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California May Ban Companies from Using Ocean as Coolant

As reported in the Tri-State Online News

LOS ANGELES (AP) — State water board regulators are mulling a plan to stop power companies from vacuuming the ocean for water to cool their machinery. Environmentalists said the practice destroys too much sea life, while utility advocates said the impact is minimal. Banning the practice would cost too much, jeopardize the reliability of the electricity grid and slow the state’s transition to clean energy, supporters of the practice said.

Screens prevent larger animals from entering the plants, but fish can die while trapped against these barriers. Anything smaller than the openings in the screens, including millions of tiny fish larvae, can enter the power plants and also die.

Federal rules ban new operations from drawing in seawater for so-called “once-through” cooling systems. State regulators now want to apply this rule to the 19 existing plants from Eureka to San Diego.

The board’s proposal would give owners a dozen years to comply and contains special provisions for nuclear-plant safety issues. In most cases, plants would have to replace seawater pipes with massive cooling towers that recycle water or use air-cooling platforms.

Environmental groups support the proposal, but utilities said it would force expensive retrofits or shut down plants.

The combined cost for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, PG&E and Southern California Edison, for example, would surpass $8.5 billion, they said.

Interim DWP Chief S. David Freeman said his utility’s $1 billion tab to comply is about what they planned to spend on switching from coal to wind and solar sources.

“I am working hard on issues that I think everyone would agree are far more important than some minor impact on the fisheries,” Freeman said.

Environmentalists aren’t moved.

Tom Ford of the environmental group Santa Monica Baykeeper said power plants are responsible for “the unnecessary sterilization and death of coastal waters.”

Southern California Edison carried out $400 million in mitigation at its San Onofre nuclear plant. That included constructing an artificial reef after the plant damaged kelp fields.

PG&E’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant has warmed the waters around it so much that, ecologically, it now resembles “a Mexican sea,” said Gregor Cailliet, an emeritus professor and fish expert at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.