Posted on Thu, Oct. 03,
Power plant told
to review use of water for cooling
By Ken McLaughlin
In a major victory for environmentalists concerned
with the possible degradation of the Elkhorn Slough, a
Monterey County judge has ruled that more expensive
cooling methods must be studied for Duke Energy's huge
power plant at Moss Landing.
Superior Court Judge Robert O'Farrell's decision
won't interrupt the flow of 2,550 megawatts of power --
about 5 percent of California's total electricity use on
a hot summer day. But the decision, released Thursday,
will force the Regional Water Quality Control Board to
review its permit to make sure that the ``best technology
available'' is being used to protect marine life, as
required by the U.S. Clean Water Act.
``It's a clear victory that says that the water board
messed up,'' said Deborah Sivas, director of the
Earthjustice Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford
University. ``It could eventually invalidate the
Officials at the board could not be reached for
comment late Thursday.
The law clinic represents a group of
environmentalists called Voices of the Wetlands, who had
filed suit against the board for issuing a permit two
years ago. Duke Energy, which bought the plant from
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in 1998, was also named in
The modernized plant -- which opened several months
ago and became the largest non-nuclear power plant in
California -- is not only more than 1,000 megawatts
bigger than the plant PG&E operated there, it is 85
percent cleaner and 30 percent more efficient, Duke
officials have argued.
They say it uses half as much cooling water per
megawatt-hour, lessening its effect on the adjacent
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
Duke Energy officials said late Thursday that they had
not decided whether to appeal the decision.
``At this point we just don't know,'' said Patrick
Mullen, a spokesman for Duke.
But Mullen said the judge's decision simply ``prolongs
``The state needs to invest in and modernize older
power plants and
that's exactly what we've been doing,'' Mullen said.
``We've complied fully with the process.''
The dispute arises from the addition of two
530-megawatt, natural-gas-fired generating units. The
lawsuit was over the fact that Duke decided to draw 1.2
billion gallons of water a day from the bay to cool its
power plant rather than use a ``closed-cycle''
That means the plant is sucking in and killing
plankton, marine eggs and other parts of the marine food
chain in the slough, Voices of the Wetlands argues. The
group also contends that there are alternative cooling
systems widely used by other power plants that use much
less or no seawater.
At a Sept. 5 hearing, Voices of the Wetlands argued
that Duke made no effort to implement the ``best
available technology.'' Duke disputes the claim, saying
that the closed-cycle alternative wasn't necessary.
Officials cited biological surveys conducted in the
The studies were used by the regional board staff in
1995 to find that there was no significant impact on fish
Duke produced cost estimates that it claimed made the
alternative cooling technologies ``wholly
disproportionate'' to any environmental benefits.
... O'Farrell ruled that the ``evidence is at best
meager, and at worst, speculative and based on historical
The judge called the Elkhorn Slough ecosystem ``a
threatened, biologically rich wetland system of
exceptional value which has been subjected to 50 years of
entrainment by the Moss Landing Plant and will be
impacted for the life of the facility.''
Mercury News Staff Writer Robin Evans and Monterey
County Herald Staff Writer Dennis Moran contributed to
this report. Contact Ken McLaughlin at
email@example.com or (831) 423-3115.
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