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Hydrogen Energy California advances coal gasification project

California Energy Commission staff and Hydrogen Energy California LLC (HECA)continue to work with various federal, state and local agencies related to needed approvals for the HECA coal gasification power project in Kern County, said commission staff in a Dec. 20 update filed with the commission.

For example, commission staff and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are jointly conducting the review of the proposed HECA project and intend to issue joint documents at appropriate points in the process. On Dec. 11, staff for both agencies held an agency conference call discussing project related status updates, revised schedules and other issues. The bi-monthly conference calls include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (U.S. FWS), California Air Resources Board (CARB), California Department of Conservation-Division of Oil Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) and San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD).

A data response workshop was conducted on Nov. 7 in Bakersfield, in part to discuss the information recently provided by Occidental Petroleum Elk Hills (OEHI) to previous data requests. CO2 from the gasification plant would be taken by pipeline for enhanced oil recovery by Occidental. These requests were issued jointly by energy commission staff and the DOGGR through HECA.

Staff continues to discuss the status of the HECA project with several state and federal agencies during bi-monthly coordinated conference calls with the various government agencies. The conference call on Dec. 11 discussed the schedule for the SJVAPCD to complete the Preliminary Determination of Compliance (PDOC), and the expected data responses from HECA related to the OEHI enhanced oil recovery project. The status of the Federal Biological Assessment was discussed, and indications are that this will be complete soon, and forwarded to the Fish and Wildlife Service by DOE. These agency coordination calls will become monthly beginning Jan. 22, 2013.

The energy commission staff and DOE continue to coordinate meetings with Native American tribal representatives.

Recent transfer of authority takes EPA out of some of the loop
The U.S. EPA final approval of the California State Implementation Plan to transfer the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) authority from U.S. EPA to the SJVAPCD took place effectively on Nov. 26. The SJVAPCD PDOC for HECA will include the recently-delegated PSD authority so there will be no separate U.S. EPA air quality permits needed. It is anticipated that as many as 1,000 permit conditions may be associated with the greenhouse gas/CO2 PSD permitting requirements, staff noted.

Kern County Planning and Community Development Department and the energy commission staff continue to discuss the county's information needs in regard to the HECA and the Elk Hills Oil Field. The county and the applicant are actively engaged in information exchange. The County Planning and Community Development Department intends to bring the proposed county conditions of approvals and mitigation measures for the proposed project to the County Board of Supervisors by mid-January 2013. If the county board approves the recommendations, county staff then will forward those comments and recommended conditions to both HECA and energy commission staff for consideration.

“The schedule for HECA continues to be dynamic, and staff expects the publication of the PDOC will occur by January 16, 2013, and staff will require additional time from that date to complete the Preliminary Staff Assessment/Draft Environmental Impact Statement,” the updated said.

“Staff coordination with Kern County and DOGGR will continue based on need and the submission of information from HECA and from OEHI," it continued. Under staff’s proposed schedule, that draft EIS is due to be filed on March 15, 2013.

The project, which was revamped a few months ago under new ownership, will gasify a blend of 75% coal and 25% petcoke to produce synthesis gas (syngas). The syngas will be purified to hydrogen-rich fuel, and used to generate a nominal 300 MW of baseload electricity, with CO2 from the project to be used for enhanced oil recovery in the nearby Elk Hills oilfield.

The company has said that Western sub-bituminous coal will be supplied from mines in New Mexico and transported to the plant by rail.

In September 2011, SCS Energy California acquired 100% ownership of HECA from BP Alternative Energy North America Inc. and Rio Tinto Hydrogen Energy LLC.

Barry Cassell is chief analyst, coal sector for GenerationHub, a unit of Energy Central

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