Yes to Desalination

Sept. 28, 2012

By Joseph Perkins

The Western Hemisphere’s largest seawater desalination plant moved a huge step closer to actually being built with the tentative agreement Thursday by the San Diego County Water Authority to buy all the water produced by the Carlsbad plant’s private developer, Poseidon Resources.

This is a huge deal for Poseidon. If finalized by the water authority board, as expected, it will clear the way for the company to sell bonds to finance more than 80 percent of the $900 million project, which is slated to begin operations in 2016.

And the deal boosts Poseidon in another important way: It builds momentum for a desalination plant it has proposed for Orange County, the Huntington Beach Seawater Desalination Facility, about 60 miles up the freeway from Carlsbad.

“This is definitely an important milestone,” Poseidon spokesman Scott Maloni told the Associated Press, “one that we’ve been look forward to a long time.”

And it’s not just Poseidon, headquartered in Stamford, Conn., with regional offices in Carlsbad and Huntington Beach, that has waited a long time for California to tap into the Pacific Ocean, turning salt water into drinkable water.

Indeed, there are more than 21,000 desalination plants in operation throughout the world, producing more 3.5 billion gallons a day of potable water. The irony is that the reverse osmosis technology used in desalination was actually pioneered right here in California, by San Diego-based General Atomics.

Yet, there is only one desalination plant currently in operation here in the Golden State — the smallish Sand City Desalination Plant in Monterey County, which came online in 2010, and is currently producing about 300,000 gallons a day of drinkable water.

50 million gallons

Poseidon’s Carlsbad Desalination Project will produce 50 million gallons a day of drinking water, enough to supply 7 percent of the San Diego region by 2012. It will not be cheap, as critics note. It will cost the water authority $2,042 to $2,290 an acre-foot, more than twice what it pays to buy water from outside the region.

But the price tag for desalinated water has to be put in perspective. Potable water is an inelastic commodity, like electricity and gasoline. We can’t do without it. And we’ll pretty much pay whatever it costs to have it.

Indeed, California consumers are paying 50 percent more today for electricity than they were in 2000, according to the California Public Utilities Commission.

And we’d be paying even more were the PUC not artificially suppressing the prices Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric can charge their business and residential customers.

The run up in pump prices in recent years is even more pronounced. In January 2009, the average price of the gas here in the Golden State was $1.93. Today, it costs twice as much for California motorists to fuel up.

Given the scarcity of water here in the nation’s most populous state, it is prudent for water districts not only in the counties of San Diego and Orange, but throughout California, to seek ways to grow their supplies of water to meet future demand.

The Pacific Ocean represents an abundant source of water, and desalination the means of converting that salt water into water usable by California’s thirsty population.

13 comments

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  1. Newport Mac
    Newport Mac 28 September, 2012, 09:42

    Its about time!!! This has been going on for over 10 years and the Greens gaming the system have caused the hold-ups and cost overruns.

    Maybe, just maybe, California will be smart enough to build a plant to support agriculture that’s dead in the water due to the Delta Smelt ruling.

    Reply this comment
  2. Mike
    Mike 28 September, 2012, 10:24

    What I like about this story is the “private” part. Hooray for Poseidon! I only hope you can somehow keep the state government and all of their agencies out of your business. I wish you extreme success!

    Reply this comment
  3. Bill - San Jose
    Bill - San Jose 28 September, 2012, 14:08

    There can’t be anyone who has read about the water wars in CA that would oppose this effort with private funding.

    Cheers to Poseidon! and rational thought.

    Reply this comment
  4. Dyspeptic
    Dyspeptic 28 September, 2012, 14:29

    “And we’d be paying even more were the PUC not artificially suppressing the prices Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric can charge their business and residential customers.”

    Hopefully CPUC continues to suppress such prices. Why? Because the aforementioned Utilities are government chartered regional monopolies. I hope I never have to pay whatever price such monopolies can charge for a product that has “inelastic demand”. That would get expensive fast.

    “Given the scarcity of water here in the nation’s most populous state”.

    I would contend that this scarcity is largely the result of bad public policy driven by environmental elitists. Now the only alternative is more expensive everything. More expensive water, more expensive gasoline, more expensive electricity, more expensive natural gas etc. That’s one reason why I want to get out of California so bad I can taste it. It will soon be too expensive for middle class folk to live here.

    Reply this comment
  5. Fred Mangels
    Fred Mangels 28 September, 2012, 14:56

    I’m fine with desalination and support these projects. However, I don’t share the enthusiasm that the writer and some others here seem to have for them. With me it’s more of a shame that we’ve had to choose such an expensive source of water as desalinization. It’s not something to applaud.

    Reply this comment
  6. David Yates
    David Yates 28 September, 2012, 20:15

    I agree it is about time; I do not agree however that the price has to be so high! technology has come a long way,and as the article says there are over 21,000 desalinating plants world wide (I say lets do some research here, what are they charging and why?) Water is essential to life, and cannot be treated like a product that some CEO in an office somewhere “who might be having a bad day” could arbitrarily cut off the supply or escalate the price.

    Reply this comment
  7. Ted Steele, The Decider
    Ted Steele, The Decider 28 September, 2012, 20:31

    These desal plants are enviro nightmares– thank God for the CCC !

    Reply this comment
  8. Eyeamok
    Eyeamok 29 September, 2012, 06:18

    Ltes not forget that Santa Barbara did this some years ago and as soon as it was online and all the bugs worked out THEY SOLD IT TO CHINA, leaving The residents with nothing but a bitter taste in their mouth with no water to wash it down.

    Reply this comment
  9. Ted Steele, toilet cleaner
    Ted Steele, toilet cleaner 29 September, 2012, 07:01

    Eyeamok– Are you me?

    Reply this comment
  10. fletch92131
    fletch92131 29 September, 2012, 08:17

    Here”s hoping that the leads ultimately to adoption of the “space-age” technology called “Slingshot”, pioneered by Dean Kamen, and promoted in the book, Abundance”, as a game-changer for the world’s population. It uses very little energy to transform any liquid, even highly polluted water, saltwater or even raw sewage into high-quality drinking water for less than one cent a liter(I’m copying from the book’s cover insert)

    Reply this comment
  11. Queeg
    Queeg 29 September, 2012, 10:08

    What happens when we pay double for water, electricity, food, transportation, personal services?

    Reply this comment
  12. Tom in SoCal
    Tom in SoCal 29 September, 2012, 11:45

    Your wrong about the number of desalinization plants in California. There is one on Catalina Island.

    Reply this comment
  13. Ted Steele, Associate Prof.
    Ted Steele, Associate Prof. 30 September, 2012, 10:07

    It’s at Pebbly beach about 10 minutes from my house!

    Reply this comment

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