Cooling Off

The State Water Board rebuffed DWP's effort to water down new cooling policies at plants like its Scattergood facility.

In a nail biter, the State Water Resources Control Board got the three votes it needed Tuesday to turn down a broad amendment that would have gutted California’s new Once-Through Cooling policy for power plants. Board members Tam Doduc, Fran Spivy-Weber and Art Bagget supported the motion to uphold the policy and oppose the amendment.

The board also agreed to expedite analysis of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s implementation plan next summer. Over the past year, the DWP has argued numerous times that it can’t meet the OTC policy compliance deadlines for re-powering three of its power plants by the end of 2021.

Earlier, the DWP promised to phase out all OTC, but it wanted until 2031 for Scattergood and up to 2040 for co-generation power plants.  But, then DWP lobbied the State Water Board for a policy amendment to extend the compliance timeframe in exchange to phasing out OTC at all three power plants.  Instead of introducing a narrow amendment for DWP, the State Board proposed an expanded amendment, opening up a Pandora’s box in the OTC policy for co-generation and fossil fuel plants up and down the entire state coastline.

As a result, a number of enviro and fishing communities joined to oppose the expanded amendment for gutting the policy. Linda Sheehan, the executive director of California Coastkeeper Alliance, took lead in the comment-writing and organization effort. Santa Monica Baykeeper, NRDC, Sierra Club and Surfrider also strongly opposed the amendment at the hearing.

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True Reform at DWP?

When will we see true accountability at DWP?

Recently, the Los Angeles City Council voted for three supposed Department of Water & Power reforms:

  • Creating an Office of Public Accountability with a ratepayer advocate;
  • Requiring DWP’s budget to be submitted earlier, with a guarantee that “surplus” funds will come to the city of L.A. for general fund uses;
  • Granting the City Council the authority to remove the DWP’s  General Manager or DWP Commissioners with a two-thirds council vote.  The council could also override the mayor’s removal of the GM or commissioners with a two-thirds vote.

If the council approves the measures Dec. 7, they will appear on the March 8 ballot.  But here’s the deal: These reforms are hardly bold and they don’t begin to solve the numerous inherent problems at DWP.  In fact, the ballot measures are a cynical and opportunistic attempt to take advantage of near-universal public distrust of DWP.

The original job description for the new ratepayer advocate position promised real reform. It declared “the role of the OPA shall be to (1) promote efficiency and effectiveness of the department; (2) provide a centralized focus on ratepayer protection and consumer complaints; and (3) provide independent analysis of department actions, particularly as they relate to water and electricity rate actions. The OPA shall advocate against excessive rates and shall provide expert advice on rate actions and strategies which most economically accomplish the City’s policy goals and protect the department’s long-term interests.” But the role has been significantly watered down to the point of ambiguity.

From an environmental perspective, the measures almost completely miss the mark.  Of course greater accountability is needed at DWP, but giving the City Council the authority to fire the GM and the commissioners is not a solution.

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Crisis Averted

The DWP came to its senses on AB 1552.

Last week the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power gutted and amended a pending state bill (AB 1552) and inserted new language that would have significantly eased newly established rules for how power plants suck in ocean water to cool themselves.  DWP leaders went on the offensive against these regulations, even though an existing city policy on Once Through Cooling legislation doesn’t exist. They moved forward without a city council vote on the proposed legislation. (And in an interesting bit of timing, lawmakers introduced the measure just as the L.A. City Council commenced its two-week summer break.) 

Instead of trusting public process, which considered both economics and grid reliability, the DWP crafted AB 1552 as a cynical exemption that applied only to itself. If the bill became law, DWP would have been able to skirt the intent of the new policy by receiving severely weakened flow reduction targets for its OTC plants in comparison with similar facilities statewide.  The utility even had the nerve to write in a new definition of technical feasibility that is completely inconsistent with the federal Clean Water Act and last year’s Supreme Court ruling on the issue.

Fortunately, the DWP came to its senses late this week and dropped the offensive gut-and-amend legislation, thereby averting a horrible precedent at the state legislature. Even before the clandestine backroom shenanigans began in Sacramento, DWP initiated discussions with the State Water Board last week. Discussions on the DWP compliance plan strategy were promising enough this week to lead the utility to shelve the bill.

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Do As I Say…

David Nahai, City of L.A. Mayor Anotonio Villaraigosa and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslasky

Left to right: H. David Nahai, City of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

H. David Nahai, the general manager and CEO of Los Angeles’ DWP mega-utility, has been taking a lot of heat of late. What was his transgression that made the news, blog and talk radio circuit light up? His family, ensconced in a 6,000-square foot home, is a water waster. Big time.  To the tune of more than 1,000 gallons a day, according to a recent home audit.

And Al Gore has a big carbon footprint because he travels around the world shouting about the perils of climate change to all that are willing to listen. Yes, we want our leaders to lead by examples. But often they don’t, just proving they are human. Was I surprised by the audit? Yes. Does it make me think he’s failed us? No.

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