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Kern may apply for federal expertise on setting up a local carbon storage project

Teresa Hitchcock TTWD

Assistant Kern County Administrative Officer Teresa Hitchcock.

Kern County officials are putting together a competitive application for federal technical assistance with a proposed industrial park that would pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and send it by pipeline to somewhere it can be buried permanently.

If the Board of Supervisors approves, the county would put together a coalition that would apply for up to 18 months of free, expert-level help through the U.S. Department of Energy's new Communities LEAP Pilot Initiative.

Though not the only carbon capture and sequestration project to emerge locally, the proposal would be the first to originate within local government — and the first such initiative to explicitly align with the economic development and social equity priorities of the county's B3K Prosperity economic development collaboration.

County officials said in phone interviews Tuesday the idea is tap federal insights into what it would take, in terms of acreage, water, workforce training and renewable energy, to set up a CCS facility on non-irrigated farmland in western or eastern Kern.

Lorelei Oviatt, the county's top planner, said the concept arose in a conversation she had with Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop.

Finding interested private-sector partners probably won't be a problem, and already the county is well-organized for such an undertaking because of B3K, Oviatt said. But perhaps the federal government could share useful recommendations on how much land the industrial park would occupy, what is the best technology to pursue and how it could be scaled up efficiently.

"Give us some help in evaluating these different kinds of ideas and we'll go out and attract them," she said.

Federal materials describing what communities will qualify for the assistance seem to mirror local circumstances: Recipients must have at least 30 percent of their population classified as low-income, and the median expenditure on energy must be at least 6 percent of household income.

Also, successful candidate regions must be either experiencing direct and negative environmental justice impacts, or they must be going through a transition away from historical reliance on fossil fuel production or refining.

"I would say we check all the boxes in the project," Assistant County Administrative Officer Teresa Hitchcock said.

Carbon capture and sequestration has come up with greater frequency lately as local oil producers consider new opportunities for deploying their technical expertise, infrastructure and trained workforce.

The company furthest along in proposing CCS locally is Santa Clarita-based California Resources Corp. It has already received federal help in designing a multibillion-dollar project that would remove carbon dioxide from the exhaust stream of its Elk Hills power plant. It has also put forward a similarly priced proposal that would take CO2 directly out of the air. In both cases, the carbon would be stored permanently underground in one of the large underground reservoirs of a local oil field.

B3K has identified CCS as a field worth pursuing as a source of good local jobs. But so far, the effort has not yielded a formal proposal in the field.

The Department of Energy says it will provide technical assistance services valued at up to $16 million to support the work of two to three dozen communities nationwide. Its goal is not to build the project, and no money will change hands locally. Rather, it hopes to spur equitable, local economic development.

"DOE’s technical assistance providers will develop a pre-feasibility study and roadmap of a potential CCS project that would fulfill or partially fulfill that community’s interest in transitioning to a clean-energy economy with consideration of job creation/transition and environmental justice issues and opportunities," federal materials relative to the LEASP initiative state.

Oviatt and Hitchcock said they expect to present the grant proposal to the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 7.

The deadline for applications is Dec. 17, and the DOE expects to choose from among applications March 28.

Hitchcock noted the county hopes to work closely with local institutions of higher education that would pitch in by providing workforce training. Accordingly, one thing she hopes to hear from the DOE is what kind of job opportunities CCS projects offer and what skills they require.

Also of interest to her is the chance to build an equitable project from the ground floor.

She called the project a "fantastic opportunity for us to look at how we build that equity and inclusion into a system since we're starting basically from scratch here."

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