10 May 2008

Desalination -- OUCH!

This harsh editorial says that desalination has no clothes:
The 7-page-letter, dated June 27, 2007, was a “Notice of Incomplete Application” for a Coastal Development permit and cited numerous instances where Poseidon had given incomplete information or made dubious claims about permits, environmental effects, environmentally friendly alternatives and costs related to the project in response to a similar request for information a year earlier. Nearly 2-years later, the information is still not forthcoming, according to the CCC’s Environmental Scientist, Tom Luster, who wrote the letter.

Poseidon’s desalination plant would take publicly owned ocean water, convert it to tap water, and sell it back to the public for a profit. Organized opponents to the project criticized the company for ignoring key environmental impact issues and questioned whether the plant would ever be built, considering rising costs of fossil fuel and electricity needed to operate it, and a lack of buyers for the expensive water-as high as $2,000 per acre-foot-it would produce.

Poseidon told the city of Huntington Beach that the project would cost (Poseidon) about $150 million in capital to build and promised it would produce water for sale at around $800 per acre-foot, but that amount was based on government subsidies that might not materialize.
Bottom Line: I am sympathetic with desalination pilot projects, but big projects should wait. The subsidies that make any of those projects "feasible" also make their economic questionable. Poseidon should set up the project with its own money and then see what price it can charge in competition with local water supplies -- without subsidies. Assuming no environmental harm (big assumption), they will either succeed or fail, but public money should not keep them from failing.

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