Jobs now, jobs in the future, investment in clean energy. These are the words used by the Department of Energy to characterize the agency's support of the Hydrogen Energy California power generation project proposed in west Kern County. The HECA power plant continues the arduous journey through the public permitting process, yet even before it pumps a single kilowatt of clean power to homes and businesses around the state, local communities are already experiencing its benefits.
The HECA facility is the kind of economic development force and new investment this county needs and should support. It represents over $2 billion in capital investment in Kern County. It will generate 1,500 construction jobs over three years and several hundred direct and indirect jobs over the life of the facility, not to mention the millions of dollars of new local tax revenues.
This brighter future is illustrated by the support the project receives in western Kern County. Recently, Scott Meier, principal of the Elk Hills School in Tupman, said the "project provides students hope for meaningful careers in clean technology in a part of the county that sometimes lacks new employment opportunities."
The HECA project also will employ technology that will help reduce dependence on foreign oil and revive some west Kern County oil fields -- not something to take lightly in this region with a rich history of domestic production. The power plant would generate low-carbon electricity while capturing 90 percent of the carbon dioxide that normal power plants might emit. A local oil company would take that CO2 and inject it deep into its underground sandstone reservoirs to assist in recovering oil that would otherwise remain in the field -- while simultaneously sequestering the CO2 within the oil field, keeping it from the atmosphere where it may contribute to global climate change.
Kern County has an opportunity to help lead California toward a new clean-energy future. Today, the state faces continued challenges in permitting power plants, relying instead on imported power (we import more electricity than any other state). But this scenario also means that we are also exporting power plant jobs. The HECA project represents a power plant sited here in the state, enabling not just clean energy but California jobs -- jobs for Kern County.
While the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District recently determined HECA would meet stringent pollution control limits, HECA took a step further to help the local air district by providing $700,000 to fund air quality improvement projects targeted to the most polluted areas of the valley.
Even water agencies, like the Buena Vista Water Storage District, recognize the environmental benefits of the HECA power plant. The district has publicly supported the project's plan to use brackish water as part of a much-needed solution to saline water intrusion into the district's local aquifers. This improvement to local agriculture will come thanks to HECA's specific design that enables the facility to be able to accept the brackish water from the district.
Kern County has embraced clean-energy projects since the installation of the first wind turbines in Tehachapi in the early 1980s. A project of this size and scope offers the opportunity to draw new clean tech investment to Kern County while ensuring environmental quality.
HECA represents a bridge to a new energy future -- a departure from conventional ways of using fossil fuels and the advent of a new era in which we use energy resources more wisely, capturing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing energy security. HECA is not business as usual; it's a major step toward transformative change. Kern County should be proud to lead the way.
The permitting process in California is lengthy, involving public hearings, environmental reviews and permits from nearly 20 different agencies. Let's work with HECA to continue positive investment in Kern County and to ensure positive outcomes that benefit everyone in our region.
Robin Fleming is senior manager of business development for the Kern Economic Development Corp. Her areas of specialty are the energy, natural resources, aerospace and defense industries.