CA: Energy Glut Spurs Fresh Interest in Desalination : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Energy Glut Spurs Fresh Interest in Desalination (AP) 8.30.01, 5:45p --

An energy glut and advances in water purification are sparking fresh interest in desalination plants that could boost water supplies in Southern California. The Metropolitan Water District, which supplies 300 cities between Ventura County and the Mexican border, said Thursday it will begin soliciting bids this fall from potential builders for plants capable of supplying water for up to 250,000 people.

The state has long flirted with the idea of taking water from the ocean and making it drinkable, but the necessary technology for the process, known as reverse osmosis, has traditionally proven much more expensive than other types of purification.

At an Aug. 20 board meeting, MWD officials decided to resurrect the desalination idea. In its meeting summary, the MWD said it will consider projects that allow the agencies it now supplies to sell desalinated water for $250 to $380 per acre-foot -- about what consumers pay for water now.

In the past, desalinated water has cost consumers up to $1,000 an acre-foot, but bidders have indicated they have new technology that could bring that cost down, MWD spokesman Adan Ortega said.

"You could conceivably marry that sea water desalination demand with your inland demand, and your net result is you're fully subscribed and the average cost might work for you," said Ronald R. Gastelum, general manager of the MWD.

The power crisis also has influenced the MWD decision, Ortega said. Gov. Gray Davis has said the state needs a 15 percent surplus in electricity to avoid shortages like the ones suffered this year. As a result, MWD officials are betting low-cost electricity needed for the desalination process will be available during periods of low statewide usage.

Some consumer advocates hailed the news, calling it a positive outcome from an otherwise troublesome power crisis.

"This could be one of the silver linings in an otherwise very dark cloud of over-inflated energy purchases," said Harvey Rosenfield of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. "At least we're not selling the power back into the market at 10 cents to the dollar," he said. "We are using it to create another resource for us."

California has a history of failed desalination efforts. About 35 years ago, the MWD said it would build an island off Huntington Beach that would include the world's largest nuclear-powered sea water desalination plant. But the project was scrapped in 1968 after the estimated costs nearly doubled.

Now there are only a few desalination plants in the state, including one in the basement of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and a plant on Catalina Island.

-- PHO (, August 31, 2001


An idea whose time has come -- well past due, as a matter of fact.

-- RogerT (, August 31, 2001.

Now let me get this straight. California buys long term power contracts at high rates which it's now selling at low rates. The taxpayer picks up the tab. Now these scholars will build water plants with taxpayer money and sell this cheap power to the water plants. And then they can charge the taxpayer for the water. What a deal. Only a bureaucrate could think of this.

-- David Williams (, August 31, 2001.

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