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Wednesday, Sep 08 2010 06:39 PM

Feds give $30 million to 'stimulate' clean power project

BY STEVEN MAYER, Californian staff writer smayer@bakersfield.com

Clean Energy Systems Inc. has been working in Kern County for nearly a decade to develop technology needed for zero emission power plants that can burn a variety of fuel sources.

On Wednesday, the Rancho Cordova-based company announced that it will receive another kind of fuel to power its efforts: $30 million in federal stimulus money.

The funding, made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was awarded to help the company continue to develop smokestack-free power generation systems at its Kimberlina Road facility north of Bakersfield.

According to Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, who fought to secure the funding, the project will generate scores of high-paying, full-time jobs and indirectly support thousands more. It could also help clean the valley's polluted air while providing a method to enhance oil production.

"Securing this funding is a major victory for our region's economy and future generations of valley residents," Costa said in a statement. "This project will further spur economic development in the heart of our valley while creating high-paying jobs over the short and long term."

Since 2003, Clean Energy Systems has been developing technology to operate a 5-megawatt demonstration power plant at the Kimberlina facility. The output is not large enough for the facility to be called a commercial power plant, said Keith Pronske, president and chief executive of Clean Energy Systems. Nevertheless, it's enough power to light up 5,000 homes.

Rather, the plant is designed to "prove out" the first of its kind oxy-fuel turbine, which is central to Clean Energy's technology. The turbine can use a diverse set of fuels including natural gas, bio-fuels, refinery off-gases, and gasified petroleum coke, while capturing nearly all the carbon dioxide by pumping it deep beneath layers of porous sandstone and impermeable shale.

Tupper Hull, a spokesman for Western States Petroleum Association, said he doesn't know enough about Clean Energy Systems to comment on the company's efforts. But he said injecting carbon dioxide underground can be a "win-win situation," both for its greenhouse gas-fighting potential and for its tremendous value in domestic oil production.

That's because, eventually, oil producers hope to use the carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery.

"I call it the ultimate form of recycling," Pronske said. Not only will millions of tons of carbon dioxide be "sequestered" beneath the Earth's surface so as not to run afoul of tough new laws governing greenhouse gases, but the gas can make it easier to pump heavy crude oil to the surface.

Pronske said Costa has visited the plant and quickly developed a "roll-up-the-sleeves attitude" toward bringing back some taxpayer dollars to the local project. But the company's efforts have also received bipartisan support among many leaders in Congress, he said.

Without the federal seed money, Pronske said, the effort would have been stymied.

Eventually, the Kimberlina plant could grow to become a 20- to 50-megawatt power generator, Pronske said. He would like to see several clean power plants dotting the valley in the not too distant future.

"With this funding, we will be able to accelerate our turbine program to deploy and test the critical components for a zero-emission power plant," Pronske added. "We can make power without pollution a reality years ahead of our previous plans."

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