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California to Review Carbon Capture, Peaking Projects

In separate actions last Wednesday, the California Energy Commission (CEC) agreed to start its 12-month permitting process for a major carbon capture and generation project in the oilfields in the state's central valley and a simple-cycle natural gas-fired peaking plant in San Francisco's East Bay area.

Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) Power Project is a proposed 250 MW project in Kern County in the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, and the peaking facility is a proposed 200 MW project in northeastern Alameda County. The five-member CEC deemed both to be "data adequate" and ready for the state's yearlong power plant permitting process.

The project now includes units of BP, Occidental Petroleum and mining giant Rio Tinto, along with Southern California Edison Co. (SCE). BP and Rio Tinto have formed Hydrogen Energy International as a Long Beach, CA-based joint venture to participate in the project.

HECA is part of a three-phase research and demonstration effort among major utilities and the oil and gas industry that the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) earlier this year unanimously approved for $30 million in funding from SCE. The more complex of the two projects, HECA could begin construction by 2011, but it would not reach full commercial operations until 2014.

Backed by Hydrogen Energy, the project aims to perfect a method of using refinery petroleum waste products in an integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) process with carbon capture and storage (CCS). The process would create hydrogen power that could back out natural gas-fueled power generation.

CEC Vice Chairman James Boyd was selected by his colleagues to lead the review of HECA, with Commissioner Jeffrey Byron completing the review team, which is charged with making sure power plant projects meet the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The proposed facility is to be located on a 473-acre site about seven miles west of Bakersfield, CA, and near the large Elk Hills oilfield.

Listed by the CEC as one of a handful of its kind built or proposed in the world, HECA has won a $308 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy through the federal economic stimulus program created in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) passed by Congress early this year. The project fits the ARRA criteria as being one that could "enhance national security and help fight global warming," the CEC said.

As part of its gasification, the proposed HECA process plans to heat petroleum coke produced from adjoining oilfields and then capture elements such as sulfur to produce hydrogen fuel and carbon dioxide (CO2). Hydrogen will be used to generate electricity with the CO2 compressed and piped to neighboring oil reservoirs and injected for storage in the enhanced oil recovery operations.

The project also would include a 100 MW net output peaking natural gas-fired combustion generator for providing plant start-up power, gasifier power, and peaking power for the grid. "Essentially 350 MW [250 MW of net baseload capacity and 100 MW of simple-cycle peaking power] would be available to the grid during high demand periods," a CEC spokesperson said.

The second project, Mariposa Power Plant, is being proposed by a unit of a Mitsubishi independent power developer, Diamond Generating Corp. Mariposa Energy LLC submitted its application June 15 to build its gas-fired peaking plant about seven miles northwest of Tracy, CA. Like HECA, this project will have its CEQA impact reviewed along with various health, safety, environmental and engineering aspects by a CEC presiding member team headed by Julia Levin and assisted by Byron..

If approved by the CEC, construction is slated to begin in April 2011 and full-scale commercial operations would begin by July 1, 2012.

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