Monday, Sep 09 2013 Bakersfield Californian
CHRIS ROMANINI: Tell the CEC what you think about being HECA’s guinea pig
More bad news about HECA. What began as a power plant proposal has changed. HECA, or Hydrogen Energy California, is now a chemical/fertilizer project that produces a little electricity for the grid. We should be outraged the federal government would assist HECA
with over $500 million of our tax money to help fund a for-profit chemical company fueled by 450 daily trucks of dirty coal and refinery waste — in the dirtiest air in the nation. And it is proposed on beautiful prime farmland surrounded by fields producing food crops in
We learn from the California Energy Commission’s preliminary staff assessment that although HECA will produce somewhere around 415 MW of power, it will use up most of this power itself making chemicals and sequestering CO2 underground. And what power is left for us folks who helped finance this test project? Just 52 MW maximum to the grid. Power like this we don’t need.
Kern County has already permitted over 8000 MW of clean, renewable power in the form of wind and solar. We are the good guys of the state. No county is doing a better job of producing clean, renewable power than Kern. Now we are rewarded with a dirty coal plant that would produce a tiny amount more.
And what about the CO2 HECA would be pumping underground under high pressure? Have you heard of Denbury, Miss., where the CO2 came back up? It ate through the old, sealed well coverings and spewed for 37 days. It was so toxic the responders had to wear breathing
masks. This stuff hugs the ground. Poor Tupman is downhill from Occidental Petroleum’s Elk Hills target for its sequestered CO2, so if the CO2 eats through one of Oxy’s old wells, it will likely flow downhill to Tupman or Buttonwillow. Oh yes, the CEC concluded that the CO2 will
cause seismic activity. Should we be relieved that it is not expected to exceed a magnitude 4 earthquake?
And what about these chemicals and fertilizers they are making? How hazardous is it to Tupman’s school only 1-1/2 miles downwind? HECA will make 1 million tons per year of urea, urea ammonium nitrate and anhydrous ammonia. This stuff is dangerous and explosive. It
only took 30 tons of fertilizer in West, Texas, this past May to kill 15 people. HECA will make almost 3,000 tons of fertilizer per day, not just 30. How destructive can 3,000 tons be?
And what does the CEC have to say about the potential for accidents? This: “Staff has not encountered such a complex power facility in the history of the Energy Commission. The CEC’s staff analysis casts serious doubt “that this project will be 100 percent free of upsets or accidental releases of hazardous material” and leaks “are prone to happen.”
This is a demonstration project. It has not been done anywhere else in the world. There are 42 other worldwide projects in planning stages to capture and sequester CO2 from coal. But none are in operation. And all but one are smaller. HECA is an experiment. Advocates may learn how to do it safer through mistakes that happen in this test plant. We will suffer the consequences as they learn.
The CEC and the federal Department of Energy are holding a public hearing in Buttonwillow on this project. Public comments will be heard Sept. 17 and 18 between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. in the Buttonwillow Park Recreation Center. We in Kern have the dirtiest air in the nation.
Pollution increases health risks. Kern ranks among the lowest in California for overall health. The mortality rate for asthmatics in Kern County is higher than the state’s overall rate. Valley Fever appears to be on the rise in Kern. How outrageous that we, at the closed end of
Central Valley, with no escape for the emissions and fumes, are chosen to test a cleaner way to process dirty coal, and we don’t even have coal in our state.
Come out to Buttonwillow and voice your concern. Comments are encouraged at email@example.com.
Chris Romanini and her husband, who farm as John Romanini & Sons, produce almonds, pistachios, and cotton. Along with their sons they have been farming in the Buttonwillow area for four generations.
Tuesday, Aug 06 2013 Bakersfield Californian
Get outraged over HECA plant
Now more shocking news about HECA, the proposed coal/refinery waste-fired plant with huge government assistance near Buttonwillow. If approved, not only will it get $408 million in federal grants, but it will also get another $103 million in tax credits. That is over $500 millionfrom the American taxpayers for a private, for-profit company.
And what do we get? Only 52 MW of power to the grid. That is peanuts. They are making over 400 MW daily, but most of that power they will use themselves to make chemicals and fertilizer in their factory. When they switch from making their 52 MW of power for the grid to
making chemicals, they will actually take 62 MW from the grid, not put any power in.
Where is the outrage to all this abuse? We give all this tax money and Kern gets all the risks and all the air pollution of a 350-truck-per-day coal plant making fertilizer and chemicals in the dirtiest air in the nation. HECA makes no sense. Let the California Energy Commission
know your outrage.
Tuesday, Jul 09 2013 Bakersfield Californian
Auditors question federal subsidy of project
BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Federal auditors have raised red flags over the Obama administration’s 2011 decision to invest an extra $100 million in the Hydrogen Energy California power and fertilizer plant proposed in western Kern County.
A June 6 audit report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Inspector General found that agency officials neglected to gathersupporting documentation from HECA’s owner before raising the project’s federal subsidy to $408 million after the project changed hands
two years ago.
The audit also determined that the department failed to verify that $737,544 in labor costs claimed by HECA were eligible under a “cost share” agreement with the federal government. The report says that at least some of those costs appear to have been related to the new owner’s project acquisition costs, which could disqualify those dollar amounts from the subsidy agreement.As a result, the report says, taxpayers now bear a bigger share of the project’s upfront costs. It warns that $133 million of their investment could be lost if the controversial and still-unapproved project fails to attract the financing it needs to begin construction. The little-noticed report essentially accuses department officials of relying too heavily on the word of the project’s Massachusetts-based owner, SCS Energy LLC, whose top executive has given at least $39,500 to Democratic political campaigns, including that of President Obama, since 2008.
“In short, we found that in assessing the viability of the modified project, the department relied on financial projections that were not always fully supported and that the department had not ensured that only allowable costs had been included in the recipient’s cost-share
contribution,” wrote David Sedillo, Western Audits Division director of the department’s Office of Inspector General.
A Department of Energy spokesman stated in an email Tuesday that the agency mitigates risk in cases such as HECA’s by giving out money only when such projects reach certain technical and financial milestones. “After careful review, the Energy Department agreed with the new estimates and cost-share agreement. We will continue our rigorous oversight of the project as it goes forward consistent with the original intent of the grant,” spokesman Steven R. Thai wrote. He noted that the department has given $75 million to HECA so far.
HECA declined to comment on the auditor’s findings.
SCS Energy proposes to use coal and petroleum coke to power what it says would be a 200-employee facility near Tupman. HECA would produce nitrogen-rich products, mainly fertilizers. Alternately, during times of peak demand for electricity, the plant would
generate 300 megawatts of power for sale to the power grid. HECA plans to sell the plant’s byproduct carbon dioxide to Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. for use in stimulating nearby oil wells. After that, the greenhouse gas would be stored underground indefinitely.
Opponents have complained that the plant’s emissions would pollute their air and that plans for using anhydrous ammonia would endanger their safety. They also fear that the plant’s truck traffic would damage nearby roads. HECA originally belonged to oil giant BP and international mining company Rio Tinto, which proposed to generate power but not
manufacture fertilizers at the plant. But after determining their plan was economically unfeasible, they sold it to SCS, which has said it plans to sell the facility after completion.
The project received bad news late last month when the Department of Energy and the California Energy Commission issued a detailed report raising multiple questions about the project. That staff report was preliminary; a final decision on whether to approve the project is expected by year’s end.
Originally the project was estimated to cost $2.8 billion, and its subsidy was set at $308 million. But when SCS stepped in with a more complex project, the price tag rose to $4 billion. Last month’s audit report points to three instances in which the project’s costs appear to be higher than SCS estimated. Those costs are related to interest rates, operations and maintenance expenditures, and property tax and insurance costs.
Higher costs could pose a problem if they undermine HECA’s profitability.
The audit report notes that although department officials did not require SCS to provide detailed documentation of many of its claims, the agency did perform a financial analysis focused on total project costs and its debt-to-equity ratio.
Money for the subsidy came from the economic stimulus program known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. That legislation gave the department’s Office of Fossil Energy $3.4 billion to focus on ways to use coal more cleanly and efficiently.
Jim Croyle, SCS Energy’s co-founder, chairman and CEO, has made numerous donations to Democratic candidates. As reported by the news organization EnergyGuardian and confirmed by The Californian, Croyle contributed $2,300 to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. According to the political donations-tracking website OpenSecrets.org, Croyle, a former political science professor at Washington University in St. Louis, also donated $31,400 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2010. Additionally, he gave a total of $4,800 to campaigns of Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., between 2009 and 2011, and $1,000 to the campaign of Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., in 2012.
Tehachapi resident Adrian Moore, vice president of policy at the Reason Foundation, a conservative think tank, said federal subsidies for such projects should be structured differently. He said private companies should get public money only at the end of the development process as a way to “make the project cross the finish line.” “The taxpayers are bearing all the downside risk and none of the upside potential,” he said. Project opponent Tom Frantz, a Shafter farmer, said the public subsidy would be better spent on solar power installations. “That would be a much better investment for the taxpayer to encourage,” he said.
Thursday, Jul 25 2013 11:03 PM
HECA project a dirty drain
The California Energy Commission’s preliminary assessment of the Hydrogen Energy California project has a number of surprising revelations. We were essentially told by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District that, yes, this is a dirty plant but we need the
electricity. HECA and the valley air board said the factory will produce 430 megawatts and use 130 megawatts for gasification, the implication being that 300 megawatts would go onto the California grid.
What they did not say is that there will be two other components to their process: air separation and sequestration. When all three are working at a time of maximum fertilizer production, HECA will take 61.8 megawatts from the grid. At full electrical production, the most energy the factory will make available for California consumers would be 52.5 megawatts, the implication being it could be a lot less.
HECA is a huge, dirty, coal and petroleum-coke chemical factory that is trying look like a sweet, little power plant. They are using our tax money to pay for the illusion. (HECA is a federal tax stimulus project.) Our air, our water (7 million gallons a day will be used), our farm production and our health are all at risk from HECA and its coal. Every person reading this needs to tell the CEC they don’t want this industrial monster in their valley. Email the California Energy Commission and tell them.
Wednesday, Jul 03 2013 11:06 PM
HECA under proper scrutiny
Hydrogen Energy California was pounced on June 28 by the California Energy Commission for significant unresolved issues in its application. HECA is the proposed power plant between Tupman and Buttonwillow that would be fueled daily by 350 trucks of coal and
nearly 100 trucks of refinery waste. Being the most complex power plant ever processed by the CEC you would think HECA would be better prepared before pushing so hard for approval.
Acknowledgement with ka-doos also to the Kern County Planning Commissioners for its wisdom even before the CEC’s announcement. HECA had requested cancellation of its Williamson Act contract to take additional acres out of farmland for this project. Commissioners did not have enough information to proceed with HECA’s request and continued any action until Aug 22.
I’m pleased that the CEC and the Kern County Planning Commissioners are doing their jobs well. They get it. There are too many risky questions and gaps of information in this demonstration project. These need to be resolved before proceeding.
Tuesday, Feb 26 2013 07:12 PM
Supervisors to state: Make HECA project comply with county requirements
BY JAMES BURGER AND JOHN COX Californian staff writers email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Kern County Supervisors on Tuesday raised concerns about the controversial Hydrogen Energy California plant proposed near Tupman.
“We had an interesting exercise in civic discourse,” Supervisor Mike Maggard said when it was all done.
Despite more than three hours of testimony from supporters, regulators and a host of worried opponents of the project, supervisors could do nothing more than vote to send their opinions in a letter to the California Energy Commission. Kern County has no regulatory power over the project.
“I don’t like to be in a position where I’m passing judgment on something but I’m not really passing judgment on something,” Supervisor Mick Gleason said.
Supervisors did what they could, voting unanimously to ask the energy commission to allow the project in another location and make the HECA project comply with county requirements.
County staff raised a number of serious concerns about the project — from the 300-plus truckloads of petroleum coke and coal the massive power plant would take in each day, to the 400 to 800 tons of “obsidian-like lump of leftovers” that Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt said would come out of the plant daily.
Supervisors wondered where the money would come from to handle the damage trucks would do to rural county roads or where all that waste product — enough to put the county seriously out of compliance with state waste diversion standards — would be dumped.
Oviatt said that on many of those questions, she simply did not have answers because she wasn’t in a position to compel anyone to provide them.
Area residents and a strong contingent from the farming and ranching community voiced serious opposition to the project.
They questioned the air quality impacts of the project, the impact on water-quality, the loss of good agricultural land to a power plant and the danger that the plant could produce hazardous chemicals that could hurt residents or schoolchildren in Tupman.
Seyed Sadredin, who leads the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, was booed for supporting the efforts of the developer to mitigate impacts to air quality.
“At the end of the day, from an air quality standpoint, this project will have a net benefit,” he said.
But most of the county’s ideas for mitigating potential problems at the plant are just ideas. The county must send them to the California Energy Commission and hope the commission addresses them. And supervisors said they simply did not leave Tuesday’s hearing with any confidence that the project would be a good addition to Kern County.
“I would really like to be in favor of the project. But I’m more worried about it than excited about it and I don’t have a farm that’s at jeopardy,” Supervisor David Couch said.
As proposed, the Hydrogen Energy California project would turn coal and petroleum coke into nitrogen-rich products, including fertilizers. Alternately, during times of peak demand for electricity, the 453-acre project would generate about 300 megawatts of power for sale and make carbon dioxide for use in nearby oil production.
HECA’s Massachusetts-based owner, SCS Energy LLC, estimates that the plant would also create up to 200 permanent jobs and provide a test of carbon-burying technology. The project has been subsidized by a $408 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.
While final project approval is up to the California Energy Commission later this year, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has tentatively agreed to grant the project an air permit.
Shortly before Tuesday’s meeting, about three dozen opponents of the project demonstrated outside the supervisors’ chambers. The groupincluded local environmentalists, farmers and others worried about air pollution and other negative impacts associated with the project.
Organizer Tom Frantz, an environmental activist who farms nuts about 10 miles from the project site, said the board should push HECA for
additional concessions to make up for the farmland that would be lost under the proposal, as well as the air pollution and industrial waste it
“The Board of Supervisors’ interpretation of this project has a big pull with the (state Energy Commission) in how the CEC will … demand
mitigation,” Frantz said.
Protester Suzy Carver, a Bakersfield commercial and residential developer, said she supports local growth, “but not at any cost.”
“At the end of the day, (the project) is just going to make our air that much dirtier,” she said.
Farmer Mark Lambooy said he was concerned about the traffic and road damage that would result from the many trucks carrying fuel to the project and hauling waste from it. He said such activity could affect his crops.
“Where’s the guarantee that we won’t be affected in a negative way?” he asked.
Wednesday, Feb 20 2013 11:00 PM
HECA plant, air district need to supply details
By The Bakersfield Californian
California’s Central Valley has struggled with some of the worst air quality in the United States for years, and yet the regulatory agency charged with monitoring and improving that air quality, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, is on the verge of giving an OK that would make the air we breathe substantially dirtier.
District regulators have tentatively signed off on the proposed Hydrogen Energy California power and chemical plant near Tupman in western Kern County. The air district has given its preliminary approval on the plant, which will run on coal and petroleum coke, despite having determined that the project would exceed emissions standards in five categories, including a mind-boggling 1,587 percent of the government’s threshold for nitrogen oxide, a primary contributor to air pollution .
Particularly bothersome is the air district’s arrangement with SCS Energy LLC, the Massachusetts-based company hoping to build the Tupman plant, to “mitigate” the effects of the excessive pollutant levels by paying “fees” that the air district can use to reduce emissions elsewhere in the Central Valley. That has a rotten-egg smell to it, sort of like the odor emitted by sulfur oxides, the limits of which,
incidentally, the plant will be allowed to exceed by 9 percent. That arrangement — not uncommon — can be characterized like this: Give us our permit to operate here, and we’ll give you some money to take your air pollution fight somewhere else.
This deal still must be approved by the California Energy Commission, and a public hearing on the district’s preliminary determination is scheduled for April 2. The air district should be prepared to provide details about the so-called “mitigation fee.” How, exactly, will that money be used to combat air pollution, and by what measurement can we be assured that the trade-off is a net gain for our lungs?
Would other companies, especially those capable of operating within the established emissions limits, be able to conduct business without further
restriction, or would special allowances for HECA change the equation?
Air quality regulations can be a confounding and occasionally contradictory stew, and, justified or not, ordinary residents often feel they bear the brunt of enforcement action — be it that $29 million fine for failing to hit regional air quality targets or “no burn” restrictions. Can we regular folk “mitigate” our fireplace use by trading clean-air credits with our neighbors? Didn’t think so.
Without question, HECA has its positives — for starters, 200 permanent jobs. The plant’s primary product, other than energy, is fertilizer, for which demand is strong. (Much of what is used in the Central Valley today is imported from China.) Also, federal energy officials believe HECA is a project that’s worth the investment in part because it utilizes carbon capture and sequestration technology, which collects waste carbon dioxide and deposits it in an underground formation. That captured CO2 would also benefit Occidental Petroleum by aiding in its
extraction of crude oil. And, after all, Kern County is California’s alternative energy capital. This is the sort of project, one could argue, that belongs here.
We would argue that HECA must prove that it’s environmentally appropriate, given the fact that Kern County is not just an empty medium for energy development — it’s a fast-growing place where people breathe.