Rules adopted by the California Water Resources Control Board on Tuesday will force 19 coastal power plants—including two nuclear plants—in that state to phase out “once-through cooling” practices to reduce their impact on marine life. The new rules—the first in the U.S. to restrict ocean water use for existing power plants—could have widespread implications, including massive costs and forced shutdowns.

The Policy on the Use of Coastal and Estuarine Waters for Power Plant Cooling, which now heads to the state Office of Administrative Law, establishes best technology-based standards to implement the federal Clean Water Act section 316(b). It will allow aging plants to develop replacement infrastructure—such as implementing a closed-cycle cooling system—before shutting down cooling systems.

The rules were developed to protect marine organisms “without disrupting critical needs of the state’s electrical generation and transmission system,” the regulatory body said on its website. The agency has estimated that upgrades will cost about 1 cent a kilowatt-hour, on average.

California power plants currently have the ability to withdraw more than 15 billion gallons per day from state coastal and estuarine waters using a single-pass system. A majority will have until at least 2015 to comply with the regulations, though plants in the Los Angeles area will have until 2020 because of its complex power needs.

For more details, see POWERnews.

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