DWP backs away from coastal power plant legislation

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has backed away from supporting a piece of legislation it had endorsed. It would have delayed environmental limits on the utility’s coastal power plants.

State regulators are trying to curtail the use of sea water at coastal power plants – the facilities suck in water to cool engines and turbines. Then they spit it out hotter, devoid of tiny living organisms and fish.

Scientists say that changes coastal marine ecology. Environmental officials say the federal Clean Water Act doesn't allow that.

DWP's Harbor, Haynes and Scattergood plants are supposed to change their practices within 10 years. The DWP's interim general manager Austin Beutner says the utility needs 11 to 16 years beyond that.

"The cost to comply with the rules as written would be in excess of $2 billion," says Beutner. "We'd have to raise rates more than the debacle of last year. So this is a meaningful one for our ratepayers and our community."

Assemblyman Steve Bradford modified language in a bill he’d written to help the DWP seek alternatives. Now officials at the utility say it's dropping support for that bill.

Instead, the DWP seeks only a negotiated solution with the water quality board. The move, announced in a joint statement with Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay, aims to soften environmental opposition to the DWP’s efforts to delay compliance.

Noah Long with the Natural Resources Defense Council opposes the bill and says he's skeptical of a new solution for the DWP. He says the utility failed to explain its costs during the years policymakers spent developing the limits.

"With regard to the specific impacts of the changes they're requesting, I haven't seen information in that regard," says Long, "nor do I think it has been put before the water board, nor have I seen justification for the significant increases in cost estimates that are driving this political debate."

Heal the Bay's president Mark Gold says his group supports the DWP hammering out a deal with the state water board. Even if the DWP succeeds, a public hearing may once again stir up the contentious issues that utilities, regulators and marine policy activists have debated in recent years.

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