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Is the dinosaur going extinct? 

click to enlarge RETIRING? :  Morro Bay city officials and Morro Bay Power Plant owner-operator Dynegy hope state officials will cater new policy language to address the unique characteristics of the city. As written, the new draft regulations on power plant cooling systems could render the Morro Bay plant unprofitable. - FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • RETIRING? : Morro Bay city officials and Morro Bay Power Plant owner-operator Dynegy hope state officials will cater new policy language to address the unique characteristics of the city. As written, the new draft regulations on power plant cooling systems could render the Morro Bay plant unprofitable.

The Morro Bay Power Plant may well be on the path toward retirement. Based on a new set of regulations from the State Water Resources Control Board, the plant may be rendered unprofitable, and city officials are bracing for a potential economic loss.

“I don’t think anybody ever wanted to keep a dinosaur going,” said Morro Bay Mayor Janice Peters, “but we did have concerns about losing the plant completely.”

The final blow to the aging plant could be dealt by a new policy—currently in draft form—that would require all power plants in California that use once-through cooling systems to either switch to environmentally friendly closed-cycle cooling or, for power plants that can’t make the switch, an alternative that comes within 90 percent of the performance. The Morro Bay plant would have to reduce its water intake by 93 percent and install protective screens to protect ocean life. Such power plants draw ocean water for cooling purposes.

Morro Bay officials sent a letter to the state water board asking that the city’s unique characteristics be recognized during the policy development. They also asked in their letter for more specific language.

Jack McCurdy, co-president and co-founder of the citizen group Coastal Alliance on Plant Expansion, believed city officials broke from past decision makers by trying to more stringently regulate the power plant and do away with its once-through cooling.

“In the past, they would have supported this policy because it is so vague,” McCurdy said, referring to the draft water board policy. “They’re basically saying that since the policy is so poorly worded and poorly drafted and vague that it’s not going to do what it’s designed to do and that is to end once-through cooling.

According to David Byford, a spokesman for the plant owner and operator Dynegy, plant officials have until 2015 to develop solutions to meet the requirements—though he noted the regulation is still in a draft form.

Dynegy officials sent a response to the water board’s draft regulations on Sept. 30 and asked that “a more site-specific approach should be considered,” Byford said. Closed-cycle systems have previously been avoided in Morro Bay because of the visual and noise impacts they could bring to the compact area surrounding the plant.

Depending on how the regulation language pans out, the plant may be headed for retirement if the regulations made it unprofitable, Byford said. There are other alternatives on the table, such as using the land as a green energy campus with an aquarium, conference center, and museum, Peters said.

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