As Brandon Ferguson in the OC Weekly makes clear in this piece from yesterday, Huntington Beach’s Poseidon Mis-Adventure, green money trumps green fanatics — the Poseidon desalination plant that might be built in Huntington Beach could be a fiscal nightmare. Ferguson picks apart this Register article from 1/21: Agencies line up for desalinated water from planned plant.
But contrary to the Register’s headline, Ferguson writes “18 local water agencies have recently signed non-binding letters of intent indicating their interest in purchasing desalinated water…[but] those letters expired a year ago” — and three agencies had already quit the original group of 23 — not the kind of sales forecast anyone would wish to deliver to one’s CEO.
The Weekly discussed the costs the Register didn’t:
…there are also concerns about the cost of the plant’s construction. In Poseidon’s initial proposal to Surf City, it estimated the plant would cost $270 million. That’s less than one-third of the current price tag for the similarly conceived San Diego plant and a good $125 million less than the latest published numbers for the Huntington Beach project. (A similar project in Tampa went $40 million over budget and took five years longer than promised and is now delivering only half the promised water).
Almost a week after the Register article hit newsstands, the Metropolitan Water District communications team rolled out a press release providing new details about the increased cost of the project being discussed by the work group. A draft term agreement estimated the cost of drinking water produced by the plant to be $1,424 per acre foot—almost twice the original, 2003 estimate.
Register sources reported just last November that water costs could increase by Poseidon as much as 30%. The Weekly also reported that the Fascist California Coastal Commission had yet to approve the project, and knowing their track record, that’s an OK not easily had.
John Earl of the Orange Coast, now Surf City Voice, wrote over three years ago on the fiscal dangers this ill-conceived plan could encounter: Desal Debacle: Can Huntington Beach Become Tampa Bay? What if Poseidon fails again? Even though John is left-leaning, he’s on the correct side of the issue and has always been a good, fact-oriented reporter. In this story, he discusses Poseidon’s failure in a similar Tampa Bay, FL desal project where “problems, which started under Poseidon’s watch and continued after the Tampa Bay Water Authority took over complete supervision, have cost local taxpayers about $40 million more than planned on top of rising water rates.”
Late last year, Earl reported “in December, when three newly elected city council members are sworn into office, the current 5 – 2 majority of the faithful will become a solid 5-2 majority of non-believers in Poseidon Resources Inc.’s nearly $1 billion ocean desalination plant proposed for the southeast corner of Huntington Beach.” That’s a huge hurdle to overcome, especially as toll lane and Poseidon-supporter Don Hansen is termed out.
This project has all the markings of a debacle. And as usually happens, it will be up to the tax base to bail Poseidon out if they fail. No one’s going to buy desalinated water at higher than a market rate — even the less than accountable and usually invisible water boards if they’re under the kind of instant scrutiny that’s common in today’s “alternative” media. A few weeks ago, the Register was advertising for an Investigative Reporter — apparently they’re still looking.