Water Board Grants Compliance Extension to Huntington Beach Power Plant

September 11, 2020 Updated: September 14, 2020

Four Southern California power plants, including the Huntington Beach facility, received reprieves when the State Water Resources Control Board voted recently to extend a requirement deadline for environmental compliance by three years.

The Water Resources Control Board on Sept. 1 approved an amendment giving additional time for compliance to gas-powered generators at plants in Huntington Beach, Long Beach, Oxnard, and Redondo Beach.

The generators are cooled using ocean water, a process environmentalists say damages marine life. The gas-powered generators at the plants were scheduled to be closed on Dec. 31.

The board opted to amend compliance requirements to its “Once-Through Cooling Policy” due to growing concerns about the ability of the state’s power grid to meet California’s high demand without the plants’ contributions. The gas-powered generators are mainly used in the evening hours, when renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are less readily available.

The postponement, passed by a 4–0 vote, gave a three-year extension for the compliance date to the Huntington Beach, Alamitos (Long Beach), and Ormond Beach (Oxnard) power generating stations, which now have until Dec. 31, 2023, to comply.

A one-year extension was granted for the Redondo Beach generating station, which now expires at the end of 2021.

Epoch Times Photo
A ground-level shot shows the power plant in Huntington Beach, Calif., on Aug. 6, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Luis Amezcua, a senior representative for the Sierra Club, criticized the decision.

“The Water Control Board’s decision to spend more resources on a failing gas system doesn’t add up, especially after finding out the Valley Generating Station in Los Angeles is leaking as much pollution as 30,000 cars, and knowing gas plants failed to start when the climate crisis-induced heat wave led to electricity blackouts across the state,” Amezcua told The Epoch Times via email.

“California is on a path to a clean energy economy, but we can’t meet our climate and air quality commitments if state agencies continue to divert funds into outdated fossil fuels that also impact our ocean. It’s time to stop wasting money and instead invest it in clean energy and a modern power grid for Californians.”

Board officials acknowledged to The Epoch Times that the once-through cooling systems used by the generators remain harmful to the environment, but said precautions are being taken to minimize the damage.

“Once-through cooling power plant operations impose heavy environmental impacts on our oceans and communities, and an extension of these compliance dates aren’t without significant consideration,” E. Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the State Water Board, said in a statement emailed to The Epoch Times.

“The Board is called to balance the complex and overarching needs of the state, and here appropriately weigh energy reliability considerations even in the pursuit of these important policies.”

In a media release provided to The Epoch Times, the State Water Board also acknowledged that “using ocean water for once-through cooling kills millions of fish, larvae, eggs, seals, sea lions, turtles, and other creatures each year when they are either trapped against screens or drawn into the cooling system and exposed to pressure and high heat.”

The statement said that the board’s policy seeks to protect marine life, however.

Power plants are required to either reduce the velocity of ocean water intake flows or reduce impacts by other comparable means,” the release stated. Plant operator AES has built a newer, air-cooled generator in Huntington Beach, though it still currently uses the water-cooled generator as well.

The board said it created the Statewide Advisory Committee on Cooling Water Intake Structures to monitor the stability of California’s power grid and to recommend changes in phase-out dates for the four fossil fuel-reliant power plants.

In 2019, the committee identified potential grid reliability issues, and in January 2020 recommended extending the phase-out dates to the Water Board.

The four fossil fuel power plants are all that remain of 19 similar ocean-cooled facilities that existed in California before the current once-through policy came into effect in 2010.

The recent decision came as the state experienced its first rolling blackouts in 19 years. The blackouts began in late August, when a heat wave caused heightened demand for power.

The Water Board stated that more “renewable energy sources are scheduled to be online to cover anticipated demand” by 2023.