “AES is fighting the changes tooth and nail.”

Since Poseidon planned to use the AES OTC system, Geever said, it will be interesting to see if the company will be able to lease the water intake system that was slated for energy production.

Poseidon’s hearing with the State Lands Commission for a lease permit is scheduled for October 3.

Poseidon representatives did not return calls from the OC Voice by press time.

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