Coastal Commission Raises More Concerns About Surf City Desalination Plant

If Poseidon Resources Inc. hopes to have its yet-to-be built Huntington Beach desalination rig online by 2017, it must answer several tough questions about its viability.

That was the basic gist of a California Coastal Commission letter sent to company Vice President Scott Maloni last Monday. The six-page missive, signed by staff environmental scientist Tom Luster, asks the Connecticut-based Poseidon to address questions including how the company plans to deal with contaminated soil at the proposed site on PCH and Newland (near the AES power station) as well as clarification of right of way issues for a nine-mile water delivery pipe.

But of the various concerns outlined in the letter, Poseidon's intention to use existing AES cooling pipes is what seems to top the commission's list, because as it turns out, a 2010 state policy is phasing out the use of such technology. 

"The (AES) power plant is planning to end its use of the cooling water system no later than 2020," reads Luster's letter. "[This] would allow Poseidon to operate under the current State Parks approval for only about three or four years of its current 60-year operating life."

Luster's letter explains that the commission had previously requested information from Poseidon to determine if subsurface intake pipes were a feasible alternative to the existing pipes. The letter states that Poseidon had declined to provide the requested information.   Uncertainty surrounding the future use of the existing cooling pipes has been a sticking point for critics who say unexpected costs (such as construction of new intake pipes) could lead to increased water bills.

In San Diego County, where Poseidon is currently building its Carlsbad plant near the Encina Power Station, ratepayers have been locked into a 30-year agreement to buy Poseidon water. Under the terms of the agreement there, water customers could be on the hook for construction costs of up to 30 percent per unit price stemming from "uncontrollable circumstances."

Currently, Poseidon is quietly negotiating with a workgroup of 20 Orange County water boards and districts boards. The CCC is expected to render a decision on the fate of Poseidon's desal plant early this summer. Throughout its letter, the commission stated that it was willing to waive certain filing requirements for Poseidon's permit application, adding that any waiver could effect a final decision.

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