Sierra Club protests emissions profile for HECA coal gasification project

The Sierra Club said May 31 that it has formally submitted comments challenging the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District’s preliminary determination of compliance for the proposed Hydrogen Energy California LLC (HECA) coal gasification power plant.

The comments come amid local opposition to the construction of the power plant due to air pollution and the resulting asthma and other respiratory and public health impacts, the club said. In its submission of comments to the Air District, the Sierra Club argues that HECA would violate the Clean Air Act by relying on 30-year-old illegal offsets. The Sierra Club said its modeling shows that the project will violate state and federal ambient air quality standards for particulate matter.

“The 30 year old offsets HECA proposes to use are a laughable way to justify new pollution in the already overburdened Valley,” said Evan Gillespie, Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign Western Region Deputy Director. “To be crystal clear, this project will emit huge amounts of new pollution meaning more asthma attacks, more emergency room visits and more missed school and work days for Kern County residents. The offsets HECA purchased will do nothing to offset the new emissions from this boondoggle.”

Local residents have questioned several aspects of the offsets the developer has purchased, including whether new emissions from the coal plant can be mitigated by emission reduction actions that took place several decades ago, the club said. The Air District has based its initial approval of the permit partly on assuming that the high levels of new pollution produced by the plant would be offset by emission reductions credits that Massachusetts-based SCS Energy purchased, the club added.

The coal plant would gasify coal shipped from New Mexico (possibly from Peabody Energy mines in that state) and petroleum coke. In September 2011, SCS Energy California acquired 100% ownership of HECA from BP Alternative Energy North America and Rio Tinto Hydrogen Energy LLC. The syngas from the gasification process will be purified to hydrogen-rich fuel, and used to generate a nominal 300 MW of baseload electricity, with CO2 to be used for enhanced oil recovery in the nearby Elk Hills oilfield.

On May 6, HECA filed with the California Energy Commission, which is reviewing this project, a report on the status of its permitting work at the Air District. Among other things, HECA said it has worked out a mitigation agreement, approved by the district on April 18, under which it would pay fees into the district’s Emission Reduction Incentive Program (ERIP). It noted that the mitigation agreement has been incorporated into the draft conformity determination prepared by the U.S. Department of Energy, which is subject to public review and comment requirements. DOE is putting up some of the funding for this project from its Clean Coal Power Initiative.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.