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DWP granted reprieve on rules meant to protect sea life [Updated]

July 20, 2011 |  4:34 pm

California regulators have granted a reprieve to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, delaying deadlines meant to keep coastal power plants from harming plants and animals living in ocean waters.

The issue involves the use of seawater to cool gas-burning power plant boilers. The power plant sucks in cool seawater, which can kill not only plankton and small fish but also seals, sea lions and turtles. After circulating through the plant, the warmer water is then flushed back to the Pacific Ocean.

Environmentalists say the system destroys too much sea life, while electric companies have argued that banning the practice would cost too much money and jeopardize the electricity grid's reliability.

The state water board voted last year to phase out the water-sucking practice and replace it with cooling systems that rely on recycled water or other methods. The original plan called for a generating unit in the DWP's Harbor plant on Terminal Island to be replaced in 2015; generating units in the Haynes plant in Long Beach to be changed by 2019; and equipment at the DWP's Scattergood plant in Playa del Rey to be changed by 2020.

On Tuesday, the State Water Resources Control Board in Sacramento granted the DWP a delay until 2029 in implementing the new rules, said board spokesman George Kostyrko. The DWP had asked for an extension to 2035. [Updated at 6:15 p.m. July 20: Extensions sought for the Harbor and Haynes plants were to finish upgrades.]

DWP officials last year said that without a delay, the utility would incur nearly $2.3 billion in new charges, which would lead to a citywide increase in electricity rates.

Environmental groups criticized the water board's decision. Mark Gold, president of the environmental group Heal the Bay, wrote on his blog, "The extension will result in the [deaths] of approximately an additional 30 billion larval and adult fish, with local energy plants allowed to continue the practice of sucking water -– and animal life -– out to sea to cool themselves.

"It was definitely horrible news for local fish populations," Gold wrote.

Board members Charles R. Hoppin and Frances Spivy-Weber voted in favor of the extension, while Tam Doduc dissented, saying the 2029 deadline was too generous.

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-- Rong-Gong Lin II

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