Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

DWP still looking for more time on once-through cooling?

LADWP's supposed to stop an environmentally harmful process called once through cooling at its coastal power plants. This summer the utility even got an extension of time to do it. An item at its commissioners' meeting today reveals DWP may want still more time to comply with new federal rules. In a memo to the board on the DWP's website, the utility describes a schedule six years longer than the law now allows.

Under the Clean Water Act, once through cooling is illegal because the process harms water quality and sea life. It sucks sea water in to cool equipment, then it spits heated water back into the ocean. That outflow kills tiny organisms, the bottom of the food web. A couple dozen California power plants have used sea water this way, including DWP's Scattergood, Haynes, and Harbor facilities. As a municipal utility, DWP has long sought to be treated differently.

Today DWP executives will ask the board to extend an agreement with WorleyParsons, an Australian consultant on the utility's coastal cooling retrofits. That $9 million contract isn't the point. You can see in it the way DWP's attitude toward power plant rules have changed since 2008.

Back then, under GM David Nahai, DWP planned to stop using sea water by 2020. Three GMs later, the utility wants till 2035 to finish turning around the last plant. DWP argues its longer-timeline plan minimizes harm to sea life because it switches out the three biggest water-sucking units first. 

Officials also argue high costs and time constraints mean they can't do anything else. A state-run independent expert panel concluded it lacked evidence to say if DWP's right. Santa Monica Baykeeper, Heal the Bay and NRDC argue DWP has cost itself money (and maybe ratepayers) by delaying doing retrofit work. Even so, state water regulators gave DWP a 9 year extension in July. Not that DWP GM Ron Nichols promised the utility could finsh then. "[T]heoretically, that's achievable," he said, about meeting a 2029 deadline. At best, that's a maybe.

Maybe instead of aiming to meet even the 18 year deadline, DWP is planning for the longer-term option. It has a chance to re-open talk of deadlines at the next state water board meeting later this month. Neither DWP nor the state board have made public new information about why the utility might need till 2035 to meet its responsibilities. But as DWP has found, it can't hurt to ask.


UPDATE:DWP Chief Ron Nichols said the utility is aiming for 2029 at the recent board meeting. Listen here.