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Desalination to Dramatically Increase the Cost of Water

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Desalination to Dramatically Increase the Cost of Water: Independent Analysis Estimates Costs Desalinated Ocean Water at $2,000 to $3,000 Per Acre Foot

An analysis released by independent environmental scientist James Fryer estimates the cost of desalinated seawater in California will be $2,000 to $3,000 or more per acre-foot. Using cost data and production records from existing and proposed desalination plants and adjusting for California water conditions, current energy costs, financing costs, and other variables, the investigation found that there is no evidence to support cost projections by some desalination industry advocates of $800 to $1,000 per acre-foot. The report concludes that conservation measures are much less expensive, with a broad range of well-proven measures that cost well under $1,000 per acre-foot. The report also notes water recycling is a proven option that typically costs between $300 and $1,300 per acre-foot.

"The results of this investigation confirm the California Public Utilities Commission's view that ratepayers "served by a new desalination plant may experience dramatic increases in their water rates increases in excess of 100%,'" says the author James Fryer. "In fact, the results indicate the cost of seawater desalination will be even higher than anticipated in the CPUC report."

The study evaluates the seawater desalination cost projections of the Affordable Desalination Coalition and found that energy costs and requirements, capital costs, and operations and maintenance costs were all underestimated. The study then evaluates four case studies of existing and proposed desalination plants in Tampa Bay, Carlsbad, Santa Barbara, and Marin, and finds that costs for these projects are much higher than the figures suggested by the Affordable Desalination Coalition. The analysis concludes a minimum range in cost for desalinated water in California will be $2,000 to $3,000 per acre-foot.

In the case of the proposed Carlsbad project the private developer, Poseidon Resources, does not have to share its cost data despite enormous public subsidies. Though they claim lower costs per acre-foot, Poseidon is not proposing any new technology or approach that would significantly change the cost of construction, design and permitting, operating, or financing an ocean desalination facility in California. Using several detailed methods and a range of cases, the study developed realistic costs estimates for the Carlsbad project. They range from a low of around $2,000 with all best-case assumptions to $3,000 or more per acre-foot with more likely assumptions. This is well above the price Poseidon Resources indicates it can sell desalinated water in its contracts to water agencies.

"When they are looking for investors, Poseidon conveniently ignores many of the costs of operating a desalination plant," says Conner Everts, Desal Response Group. "They are making promises of delivering low-cost desalination water that they simply cannot keep."

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