HECA coal project critics turn out for Sept. 17 hearing

The Sierra Club said Sept. 17 that local residents took their opposition to the proposed Hydrogen Energy California LLC (HECA) coal gasification power plant to public hearings held that day by the California Energy Commission (CEC) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The hearings were a follow up to the recent preliminary assessment on the coal plant that the CEC and the DOE jointly released. The assessment delivered a major blow to the project, highlighting “significant unresolved issues” ranging from concerns about water supply, waste, environmental justice impacts, and the proposed but unproven carbon capture and sequestration technology, the club claimed.

“Despite the fancy and misleading name, the HECA project is just another poisonous coal plant project. It is the last thing we would ever want in our community,” said Chris Romanini, who owns and operates a farm near the proposed site. “Hundreds of HECA vehicles would make their way through our small country roads on a daily basis spewing their toxics onto our food crops. It would just devastate this community.”

“A Sierra Club’s investigation has already found major issues with this proposed coal plant” said Evan Gillespie, Western Region Deputy Director of the Beyond Coal campaign. “There is clear evidence that the emission reduction offsets associated with the air permit were downright illegal. Compounded with the troubling issues revealed in the assessment by the California Energy Commission, there is mounting evidence that the HECA project is a disaster in the making altogether.”  

The plant would use coal (making up about 75% of the feedstock) railed from New Mexico, possibly supplied by coal producer Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU). Also, a lesser level of petroleum coke (about 25% of the feedstock) would be shipped from southern California refineries via trucks that would make their way through local farmlands, the club noted.

The project proposes to generate between 405 MW and 431 MW gross or an average of 416 MW gross electrical power and between 151 MW to 266 MW net after accounting for onsite auxiliary power loads.

The original application for certification was filed with the California Energy Commission in 2008. In 2011, Hydrogen Energy California LLC was acquired from the previous owners by SCS Energy California LLC. In May 2012, SCS Energy submitted an amended application reflecting several changes to the original project design.

The proposed project would be located on a 453 acre site (currently used for agricultural production of alfalfa, cotton, and onions). The project site is in an unincorporated portion of Kern County, about seven miles west of the city of Bakersfield. The project would have a 13-mile long natural gas pipeline, 1-mile long potable water pipeline, 2-mile long transmission line interconnecting to a new Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) switching station east of the project site, an approximately three-mile long CO2 pipeline so the CO2 can be used for enhanced oil recovery, a 15-mile long process water pipeline and a five-mile long rail spur for coal deliveries.

HECA would use an integrated gasification, combined-cycle power system to produce electricity, CO2 and fertilizer. Coal and petroleum coke would be gasified with oxygen (obtained from the air separation unit) to produce synthesis gas (syngas). The syngas would be cleaned via scrubbers and absorbers to filter out chlorides, sulfur, mercury, particulates, and impurities. Lastly, the syngas would be stripped of CO2, leaving a hydrogen-rich gas.

The hydrogen rich gas would either be combined with air and used as fuel in a combustion turbine combined cycle facility to produce electricity or sent to an integrated manufacturing complex to produce over 1 million tons per year of nitrogen-based fertilizer. The project would capture up to 90% of the CO2 in the syngas stream, which would then be piped a little over three miles to the Elk Hills Oil Field for enhanced oil recovery usage.

Some of the captured CO2 and nitrogen from the air separation unit would be used to manufacture urea fertilizer and other nitrogenous compounds.

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.