Already winning state utility support and approval as a three-phase research effort, a 250 MW Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) project won an initial thumbs up from the California Energy Commission (CEC) staff in the first of a two-part preliminary assessment released Tuesday. The project that enjoys backing from some global energy giants is slated for a site near the oil/gas fields of the southern end of California's central valley near Bakersfield.

Part one of the CEC staff assessment concluded that various environmental and other potential adverse impacts could be mitigated through staff-recommended measures and conditions. The impacts looked at initially include air quality, efficiency, facility design, geology and paleontology, hazardous materials, noise and vibration, public health, grid reliability, socioeconomic resources, traffic and transportation, electric transmission line safety, worker safety and fire protection.

Still other issues for this longer-range, potentially breakthrough project remain for consideration in the second part of the preliminary assessment, which is expected to be released in early October. Those issues will include biological resources, cultural resources, soil/water resources, visual aspects, land use and waste management.

If the project eventually is approved by the five-member CEC, construction is not expected to begin before December next year with a commercial start in September 2015. The sponsors seek to demonstrate a first-of-its-kind technology that could place them and the state in an enviable future position in developing viable carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The project includes BP, Occidental Petroleum and mining giant Rio Tinto, along with Edison International's Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) utility (see Daily GPI, Feb. 23, 2009). BP and Rio Tinto have formed Hydrogen Energy International as a joint venture to participate in the project, which then became HECA.

When the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved SCE's request to pursue this as a research project last year, CPUC President Michael Peevey urged the state's other two major private-sector electric utilities and public-sector utilities to join Edison in the project.

SCE eventually won support for its $30 million initial funding request to the CPUC (see Power Market Today, Dec. 4, 2009). The CPUC denied the utility's request for immediate recovery of the project costs in rates, however, instead requiring SCE to make a formal application for the rate increase. The state regulators directed Edison to fund the first phase to assure that there is no momentum lost in what the regulators consider a "breakthrough" project in the national push for commercial-scale carbon sequestration programs.

HECA is an integrated gasification combined-cycle (IGCC) power project that intends to capture and permanently store 90% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions involved in gasification, generation and capturing parts of the process. The proposed facility would sit on a 473-acre site currently used for agriculture, the project proponents said.

Located about seven miles west of Bakersfield, the site is near a hydrocarbon-producing area know as the Elk Hills oil/gas field owned and operated by Occidental. The site is near Tupman, CA.

HECA will gasify petroleum coke, or blend the coke with coal as needed, to produce hydrogen to fuel a combustion turbine operating in combined-cycle mode. The hydrogen will be used to generate electricity, and the CO2 will be compressed and piped to the neighboring oil reservoirs and injected for storage to enhance the oil recovery.

In the SCE utility-supported HECA study, feasibility work is evaluating an IGCC plant that would take petroleum coke residue from 12 of the state's oil refineries that is now shipped to Asian markets.

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