California Coastal Commission OKs desalination plant in Orange County
A large-scale desalination plant will be built by Ocean Water LLC’s parent company, Vopro, near the city of Orange, and then be operated by CalComp — a partnership between Duke Energy (DUK:NYSE), the Southern California Public Utilities Commission (SCPU) and Vopro.
The Orange County project will supply water at $8.60/m3 to homes, businesses and businesses near the plant, and will be the first step in creating a desalination plant that could supply water to 1.9 million homes and millions of acres of farmland in southeast Orange County. Vopro has been developing Vopro’s own desalination plant in Mexico that serves a population of more than 400,000 people. The Mexican plant is expected to cost $2.5 billion, though Vopro expects to begin commercial operation next year.
I was able to speak to Vopro’s managing director of projects, Michael Sullivan, at Ocean Water’s Orange County site. Sullivan said that the Orange County plant would be the first of its kind in the U.S. and that it will employ as many as 1,000 people.
Sullivan also said that in addition to producing fresh water from seawater, the plant will also have the capability to refine water to its highest quality. “We envision a water resource as being the energy resource, and with this new facility we will be able to produce energy,” he said.
Sullivan said the project is still “very preliminary” — meaning that Ocean Water LLC has made little or no money on it. (Vopro is apparently profitable — Sullivan said the company is now profitable and has made some “very good investments” in Mexico.) Sullivan also said that he cannot comment on “ongoing negotiations” because Vopro is still in an early stage of the discussion about the project.
The project will be reviewed and approved by the SCPU in the short term. After that period expires, the SCPU would likely have to give approval for the plant to open to operation, Sullivan said. Sullivan said that the City of Orange and Orange County, and the State of California, have also expressed interest in the project. Sullivan said Vopro is in discussions about the plant with the Orange County Water District and that “every other utility is on board