Easy Reader Staff

El Segundo’s NRG in talks for desalination plant

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Two South Bay power companies are being considered as sites for the new, full-scale desalination plant that West Basin Municipal Water District plans to begin building as soon as this year.

AES Southland in Redondo Beach and NRG Energy in El Segundo are in discussions with the water district about hosting the 20 million-gallons-a-day plant, said West Basin Spokeswoman Noelle Collins.

The discussions with both companies are part of the water district’s master planning process, and no decision has yet been made, Collins said. “We’re exploring the feasibility of both sites,” Collins said.

Word of the discussions surfaced when Steve Hoffmann, senior vice-president of NRG, told the El Segundo city council last week that West Basin appears interested.

“We’ve had a lot of discussion around a desalination facility. It’s probably another level of discussion (we need to have), but we’ve had a lot of interest shown by West Basin to make use of the tank farm area for a future water supply resource for the region,” Hoffmann said, adding, “We will be having more discussions.”

AES Southland President Eric Pendergraft did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Construction of a permanent desalination facility may be controversial in either location, depending on residents’ reactions. A desalination plant is expected to produce pollution and noise, although how much is unclear.

West Basin wants to build a permanent desalination facility in the South Bay in order to reduce the region’s dependence on drinking water from Northern California and the Colorado River. About 66 percent of the region’s drinking water comes from those two sources.

A desalination plant would produce drinking water by removing salt and minerals from sea water. “Our goal is to add 20 million gallons a day by 2020, give or take. That basically produces drinking water to put in the pipe, used by households in our service area,” Collins said.

West Basin has been rolling out its desalination program in phases over the last decade. From 2002 to 2009, the water district operated a pilot program at NRG, which included water quality testing and cost, Collins said.

After shutting down the pilot program at NRG, West Basin moved to what’s called the demonstration phase at The Sea Lab across Harbor Drive from AES.

West Basin has learned over the last year and a half that the wire screens covering their water intake pipes has been largely effective at protecting sea life, Collins said, in part because they are pulling water in slowly.

Separating drinking water from salt and minerals using reverse osmosis takes a tremendous amount of energy, and West Basin is using an energy recapture device that has proven to save about 50 percent of the energy expended, Collins said.

West Basin is also researching at sea lab how the brine discharge from the desalination process affects marine life, and Collins said, “We’re coming up with a way it can be discharged so that it diffuses into the water and it’s not having an impact on marine life.”

She added, “We’re not making decisions about going full scale until we have our research wrapped up… We’ll probably have a formal unveiling of the research we have been doing later in the summer.”



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