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					             Critique	of	the	Santa	Cruz	Desalination	Proposal	 	     	       	      	       	       	       	      	       		1



    Critique of the
                                                           Why Desalination Is Not Sustainable
      Santa Cruz
                                            The City of Santa Cruz is proposing to build a desalination plant to supplement Water District water
     Desalination                           supply during drought years, and eventually, to provide additional water in normal years. The plant
       Proposal                             would be used by the Soquel Creek Water District in other years to reduce pumping from wells that
                                            overdraft the aquifers. This report covers the downsides to the desalination plant: the greenhouse
      by Rick Longinotti                    gases caused by the quantity of energy it will require, the cost of desalinated water, and the impact on
                                            marine life. For a report on sustainable water alternatives to desalination, see http://transitionsc.org/
                                            water-group.

                                            Energy Use
                                            In a dry year, the proposed desalination plant would provide 13% of Santa Cruz’s normal year water
                                            delivery, while doubling the Water Department’s electricity consumption.1 In a normal year, Soquel
“If we continue with                        Creek Water District would use the plant at 1 million gallons/day. The District would be able to cut
desalination use as we                      back 23% on pumping water from the aquifer. But the District’s electricity consumption would more
do today, we will be the                    than double, not including the power to convey the water from Santa Cruz.2
biggest consumer of our                     The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the Integrated Water Plan, the policy that commits the
own oil.”                                   City to move forward towards desalination, considers increased fossil fuel dependency to be an
- Dr Mohammed al Saud,                      insignificant impact:
Saudi Arabia Deputy Minister                        Impact 5.13-3: The proposed Program would increase reliance on energy resources
for Water                                           that are not renewable. Less than Significant.
                                            We vigorously disagree. Increasing reliance on fossil fuels has a profound impact on our community’s
                                            economic and social well-being. The opening article in this document makes the case that our
                                            community needs to become more resilient in the face of declining fossil fuel energy supplies. It
                                            doesn’t make sense to commit to a new water source that requires 8 times the power to pump water
There are alternatives                      out of the ground and many more times the power requirements of surface water, which is delivered
                                            mainly by gravity.
to desalination to
                                            The EIR justifies the use of fossil fuel by claiming public health depends on it:
address our local                                   “However, because this use of natural resources would be used to meet the objectives of
water challenges. See                               the proposed Program, primarily to provide a reliable water supply and ensure protection of
Transition Santa Cruz’                              public health and safety, commitment of these resources would be justified.”3
report online                               Is public health really at stake? I consider that question on page 4.
http://transitionsc.org/water-group
                                            Greenhouse Gas Emissions
                                             With half of its source power coming from fossil fuel burning plants, the desalination plant will
                                            increase greenhouse gas emissions. The impact of sea level rise on this coastal community is so vast
                Critique	of	the	Santa	Cruz	Desalination	Proposal	 	       	        	       	        	       	        	       	        		2

                                                    as to be difficult to comprehend. Yet the EIR for the Integrated Water Plan did not include
                                                    one mention of “greenhouse gas emissions” or “climate change” in its 627 pages.
                                                    The state’s AB 32 requires a 30% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 and 80% by 2050.
                                                    How in the world will the City, and especially Soquel Creek Water District (which plans to
                                                    use the plant in 51/2 years out of six) comply with AB 32?
                                                    The energy consultant for the project has advised the water agencies that they don’t have to
                                                    comply with AB 32. “AB 32 does not directly apply to the project, and it does not provide
                                                    a mandate for SCWD2 to reduce Scope 2 emissions.”4 Scope 2 emissions are those don’t
                                                    occur on site, but occur as a result of the power use. The consultant’s interpretation of AB
                                                    32 is dubious. Moreover, our assessment is that this community would not favor an evasion
                                                    of AB 32 on such a technicality. The consultant’s principal strategy recommendation for
                                                    “offsetting” greenhouse gases is the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits. Our article,
                                                    “Turn On the Greenwash Wipers” investigates these credits.
                                                    1
                                                      Total 2005 electric power use of SC Water Dept = 6,414,031 kw-h. (Source: 2005 Santa Cruz Greenhouse
                                                    Gas Emissions Inventory, Table 1) At 75gal/kw-h the plant running 6 months at 2.5 million gal/day would
                                                    require 6,066,666 kw-h
                                                    2
                                                      Energy calculation:
                                                    “The total energy consumed by the District last year was approximately 3,500,000 kwh. Approximately 85-
                                                    90% is used for production (wells, treatment, etc.) and 10-15% is used for conveyance (to move/pump the
                                                    water throughout the system)”.
                                                    Soquel use at 1million gal/day = 365 million gal/yr
                                                    At 13kwh/1000 gal, 365 million gallons uses 4,745,000 kwh

                                                    District cut back in well production: 4800AF (1,564 million gallons)
                                                    Less 365 million gallons from desal (23%) = 1,199 mil gal net pumping
                                                    With 23% less pumping of groundwater, electric consumption due to pumping drops by = 23% x 85% x
                                                    3,500mw-h = 684 mwh
                                                    Net consumption = 3500 - 684 = 2,816mw-h
                                                    New electric use = Desal electric + Net Groundwater pumping use (not counting conveyance from Santa
Area in Santa Cruz below sea level                  Cruz)
with a 1-meter rise (predicted by                   4,745mw-h + 2816 = 7562mw-h or 216/% of current use ---Not counting additional needed power for
centuryʼs end)                                      conveyance from Santa Cruz
                                                    3
                                                      Draft Integrated Water Plan Program EIR (2005) p 1-26
                                                    4
                                                      CH2M Hill progress report on their Energy Minimization and Gas Reduction Plan, 10/09
             Critique	of	the	Santa	Cruz	Desalination	Proposal	 	    	   	   	     	      	     	      	      		3



                 Cost Comparison
Cost to transmit and treat 1 million gallons of water
from Loch Lomond reservoir = $1701

Cost of desalinated
water = $3600                                                      to
$6000 per million gallons2
(at current energy prices)
Cost projection for Monterey
Regional Desal
 = $19,000 per million
gallons3

Pre-construction costs:
Santa Cruz and Soquel
Creek District have already
spent $2 million on a pilot
desal plant. In addition,
in 2009-2012 the Water                                                      Santa Barbara Desalination Plant Completed 1992.
Districts are planning to spend $15.5 million on                               Shut down 2 months later. Never re-opened
“design, permitting, and other related preconstruction
expenses”4.

Opportunity cost:
The cost to pursue desalination has already committed
$17.5 million in funds that might have be spent on
conservation.

1
  Integrated Water Plan, (2003) p V-6
2
  Pacific Institute, Desalination, With a Grain of Salt
3
  California Public Utilities Commission Division of Ratepayer
Advocates www.dra.ca.gov/DRA/h20/
4
  Water Supply Assessment (2009) p 49
                 Critique	of	the	Santa	Cruz	Desalination	Proposal	 	          	        	        	        	         	        	        	        		4


                                                                         Is Public Health Really at Stake?
                                           Since the EIR for the Integrated Water Plan invoked “public health and safety” to justify the increased fossil
                                           fuel use of using desalination, we ask, “Is health and safety is really at stake?” We are dubious when an strategy
                                           that would degrade the environment is presented as necessary for public health. Our conviction is that when
                                           there is an apparent conflict between the needs of the present and the needs of future generations, we need to
                                           take a close look at how we define our present needs.

                                           Just what is the effect on health and safety of a worst-case drought? The language of Water Department
                                           documents evokes a sense of emergency. The Water Shortage Contingency Plan (2009) categorizes five stages
                                           of drought severity. “Stage 3” is a drought event requiring system-wide peak-season curtailment of 25%. The
                                           Plan states, “A Stage 3 water shortage constitutes an emergency situation.”1 Still, in Stage 3 golf courses would
                                           get half of their normal year allocation. One wonders if the choice of the word “emergency” is more of a public
                                           relations tactic than a desription of human reality.

                                           The City is concerned about a “worst case scenario” drought similar to that of 1976-77. The second year of
                                           drought is the most critical. If it were to occur now, such a drought would require peak season curtailment of
                                           39% or 46%, depending on which City document you read.2 In either case, the expected curtailment is based
                                           on the assumption that the City allow its reservoir storage to drop to as low as 64% capacity on October 1 of
                                           normal rainfall years.3 This policy of depleting reservoir storage during normal years makes for un-necessarily
 Pasatiempo and Delaveaga Golf
Courses would still get 50% of their
                                           severe curtailments should the subsequent two years be critically dry.
normal water in a Stage 3 drought
          “emergency”.                     2009 is a year that exemplifies better drought preparedness. With a 14% peak season conservation effort , the
                                           City’s reservoir retained a 90% capacity as of October 1, 2009, an ideal level should drought continue for two
                                           more years. In 2010, once again the lake level was above 90% capacity on October 1. The best drought security
                                           for the City is to change its “rule” for use of Loch Lomond Reservoir so that it re-fills completely each winter,
                                           instead of the historical 7 out of 10 winters. This would require that the water use of 2009 and 2010 becomes
                                           the norm. This goal that is well within reach with a campaign to retrofit toilets and showerheads. If the City
                                           were to achieve Oct 1 reservoir levels of 90% each normal or mildly dry year, curtailments in case of a worst-
                                           case drought would be much less than 39%. More reservoir water would be available for the critically dry years
                                           than could be provided by a 2.5mgd desal plant. See transitionsc.org/water-group for more information.
                                           1
                                             p ES-6
                                           2
                                             The Integrated Water Plan (2003) Table II-4 publishes the results of the 2001 Curtailment Study by Gary Fiske & Assoc.
                                           The table lists a “worst-case” peak season curtailment of 39% for 2010. That is in contrast to the Draft EIR for the UCSC
                                           sphere of influence extension (2009) “the City would experience a 46% peak season shortage in the second year”.
                                           The source for the latter figure is listed as “Toby Goddard, City of Santa Cruz Water Dept., personal communication”. Mr.
                                           Goddard has not responded to a request to explain his calculations.
                                           3
                                             “Under these rule curves, no shortage is indicated if lake storage is above 85% capacity on April 1 and as long as the lake
                                           is forecast to remain above 64% capacity through the end of September” -Water Shortage Contigency Plan (2009)
              Critique	of	the	Santa	Cruz	Desalination	Proposal	 	   	    	          	      	       	       	       	       		5


                Impact on Marine Life                                        abandoned waste water pipe that extends 2000 feet offshore from
                                                                             Mitchell Cove. In order to minimize marine mortality the City
Desalination plants have potential impacts on marine life at both            is considering multiple intake ports on the intake pipe. That will
ends of the pipe, the intake of ocean water and the discharge of brine       reduce the velocity of the water sucked in at any particular intake
back into the ocean.                                                         port, thus reducing the amount of impingement of the larger
                                                                             marine life on the intake screens. Small mesh screens may reduce
Water Intake: Impingement and Entrainment of Marine Life                     entrainment of smaller organisms. But billions of micro-organisms
According to the Pacific Institute’s report, Desalination, With              that are at the base of the food chain will pass through the screens
a Grain of Salt, A California Perspective, “Impingement and                  and become entrained on the desal filters.
entrainment of marine organisms are among the most significant
environmental threats associated with seawater desalination.”                The environmental impact report for the plant will evaluate the
Impingement refers to mortality of marine life on screens as ocean           impact of impingement and entrainment of marine life, although
water is sucked into the pipe. Entrainment refers to the mortality of        the lack of research on this topic will limit the extent to which any
smaller organisms such as plankton, fish eggs and larvae that pass           firm conclusions can be reached.
through the screens and die during the pre-treatment process.

The Pacific Institute notes that “only limited research on the impacts
of desalination facilities on the marine environment has been done.”
However, more research has been done on power plants that use
ocean water for cooling. “An analysis of coastal and estuarine power
plants in California suggests that impingement and entrainment
associated with once-through cooling systems have significant
environmental impacts: “... impingement and entrainment impacts
equal the loss of biological productivity of thousands of acres of
habitat” (York and Foster 2005).1 Those power plants can process
a hundred times more ocean water than the planned desalination
facility in Santa Cruz. The extent of damage to marine life from
small facilities such as the one proposed in Santa Cruz is unknown.
                                                                             Discharge
There are measures to reduce the extent of impingement and
entrainment. Drawing water from pipes buried under a sandy ocean             As water passes through the reverse osmosis filter membrane,
floor is one way to reduce the mortality of marine life. However,            leaving the salt behind, a brine is created that is roughly twice as
the local offshore geology is not conducive to that option. There            salty as ocean water. High concentrations of salt in discharged
has been no decision as to the location of seawater intake for the           water can poison marine life. Santa Cruz intends to dilute
plant, but an option that is under consideration is the use of an            this brine with water from the sewage treatment plant before
                                                                             discharging it into the ocean.
              Critique	of	the	Santa	Cruz	Desalination	Proposal	 	   	     	       	      	       	      	       	      		6


There are other wastes that will be discharged that are of                    are released in the environment and can be concentrated in
concern. The Pacific Institute reports,                                       shellfish and other filter-feeders. This would be detrimental
        “Chemicals used throughout the desalination process                   to endangered species feeding on these filter feeders (e.g. sea
        may also be discharged with the brine. The majority                   otters).4
        of these chemicals are applied during pretreatment to
        prevent membrane fouling (Amalfitano and Lam 2005).          Carol Reeb, a fisheries geneticist with Stanford’s Hopkins Marine
        For example, chlorine and other biocides are applied         Station, is concerned about the cumulative impact of the brine
        continuously to prevent organisms from growing on the        discharge from the eight planned desalination facilities in Monterey
        plant’s interior, and sodium bisulfite is then often added   Bay. “The Monterey Bay is a semi-enclosed system which means
        to eliminate the chlorine, which can damage membranes.       it is protected from large offshore currents which could flush away
        Anti-scalants, such as polyacrylic or sulfuric acid, are     brine waste. Coupled with the ebb and flow of tides and eddy-like
        also added to prevent salt deposits from forming on          circulation, this could allow brine plumes to entrain and accumulate
        piping. Coagulants, such as ferric chloride and polymers,                                    along our coastline over the course of
        are added to the feedwater to                                                                years.”5 Reeb notes that “Monterey’s
        bind particles together.”                There are no mitigation measures
                                  2
                                                                                                     Marine Sanctuary is home to 9 fish

There are no mitigation measures in the
                                                 in the EIR for the Integrated Water                 and an abalone listed under the federal
                                                                                                     Endangered Species Act.”
EIR for the Integrated Water Plan that           Plan that address the biocides,
address the biocides, anti-scalants, and         anti-scalants, and coagulants that                  Precautionary Principle
coagulants that are discharged in the            are discharged in the brine waste                   When considering the environmental
brine waste in the normal operation of                                                               impact of a project, it is tempting to
the plant.3                                                                                          want a definitive answer. “Is it going to
                                                                                                     be harmful, and if so how harmful?” It
Marine biologist, Cécile Mioni, reports that toxins from algae       doesn’t feel very satisfying to get the answer, “Intake of ocean water
blooms could also be concentrated in the brine:                      is definitely harmful when done on a large scale, but it is not known
        Monterey Bay is plagued with Harmful Algae Bloom             how harmful small scale intake will be.”
        (sometimes toxic, refer to death of birds and sea
        lions related to domoic acid in the area last summer).       Environmental impact reports are written with the presumption that
        These blooms occur every year in Spring/Summer               impacts can be classified as “significant” or “not significant”, when
        (PseudoNitzschia bloom with domoic acid production)          in fact the impacts of human action on the environment ripple out
        and in Fall (red tide with dinoflagellates such as           into the environment in a way that is not fully knowable. Every
        Akashiwo that sometimes produce toxins). The brine will      environmental impact report should contain the preamble, “This is the
        most likely contain these harmful algae and concentrate      best we can estimate with our limited knowledge.”
        them near shore in one spot. When a cell is exposed to
        too much salt/hypertonic solution, it shrinks and dies       The humility of scientists who recognize the limits of their knowledge
        and can break open. If the cells break open, the toxins
                  Critique	of	the	Santa	Cruz	Desalination	Proposal	 	     	       	       	       	       	       	      	       		7

has led to the development of the Precautionary
Principle, a modern version of the ancient                    Is Desalinated Seawater Safe?
commitment, Primum non nocere. “First, do no
harm.” The European Commission Communication                  The algae, Pseudo-nitzschia
on the Precautionary Principle describes it:                  australis, has received a great
        “The precautionary principle applies                  deal of attention in Monterey
        where scientific evidence is insufficient,            Bay. It blooms in Monterey Bay
        inconclusive or uncertain and preliminary             from late spring to early fall
        scientific evaluation indicates that there            and can produce domoic acid, a
        are reasonable grounds for concern that               potent neurotoxin that can cause
        the potentially dangerous effects on the              neural damage, disorientation,
        environment, human, animal or plant health            short-term memory loss and
        may be inconsistent with the high level of            even seizures and brain damage
        protection chosen by the EU”.6                        in vertebrates. Red tides occur
                                                              seasonally in Monterey Bay and             Red tide at Half Moon Bay 2007
Planning eight desalination plants on Monterey Bay            have been more frequent in the Bay
in spite of the reasonable grounds for concern about          since 2004 with large blooms occurring
marine impacts does not seem to us consistent with            in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007.1 Red tides have lasted several months in Monterey
a precautionary approach to conserving the natural            Bay.
world.
(Footnotes)                                                   California has strict standards for water agencies concerning their source water.
1
  Pacific Institute, Desalination, With a Grain of Salt       However up until recently that source water has always been on land. There is
p. 59                                                         no existing regulatory standard for domoic acid or saxitoxin in drinking water set
2
  ibid p 61                                                   by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the California Department of
3
  Final EIR, Integrated Water Plan (2005)                     Public Health (DPH).2
4
  email correspondence 7/13/10
5
  public comment at Ca. Public Utilities Commission           The report from the SCWD2 pilot desalination plant that operated at Long Marine
hearing, 6/2010                                               Lab expresses confidence in the ability of the desalination filters to eliminate these
6
  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precautionary_                 toxins.
principle                                                             “Although there is limited published information on the operations of
                                                                      existing facilities during these types of blooms, discussions with industry
                                                                      professionals indicate that toxins are generally not a concern because the
                                                                      algae and toxins are removed by treatment process.”3

                                                              Because there was no red tide event during the pilot plant testing, the SCWD2
                                                              pilot plant performed a study to determine the ability of the desalination process
               Critique	of	the	Santa	Cruz	Desalination	Proposal	 	     	      	      	       	       	       	      	       		8

to eliminate the neurotoxins. Instead of using domoic acid or              City water. They found that bromine reacts with organic molecules
saxitoxin, they used kainic acid, a safer surrogate which has a            in the City’s water to form brominated tri-halo-methanes (THM), a
similar molecular weight and structure. The results show that              carcinogen. “The results indicate that bromide concentrations greater
prefilters have a low rate of rejection of kainic acid, but that the       than 0.5 mg/L may significantly increase total THM formation after
reverse osmosis filters have an excellent rate of rejection, 99.8%         blending with treated surface water within the distribution system.
of the kainic is removed.                                                  For this reason, it is recommended that the reverse osmosis system
                                                                           be selected to reduce the bromide concentration in the desalinated
Is reverse osmosis as effective in removing toxins as it is in             water to 0.5 mg/L or less.”6 In other words, the project had better
removing kainic acid? A 2009 paper published by a team led by              order high performance reverse osmosis filters if it hopes to meet the
USC biologist, David Caron, suggests that a study be conducted             regulatory requirements for disinfection byproducts.
to test if that is true:
         “To our knowledge, there are no published reports
         on the effectiveness of reverse osmosis for removing              The operation of the desalination plant will require continuous
         dissolved algal toxins from seawater. Some of these toxin         monitoring of source water for algae blooms. It will require frequent
         molecules (e.g. domoic acid) are near the theoretical             testing of filtered water for desired level of contaminants. This system
         molecular size of molecules rejected by reverse osmosis           will need to operate with a high level of performance in order to
         membranes, but experimental studies are required to               meet safe water standards. The required high level of performance
         validate the effective of this process on toxin removal.”         means the proposed plant is more like a thoroughbred racehorse
                                                                           than a workhorse. Thoroughbreds have more reliability issues than
                                                                           workhorses.
Boron and Bromine
Boron and bromine are two elements that aren’t normally of
concern in drinking water sources on land. Boron is not an EPA
regulated contaminant.4 But the pilot desal plant study set goals
for boron removal. Boron from desalination water in Israel was             (Footnotes)
found to have an adverse affect on plants. Boron has also been             1
                                                                             Desalination Pilot Test Program Final Report, p 3-18
shown to have harmful effects on development in lab animals.               2
                                                                             Desalination Pilot Test Program Final Report, Appendix A, TM-4-4
                                                                           3
                                                                             ibid TM-4-2
The report of the pilot desal plant recommends strict goals                4
                                                                             http://www.epa.gov/safewater/ccl/reg_determine2.html
for bromine removal. “Once the seawater desalination plant                 5
                                                                             Desalination Pilot Test Program Final Report p 4-9
is brought on-line, the desalinated water, which contains                  6
                                                                             ibid p 4-11
bromide, will mix with Graham Hill treatment plant water in the
distribution system. This may increase the challenge of meeting
the Stage 2 Disinfection Byproduct regulations.”5 The pilot study
performed a test in which desalinated water was mixed with
               Critique	of	the	Santa	Cruz	Desalination	Proposal	 	            	        	          	   	        	      	     	     		9



Is Desalination Reliable?                                                                                  Desalination in the News
A key argument for
desalination is its reliability.
Currently Santa Cruz is at the
mercy of nature. When drought                                                                                                           March 17, 2009
occurs we necessarily cut
back our water consumption.                                                                               Tampa Bay Waterʼs long-troubled desali-
Desalination offers the promise                                                                           nation plant is having more problems.
of not having to tolerate                                                                                 The $158 million plant, which opened five
nature’s whims. We will never                                                                             years late and cost $40 million more than
again have to cut our water                                                                               expected, remains unable to supply the
consumption by more than                                                                                  full 25 million gallons a day that was orig-
15%, even in the worst case                                                                               inally promised.
drought, according to the                                                                                 ________________________________________
Integrated Water Plan.
But is desalination all that            Desal promises weʼll never have to cut our
reliable? Or does Nature really          water consumption by more than 15%.
bat last?                                                                                                                           January 23, 2010

Red Tides                                                                                                     Waterʼs Quick Fix a Long-term Drain
According to a recent study, “Algal blooms can cause significant operational issues                       RUSTING in sea water, the $1.2 billion
that result in increased chemical consumption, increased membrane fouling rates,                          Gold Coast desalination plant required
and in extreme cases, a plant to be taken off-line.”4                                                     repairs soon after it opened. The
A red tide event occurred in the Arabian Gulf in 2008-2009 that lasted for over 8                         showpiece of a Queensland government
months. The fouling of desalination plant filters disrupted the operation of plants in                    strategy to drought-proof the stateʼs
the Gulf. A paper published in Harmful Algae reports, “As Arabian Gulf countries                          booming southeast, the project has
rely on desalination plants as the primary source of freshwater, the disruption of                        been plagued by so many construction
plant operations by recurring Cochlodinium blooms poses a serious threat to the                           flaws and unscheduled shut-downs that
drinking water supply in the region.”5                                                                    the government is still refusing to take
                                                                                                          possession from the contractors who built
  Harmful algae and their potential impacts on desalination operations off Southern California,
                                                                                                          it.
4

Water Research Volume 44, Issue 2, January 2010, Pages 385-416
5
  Harmful Algae, Volume 9, Issue 2, February 2010, Pages 163-172
                Critique	of	the	Santa	Cruz	Desalination	Proposal	 	      	      	       	      	       	       	       	       		10


Turn On the Greenwash Wipers                                                 in the atmosphere into wood. Re-forestation is desperately needed,
By Rick Longinotti                                                           because massive deforestation is still occurring around the world. And
                                                                             re-forestation can reverse the release of carbon into the atmosphere
Congratulations on our success! You and I are part of a shift in             caused by the original deforestation. But to claim that it “offsets” carbon
public opinion towards care for the natural environment. And we              released by a jet flight distorts the reality that carbon from under the
know we’ve made an impact because there’s a lot of corporate                 earth has overburdened the atmosphere-plant carbon cycle.
marketing money trying to win our belief in their green credentials.
Energy corporations, for example, have a big stake in getting the            At a presentation in 2009 the water agencies included “forestry
public to believe there is such a thing as “Clean Coal”, or that BP          management” as a potential carbon offset project for the desalination
means “Beyond Petroleum”.                                                    plant. The City owns forest lands in the watersheds of Loch Lomond
                                                                             and Zayante Creek. They would count refraining from logging as a
Our local water agencies have taken a leaf from the corporate                carbon offset. One audience member spoke up, “You mean you’re going
notebook. They hired a multi-national engineering firm, CH2M                 to count it when you don’t cut down a tree?!”
Hill, to advise them on how to “offset” the desalination project’s
production of greenhouse gases.                                                                    Renewable Energy Credits
The consultant’s strategy has                                               To Green Lies
                                                                         Littleaddress the greenhouse gas issue, the energy consultant is advising
already won a victory if the                                                 the water agencies to purchase Renewable Energy Credits (REC’s).1
public assumes there is a way to                                             When a Renewable
                                                                         “Often theproducer sells electricity from renewable sources such as solar
effectively “offset” increased fossil                                        and Credit producer
                                                                         Energywind, the trade is allowed to sell a certificate, the Renewable
fuel use. But “offset” strategies run                                        Energy Credit.. more
                                                                         seems like littleRenewable Energy Credits were meant to be an
into a basic problem. Once carbon                                            incentive to renewable
                                                                         than the buying and energy producers to build more wind turbines
                                                                             and solar panels. The question is, do they really work to encourage
from under ground is burned into                                         selling of bragging
the atmosphere, you can’t put                                                industry to expand renewable power?
                                                                         rights, rather than
the carbon back in the ground.                                           incentivesstory in Business Week, titled Little Green Lies, contends,
(Although there are some engineers                                           A cover that lead to
                                                                         the construction of wind used RECs, which are supposed to result
                                                                                     “The most commonly
who want to try it. The new
discipline of “geo-engineering”,                                                    in third panels.”
                                                                         turbines or asolarparty’s developing pollution-free power, turn out to
powered by energy company and                                                        be highly dubious…. Often the REC trade seems like little
government money seeks a technological fix for climate change.                       more than the buying and selling of bragging rights, rather than
They propose compressing carbon dioxide and injecting it                             incentives that lead to the construction of wind turbines or solar
underground. So far no communities have stepped forward to be                        panels. The trouble stems from the basic economics of RECs.”
the first to sit atop the world’s most powerful soda bottle.)                Business Week reports that the subsidy from REC’s is not significant
                                                                             enough to stimulate new investment in renewable power. The revenue
Sellers of carbon offsets talk of sequestering carbon in plant               that producers receive from government subsidies and energy sales
material. With money from people who want to offset their airline            dwarfs the subsidy from REC’s.
flights, they plant trees. The idea is that the trees will convert CO2               Even many wind-power developers that stand to profit from
               Critique	of	the	Santa	Cruz	Desalination	Proposal	 	       	      	        	      	       	         	       	       		11

       RECs concede that producers making $91 a megawatt hour                       burning of carbon dioxide into the air. For example, installing
       aren’t going to expand production for another $2. “At this                   energy efficient equipment reduces carbon dioxide emissions. But
       price, they’re not very meaningful for the developer,” says                  it is no help to us or our grandchildren to conserve energy in one
       John Calaway, chief development officer for U.S. wind                        area only to increase our energy use in a new and unprecedented
       power at Babcock & Brown, an investment bank that funds                      way. Up until now Santa Cruz water arrives at our faucets mainly
       new wind projects. “It doesn’t support building something                    through gravity---with a minimum of pumping. The proposed
       that wouldn’t otherwise be built.”                                           desalination of seawater is a major new departure---an energy
                                                                                    expenditure that will cancel out the many ways we are attempting
A more effective way to promote the development                                     to reduce our energy use.
of renewable power is for government to require
                                                                 When Aspen Uses Fossil Fuels to
utilities to expand the amount of renewable energy                  Adapt to Climate Change
                                                                                                            Our choice is clear. We can opt to live within
in their portfolios. California requires the utilities                                                      our water limits, which requires restraint in
to reach 20% renewable electricity by 2010.                            Shorter Winters                      our water use and decision-making about
                                                                                                            growth. Or we can buy our way out of those
If Renewable Energy Credits aren’t an effective                                                             limits---for a while. The second option
incentive to producing more renewable power,                          Greenhouse Gases                      worsens the climate problem for everyone.
then they are actually harmful because they create                   from Artificial Snow
an erroneous impression that something effective                          Machines                          1
                                                                                                             “Energy Minimization and Greenhouse Gas
is being done to offset fossil fuel emissions. In                                                           Reduction Study” Presentation by CH2M
                                                                                                            HILL of Preliminary Findings at Soquel
the case of Aspen Ski Resort, the purchase of                      When Santa Cruz Uses Fossil              Creek Water District, 10/20/2009
REC’s added 2% to their energy bill. With that                   Fuels to Adapt to Climate Change

expenditure they claimed that they offset “100%
                                                                       Shorter Winters
of our electricity use with wind energy credits”.
Aspen bought “bragging rights”, but the amount
of renewable power in the utility’s grid remained                     Greenhouse Gases
unchanged.                                                               from Desal

The trade in REC’s is a zero sum game. The
utility’s ledger shows a credit for Aspen Skiing,
but an equivalent debit must be shown for the rest of the utility’s
customers. And the atmosphere’s ledger shows no reductions in
greenhouse gases. If Aspen really wanted do something to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions, they would stop making artificial snow.

Catastrophic climate changes will not be prevented through self-
deceptive “offsets”. Only actions matter---those that reduce our
             Critique	of	the	Santa	Cruz	Desalination	Proposal	 	        	       	         	       	      	       	      	       		12


                                                  My Argument with the Gods
                                                                   - Rick Longinotti
                                                                                              You say you humans are innocent because of you
It feels unfair that our main source of energy (fossil fuel) is
                                                                                              didn’t know the climate consequences of your
causing catastrophic changes in climate. The consequences
                                                                                              fossil fuel use. We will generously grant your
seem so harsh in proportion to the crime. Shouldn’t it be a
                                                                                              claim of innocence during the first act of your
minor cosmic misdemeanor---or no infraction at all---that
                                                                                              drama---even though there were plenty of clues
humans would use such a powerful energy source rather than
                                                                                              that you should moderate your use, like smog,
leave it in the ground? In Tevye’s words from Fiddler on the
                                                                                              sprawl, black lung disease, deforestation, loss of
Roof, “Would it spoil some vast eternal plan” if we could be
                                                                                              topsoil, oil spills at sea, and wars for oil. Now
energy-rich without the negative consequences? It’s enough
                                                                                              you are in the second act of your drama. No more
to make you think the ancient Greeks were right. The gods are
                                                                                              protests of innocent ignorance. Now you know.
enjoying themselves at our expense.
                                                                                       I felt a bit humbled, but I wasn’t ready to let Artemis
Last night I lay in bed arguing with the gods---the Greek ones.
                                                                                       have the last word. “Hey, our generation didn’t create
Unlike Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, I don’t have the nerve
                                                                                       this situation. We were born into addiction to fossil fuel.
to argue with the God of my upbringing. I argued, “Isn’t it
                                                                                       Our whole economic system is based on it. How fair is it
about the lowest form of entertainment?
                                                                                                      that we have to pay the price? Do you really
You put these deposits of coal, oil, and
                                                                                                      expect we can change the system?”
natural gas within our reach, and then
when we use them to lighten our burden,
                                                                                                   Artemis: Does laying responsibility on the
you hit us with catastrophic climate
                                                                                                   system mean there is no room for individuals
change! Do you actually enjoy watching
                                                                                                   to join together to alter the system? The
innocent people suffer?”
                                                                                                   second act has begun. It is taking place in
                                                                                                   your community, and in communities across
Artemis replied on behalf of the gods.
                                                                                                   your world. Your own community is about to
(On Halloween a girl of about 7 arrived
                                                                                                   make the kind of decision you make when,
at my door carrying a bow and arrow.
                                                                                                   1. You think you are energy-rich and 2. You
She told me she was Artemis. I told her
                                                                                                   think there are no consequences that money
I needed to look that one up. Wikipedia
                                                                                                   can’t fix. I need to get my popcorn and take
says that Artemis is “goddess of forests
                                                                                              my seat. Goodbye.
and hills, child birth, virginity, fertility, the hunt.” ) This was
Artemis’ reply:
                                                                                       I didn’t argue.
              Critique	of	the	Santa	Cruz	Desalination	Proposal	 	             	    	   	   	   	   	   	   		13



What would the atmosphere think about the list of carbon offset projects?



    •    Solar panels: “I have mixed feelings. I suffer
         more CO2 initially due to the fossil fuel used in
         the manufacture. It will take about ten years for
         the panels to produce the amount of energy it
         took to manufacture them.Then you get 20 years
         of non-fossil fuel electricity before you have to
         replace the panels. If you must use electricity,
         use solar panels rather than fossil fuel. But use
         them to power things you really need.”

    •    Off-peak pumping “So you’re using electricity at
         night? That is marginally less harmful for me,
         because at night you lower your use of coal-fired
         power from outside California. But the majority
         of power produced inside California is still fossil
         fuel.”

    •    Energy savings through water efficiency,
         conservation measures, and drought-related
         curtailment “I like any project that reduces
         energy use. That’s what you need to be doing
         if you want to slow the ocean’s rising. But don’t
         conserve with one hand while your other hand is
         watering the lawn with desalinated water. That’s
         like dieting so you can binge.

1. David Fridley, energy analyst with Lawrence Berkeley Labs, estimates that
the energy return on investment for photovoltaic power is 3:1. That is, over the
lifetime of the system (assumed 30years), the solar panels generate 3 times the
amount of power that it takes to manufacture them.

				
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