Monday, April 6, 2015

Poseidon Desalination: Carlsbad, Huntington Beach & Catalina

The Poseidon desalination project in Huntington Beach should be approved.
Poseidon should consider building a large desalination plant on Catalina Island next.
The energy-intensive desalination plant  would create 50 million gallons of fresh water per day.  Southern California is in the grip of a severe drought, with climatologists, water experts and even NASA scientists releasing alarming reports about the depletion of the region's groundwater supply. Poseidon is very close to getting a permit to break ground on the facility.
In January, the Orange County Water District (OCWD), one of the many municipal bodies helping to manage Orange County's water resources, told its staff to work with Poseidon to negotiate a rate sheet to buy all 56,000 acre-feet of water per year it would produce (one acre-foot is approximately 300,000 gallons, or enough water for three average California families of four to use for about a year). 
The site of Poseidon's proposed desalination project sits just across the Pacific Coast Highway from the sand and north of the Santa Ana River's outlet into the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach. The facility would share the lot that houses the AES natural-gas-fired Huntington Beach Generating Station. The new plant would sit in the back of the lot, adjacent to a storm-water discharge channel and away from beach view.

One hundred million gallons of seawater would flow through Poseidon's pumps each day, first through screens and meshes to remove sand and other debris, and then put through a series of reverse-osmosis filters, removing the salt. Fifty million gallons of brine, twice as salty as intake seawater, would return to the ocean, as the other 50 million gallons of water would be added to Orange County's water system, enough to provide for approximately 7 percent of Orange County's water needs.
The plant's original 1998 design piggybacks on already-active seawater intake and outtake pipes used by the AES power plant to cool its steam generators. Critics say this will be bad for the environment because -they take in and kill more than 80 million fish eggs annually, according to a 2013 report by the California Coastal Commission (CCC).  This number is infinitesimal compared to the total number of fish eggs in that area of the ocean.

In 2010, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) adopted a policy that would phase out these intakes for coastal power plants by 2020. And therein lies a major problem for Poseidon. If the desalination facility is constructed using current designs, those outdated intakes and outtakes would stay functioning for an additional 30 years, and the positive environmental impact that would be gained from the closing of the pipes would be lost.
The company has agreed to study the feasibility of proposed alternate intakes. The study is currently in the second phase and has identified two possible alternatives to the open water intake.
Water produced by the plant would be almost twice the price of water imported through the state water project, and the cost has only been climbing. In 2003, Poseidon estimated that its water would cost approximately $800 per acre-foot compared to $250 per acre-foot for other sources. That price has climbed to an estimated price of $1,850 per acre-foot in 2014, after accounting for a $250 per acre-foot financial incentive from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), with the possibility of a 25-year incentive of up to $340 per acre-foot from the MWD, according to a January 2014 report by OCWD. Current treated water imported by the MWD costs $840 per acre-foot, for comparison.
The Poseidon Carlsbad plant that is currently under construction would produce 50 million gallons per day, just like the Huntington Beach plant, but the water would cost between $2,014 and $2,257 per acre-foot, with a guaranteed return of between 9 percent and 13 percent built into the rate, depending on operation costs. Construction is expected to finish sometime in early 2016, with the first batches of desalinated water delivered soon after that.  (OC Weekly, 3/11/2015)

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