California exempts coastal power plant owner from fines

Sacramento, California (AFP) – State water officials voted Tuesday that the owner of an aging gas-fired power plant along California’s southern coast will not be required to pay fines for some of the water pollution it causes until 2023.

The Redondo Beach Generating Station is one of four coastal power plants that were due to close in 2020 but have had their operating life extended until 2023. The state keeps it open in an effort to avoid blackouts on hot summer days when there isn’t enough renewable energy available. Where people turn on their air conditioners.

The power plant uses ocean water to cool equipment and spit it out again, a process known as one-time cooling that pollutes the water supply. Plants are required to keep the water they drain below a certain temperature to reduce damage to marine life. They also have limits on how much dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT, they can emit. Failure to meet these restrictions on the now-banned pesticides can result in fines estimated at thousands of dollars.

AES, which owns the Redondo Beach plant, has petitioned the state Water Resources Control Board to waive the fines because the state needs the power plant to remain open until 2023. Its original plan to comply with the discharge requirements was to shutdown.

In lieu of fines, the board of directors voted to require the company to pay about $57,000 this year and next year to environmental funds working to mitigate water pollution. That’s roughly equivalent to the fines the company was expected to owe for 15 expected water temperature violations and four DDT discharge violations each year.

With its plan to close in 2023, the company does not have time to adapt its plants to avoid contamination, said Phil Wills, assistant senior adviser for water quality and management of the Water Board.

He said the state is essentially forcing the factory to continue operating “in full awareness that there is no way to correct the violations”.

Mark Miller, general manager of the AES generation portfolio, including the Redondo Beach plant, said Tuesday’s board vote will allow the company to continue to support California’s electric grid while investing in programs for the environment. Miller said in a letter to the council that the plant has made progress in reducing its environmental damage by reducing its effluent, shutting down some of its units, and complying with requirements for other pollutants such as copper and nickel.

The plant does not use DDT in its operations. Instead, the chemical is already in the water that the plant absorbs to cool its organs before it is discharged back into the ocean, Miller wrote.

Redondo Beach is a city of 75,000 people south of Los Angeles where multi-million dollar homes dot the coast. Doing so wouldn’t improve network reliability or water quality, said Nick Guerelli, the attorney representing the city who has opposed the station’s exemption from fines. Although the plant is slated to close in 2023, its life has already been extended, and the city has no guarantees it won’t happen again, he said.

“This cycle has to stop,” he said.

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