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South Bay Power plant on borrowed time Jon Campbell | Sun, May 16 2010 01:10 PM

Environmental groups in Chula Vista won a qualified victory Wednesday when regional regulators reaffirmed a decision to shut down the South Bay Power Plant by year's end.

The plant's opponents, including the city of Chula Vista, had wanted the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board to move even more quickly in revoking the plant's operational permit, but didn't find enough backing on the board to support a June 1 shutoff date.

Laura Hunter with the Environmental Health Coalition said the board's decision means the company that runs the plant, Dynegy, will have an uphill battle to keep the facility operating after Dec. 31.

"I would say we're confident that the regional board is on the same page ... our goal was to get this permit ended by the end of the year, and that was accomplished until there's some future application, which there may or may not be," said Hunter.

The board's review focused on the plant's environmental impacts as one of a dwindling number of electrical facilities that still use "once through" cooling.

The technology draws millions of gallons of seawater per day from the nearby bay to cool its equipment, and then pumps the water back out to sea.

The process disturbs marine ecosystems by raising the temperature of water nearby the plant, and leads to the death of marine life caught in the plant's intakes. Once-through cooling is being phased out all over the country, but is still being used by the 1960s-era South Bay plant and the Encino power plant in Carlsbad.

The board's decision not to renew Dynegy's permit means the company will have to apply for an entirely new permit to keep operating after the new year, forcing them to undergo a more stringent approval process than that of a simple renewal.

Dynegy has said in the past that it is committed to the removal of the plant, and it's not clear whether they would seek a new permit from the board.

Calls to the company's public relations officer, David Byford, were not immediately returned on Thursday.

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