Kern County growers are raising questions about a new hydrogen energy plant set to be built in Buttonwillow. The growers say they're worried the coal-powered plant will further pollute the county's air.
The plant is still in the permitting stages, but some growers want the project stopped. Supporters say the plant produces clean power and will provide hundreds of local jobs.
The Hydrogen Energy California project is marketed as a one-of-a-kind plant. It turns coal into two gases - one would power homes. the other, carbon dioxide, would be pumped into the ground to extract oil.
Ninety percent of the carbon dioxide it produces is captured and stored by the plant, according to the California Energy Commission, but it's the remaining 10 percent that has growers airing their concerns.
"The biggest concern is the pollution that this plant is going to emit and leave into the area," said Buttonwillow grower Edward Kosareff.
The 2.5 billion dollar project backed by the oil industry was recently taken over by SCS, a private company based in Massachusetts.
The company plans to build the project on an old farm just South of Stockdale Highway near Elk Hills. But to get here, the plant needs trucks and rail lines to bring in the 16 thousand tons of coal the plant will consume per day.
Project managers have already asked growers for the right away to build rail and gas lines here. It's feared that could further add to the pollution.
"It's going to release a huge amount of carbon dioxide into the environment and we know that's the biggest ozone creating problem there is and we have the worst air quality in the nation and it seems like we're piling on more," said Buttonwillow grower Mark Romanini.
The plant is still in the permitting stages although it's not up to the county to give the go ahead for the project. The company's local representative Larry Pickett says SCS plans to hold public meetings to hear the community's concerns.
As it's going through that permitting process we will be having a lot of public meetings where people can get a better idea of what the project is all about and comment on it and express any concerns about anything," said Pickett.
Pickett says the project will power more than 150 thousand homes and help extract 5 million barrels of oil each year. The company also plans to offer low-carbon fertilizer to farmers, but these growers say they're not interested.
Supervisor Ray Watson who represents Buttonwillow says supervisors haven't seen an environmental impact report just yet however Watson assures the growers the Valley Air District will scrutinize the project.