Friday, April 21, 2006

Calif. panel advises no cooling seawater at new plants

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California's State Lands Commission on Monday passed an advisory resolution saying that new power plant leases must not use seawater as a coolant or meet strict standards regarding seawater's use.

The commission's resolution, while not binding, hints that the state may be on the way to abolishing seawater to cool coastal power plants.

About 39 percent of the power generation capacity in California is from the 23 power plants that are cooled in a "once-through" process using seawater that is dumped back into the Pacific Ocean, bays and estuaries. And about 23 percent of the electricity used in California is produced by these seaside plants.

The warm water put back in the ocean retards the growth of kelp and eelgrass, which are both essential to sea life near shore. Also, fish are ingested to the plants where many are killed, according to the resolution passed on Monday.

The practice of "once-through" cooling of power plants represents "the single greatest and unaddressed environmental issue associated with power plant operation in the state," Jim McKinney, an environmental policy specialist for the California Energy Commission, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Both nuclear and gas-fired power plants on the coast use once-through cooling systems.

On Thursday, the California Ocean Protection Council, which advises Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, will discuss if the council should take a stand on once-through power plant cooling.

The five-member Ocean Protection Council was created in 2004 by the California legislature and Schwarzenegger to coordinate ocean policies for the state.

It's possible that one day California will have a law that would require that power plants prove that almost all of the fish now being killed during the once-through process are saved, said Paul Thayer, spokesman for the State Lands Commission.

But before any law or rule is enacted, it must go before various regional and state boards such as the California State Water Board and perhaps the legislature and governor's office.

California power plants run about 17 billion gallons of seawater through their cooling systems, the State Lands Commission said in its resolution.

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