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DWP in talks with state water board, withdraws bill that would delay environmental improvements

August 26, 2010 |  1:51 pm

The interim head of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said Thursday that his agency would withdraw a bill before the Legislature designed to delay environmental upgrades to its power plants so that talks about changing those regulations can be conducted with a state panel in charge of water quality.

DWP Interim General Manager Austin Beutner issued a statement saying he was pleased with the progress of negotiations with the State Water Resources Control Board, which imposed a series of deadlines earlier this year for the DWP to replace equipment at three power plants that rely heavily on seawater to cool their operations.

“As a result, at this time we will focus our efforts to resolve this matter with the water board rather than through the Legislature,” Beutner said.

DWP officials had warned that the state regulations, adopted after five years of analysis and correspondence with various utility officials, would cost as much as $2.3 billion to implement and result in a 6% rate hike on its customers. Beutner spent the past few weeks lobbying Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and an array of legislative leaders on the matter, gaining support for a bill to postpone any upgrade until 2031.

That bill upset environmental leaders, who signed a letter accusing the DWP of trying to short-circuit the regulatory process.

On Thursday, Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, applauded the DWP’s talks, saying he expected the utility to come up with a plan that will protect marine life while remaining "cost effective."

State regulators informed DWP officials in May that they would need to comply with “once-through cooling” regulations over the course of the next decade by obtaining equipment that recycles the same water over and over or uses air for cooling. Under those rules, the DWP’s Harbor power plant faced a deadline of 2015, the Haynes plant in Long Beach had until 2019 and the Scattergood plant in Playa del Rey had a deadline of 2020.

A month later, Beutner called the ocean-water rules "a great example of California regulation run amok." Since then, the DWP has been seeking a less rigorous schedule, with some units of the Haynes plant complying in 2026 and some sections of the Scattergood plant complying in 2031. The utility also hopes  to avoid replacing one unit at the Harbor plant until 2040.

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall