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A proposed coal-fired power and fertilizer plant dogged by problems throughout its history had its worst-ever year in 2015.

A $4 billion clean-coal plant proposed in western Kern County suffered a major blow Tuesday when California Energy Commission staff recommended terminating the project’s application because the owner has not met requirements imposed by the agency in July.

The staff recommendation is not binding but will be among the more forceful evidence to be considered when a committee of the commission decides as soon as next month whether to revive HECA’s application following a six-month regulatory time-out set to expire Jan. 6.

If the committee puts an end to the application, staff said, the company would have to reapply when it has a “complete project.”

The 200-employee project would turn coal and petroleum coke into power for sale to the state’s power grid and chemicals. Project neighbors have spoken against the project for reasons including its use of coal and volatile materials, reliance on local groundwater and expected emissions of pollution.

In a report released Tuesday, agency staff said the project by Massachusetts-based SCS Energy LLC has not provided information requested by the commission and appears to be at least a year from completing its application.

Of particular concern to staff was HECA’s failure to finalize a plan for injecting its byproduct carbon dioxide underground, which is a central feature of the project and a primary reason for a $408 million subsidy granted by the Obama administration. The subsidy was placed on hold early this year and the U.S. Department of Energy recently said it has not decided whether to resume payments.

HECA’s original, 2008 application proposed to divert its byproduct carbon dioxide for use in a nearby oil field. But when oil company Occidental Petroleum Corp. walked away from that plan, HECA said it will simply bury the soda gas below its property.

“HECA still needs a year to assess the site and (has) yet to determine whether injection points at other sites will be necessary, which may necessitate agreements with third parties and (pipelines) for delivery of the CO2,” Tuesday’s staff report says.

SCS Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

On Monday, Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt raised objections to SCS Energy’s plan to inject CO2 under its property.

In a letter to commission staff, Oviatt said the property’s zoning does not permit underground injection of carbon dioxide. Even the federal government cannot get around that prohibition, she asserted.

“Neither the project, the (injection) well or the land itself will be owned or leased by the federal government and, therefore, federal preemption of land use authority does not apply,” she wrote.

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