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Monday, Sep 09 2013 11:00 PM

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 Buttonwillow.

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 docket@energy.ca.gov.

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. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words.

 

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