LOS ANGELES — An adverse vote from the California Coastal Commission will delay Poseidon Water’s plans for a Huntington Beach desalination plant by up to a year.
Coastal commissioners decided that the firm needs further study of an alternative to using the ocean water cooling system from the AES Huntington Beach Power Station in its reverse osmosis process that converts seawater to drinking water.
“We did research it, and it’s environmentally inferior and technically and economically infeasible,” said Scott Maloni, a Poseidon vice president.
The $900 million, 50-million gallon-per-day Huntington Beach project is to be located adjacent to the AES Huntington Beach Power Station and was scheduled to be operational by 2018.
It would a sister facility to Poseidon’s under-construction desalination facility 55 miles down the coast in Carlsbad.
The California Pollution Control Financing Authority issued $733 million in water revenue bonds in December 2012 on behalf of the San Diego County Water Authority and Poseidon for that roughly $1 billion project.
The Carlsbad Desalination facility uses water piped in from a co-located power plant’s ocean cooling system to provide seawater for its process.
The state’s Water Resources Control Board has mandated that ocean water cooling be discontinued at power plants by 2020, but also granted Poseidon permits to use the power plant pipes as a stand-alone when the power plant takes its ocean cooling system offline, Maloni said. While the ocean water cooling system remains in place, Poseidon diverts water used in the cooling system into its plant.
“The utilities have a higher volume and greater velocity and have thermal impacts on marine life that the desalination process doesn’t have,” Maloni said.
Power plants use 514 million gallons of water a day for ocean cooling while Poseidon’s process would only use 127 gallons of water a day at the Huntington Beach plant, he said. It requires that much seawater to produce 50 gallons of drinking water.
The subsurface ocean floor concept recommended for further study by the coastal commission would require a 60-acre ocean floor filtration process that would pipe water from the ocean floor and be far more disruptive to marine life, Maloni said.
Staff recommended that Poseidon use a subsurface piping method, but commissioners opted for just requiring further study of the option.
If Poseidon is required to pipe water from the ocean floor, it would add another five years to the project, Maloni said.
“That is a totally different project,” Maloni said. “Then we would need to return to the city and other agencies for permits.”
Maloni took heart in the fact that the commissioners didn’t require the subsurface alternative, but instead asked for additional study.
“It means we are still moving forward, but it will take another six months and probably a year to get back before the coastal commission,” Maloni said.
The deal that financed the Carlsbad project was honored by The Bond Buyer as its Deal of the Year in the Far West Region.
The Carlsbad deal represented the first project financing for a seawater desalination plant in the municipal market.