Officials weigh in on HECA

There is a lot of disagreement when it comes to the proposed Hydrogen Energy California plant. But one thing everyone agrees on is that HECA would have a big impact on Kern County. So why hasn’t the county Board of Supervisors taken a stand?
With all of HECA's potential impacts on the county, the Kern County Board of Supervisors has yet to take a stance on the project. Officials said that's because the only agency with decision making authority is the California Energy Commission.

KGET asked each supervisor how he or she felt about HECA. No one wanted to discuss the issue except Supervisor David Couch whose district encompasses HECA's proposed site.

"I still have a lot of concerns about it," Couch said. "I think the board does as well, the county staff does as well." 

But does that opinion really matter?

"Ultimately I think the answer is no," Couch said.

Couch said that's because under state law the California Energy Commission has sole permitting authority over every thermal power plant the generates 50 megawatts or more.

All supervisors can do is vote to issue a statement supporting or opposing the plant. To this date they haven't.

"Could we have taken a stronger position one way or another?" Couch asked. "I suppose you could always say that in almost any case. But we did what we thought was the prudent thing to do." 

Supervisors sent a 40-page document to the California Energy Commission with a laundry list of concerns last fall.

Couch said board members sent a list of suggestions of what the county needs to handle HECA. They did this instead of voting a straight yes or no because, Couch said, the county lacked information to make an overall judgment.

"It's hard to say you're in favor or something or you're against something if you don't really have all the facts," he said.

One agency has taken a stance: The federal EPA. It raised a variety of concerns in its 22-page response to the California Energy Commission categorizing the plant as an "environmental concern" with "insufficient information."

But behind the opinions of decision makers are the emotional arguments.

"We are opposed to the plant 100 percent," said Don VanLue, the self-proclaimed mayor of Tupman.

Some families who live near the site want to leave.

"It feels like we are up against a monster," said Lisa Lamboy, area farmer.

A fight others look at as selfish.

"How often does that come along?" asked Sam Akerman, a supporter of the project. "Never. We got it and we ought to embrace it and make it happen."

But after six years of applications the plant hasn't been embraced yet by the California Energy Commission, the only organization that can say heck yes or heck no to HECA.

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