The San Joaquin Valley Air Board has proposed to renew the Title V permit for Mt Poso Cogen to continue burning coal as a cheap energy source which provides steam for injection into the oil fields of Kern County. What follows is a discussion of this crazy situation.
Along an approximately 15 mile stretch of Hwy 65 about 10 miles north of Bakersfield are 3 coal burning power plants. They are supplied coal by rail through a terminal about 12 miles west in the small town of Wasco. They are called Mt Poso Cogen, Rio Bravo Poso, and Rio Bravo Jasmin. These plants also burn tires and petroleum coke as available. The Mt Poso plant is also a steam generator for the nearby Mt Poso oil field. The steam is used for injection into the older oil bearing strata to push out more oil towards producing wells. The practice is called steam flooding in Kern County but a similar practice is known as fracking in other areas.
Below is a photo of the coal train and terminal in Wasco
The NOx emissions from these plants place all three of them individually in the top twenty stationary sources for that criteria air pollutant in the SJV. Taken together, these three plants would be the second largest single source of NOx emissions. NOx is the number one pollutant, according to the local Air Board, needing to be reduced in the San Joaquin Valley in order to decrease both summertime ozone and wintertime fine particulates.
These three plants represent jointly around 130 MW of power capacity and emit together 473 tons of NOx annually into the Southern and most polluted end of the San Joaquin Valley. In comparison, the nearby La Paloma power plant to the west of Bakersfield in McKittrick burns natural gas, is rated at 1050 MW, and produces only 135 tons of NOx annually. These coal burning plants are therefore polluting the air at rates per MWh over 20 times higher than what is possible with a natural gas plant.
The Mt Poso plant, first commissioned in 1989, needed to renew their permit to operate a couple years ago. Because of the state emission performance standard for CO2, they admitted they would not be able to sign any long term contracts to sell electricity in the state. They declared, with lots of public fanfare, that they were converting to 100% biomass and their electrical output would therefore be considered 100% renewable energy. They received a rate subsidy from the PUC to help with this conversion. They signed a 15 year contract with PG&E to sell them renewable energy. The conversion was to be complete by 2012. A permit to burn 100% biomass was approved by the Air District for Mt Poso a couple years ago. The emissions from the biomass plant were considered by the Air District to be equivalent to the coal fired emissions. A lot of the biomass would be wood construction debris trucked from the Los Angeles region. Local agricultural biomass would also be used as available but that supply is limited and most of it already goes to the nearby Delano biomass plant.
In June of 2011 it was noticed that an application was being processed by the Air District to renew Mt Poso’s coal burning permit. A hearing was requested by the public and will take place on January 30 at 7 pm in Bakersfield.