During a meeting last Wednesday at the college, officials, business people, representatives from the Sierra Club and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance were introduced to a project proposed for the eastern region of the state.
The project is a power plant proposed by Southern California Edison in an area south of Woodside and west of U.S. Highway 6 in Emery County.
The project would include a power station with the capability of producing 500 megawatts while sequestering liquid carbon dioxide in an underground saline aquifer.
"We are just here to give you information on our possible plans," said Jenifer Hedrick, an engineer and project manager. "There are many things that need to be done and many hurdles to go over before anything like this can happen."
The initial hurdle is to secure money through an application process with the United States Department of Energy for a feasibility study for a "clean coal technology" plant. Application deadline for the money was Jan. 15.
"We have people back at the office in California working feverishly to get that application in by tomorrow," said Hedrick.
The facility would be the first of its kind to employ all the technologies for a clean coal plant in one place.
According to Hedrick the technologies that would be utilized in the plant are already in use but "no one has placed it all in one plant, in one place."
The company named the goals for the plant as being converting coal to hydrogen to run the plant, to cap the CO2 emission to meet California standards now coming on line concerning clean electricity generation and to generate power that could be used across the west.
The plant would use integrated combined cycle turbines (IGCC) to generate the power. These are the kinds of turbines that are currently used in natural gas plants. Whether the turbines would be air or water cooled has not been decided.
The gasification of coal into hydrogen is also in use in smaller scale in some places and that would be a key to the local plant's operation.
The plant would not utilize the conventional pulverized coal system that is used by most other local power generating facilities.
The process of converting coal and sequestering the carbon dioxide would make the power that came out of the plant 20 percent to 40 percent more expensive than conventional plants.
"But this would be an online plant that could supply power at anytime," said Hedrick, obviously referring to the fact that California is looking to supply a lot of the state's electricity with wind and solar generation in the future.
However, California would need a back up source when the wind did not blow or the sun was not shining.
It is conservatively estimated that the aquifer that the company wants to inject the compressed liquid CO2 into would hold 500 million tons of the material.
The proposed plant would generate about four million tons of carbon dioxide every year.
The emissions would be sequestered under the ground about 20 miles east of the plant's site.
"We wouldn't be able to fill that aquifer up in 50 years," said Hedrick. "In fact if this project goes on line and works, we would expect other plants might be built in the same area to utilize the same technology and that storage space."
Through initial studies, Utah and Wyoming were picked as the best states in which to locate a plant, even although the altitudes would affect the performance of the power generation.
Additional studies are still underway in Wyoming along with areas of Texas and New Mexico.
Gasification of coal, as the process is now known, takes a great deal of water and there were questions from the assembled group about where the water would come from to do that.
"We are still very preliminary on this study. But we think we could piece together enough water rights to run the plant or we wouldn't be looking at that site," explained Hedrick. "But the process we want to utilize uses less water than many others that are out there."
Hedrick indicated that the San Rafael location would be a wonderful for such a plant because it is geologically stable and that a number of things needed to run the plant are within a reasonable distance from the site.
For instance, transportation for coal from local sources could be done by truck or by rail since the Union Pacific's lines run near to where the plant would be located in the San Rafael Swell.
Hedrick said the company estimated that the plant would use one million tons of coal a year. The facitility would employ about 100 people to operate the facility once it was built.
"We think construction would take about four years and there would be about 1,000 jobs while the construction process went on," she said.
What coal mines might be utilized to provide coal to the plant and how many people might be employed by those operations was not mentioned in the presentation.
The site the plant would be located on is presently Bureau of Land Management property and the sequestering site is on Utah State Institutional Trust Lands.
California Edison has taken a partner in the sequestering study process by attaching itself to the University of Utah.
"We have no detailed engineering yet and there is no permitting done," said Hedrick. "To get this plant on line, we have a long way to go. We don't even have the initial study money yet. But we wanted the community to know what we are doing."
According to Hedrick, the plant would capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide and would produce a slag like material that is "non-toxic" and could be used in the construction business, pointed out the California company representative.
"There are many byproducts that can be produced by a plant like this," stated Hedrick. "A 250 megawatt gasification plant in Polk County, Fla., produces sulfuric acid and it is used by a chemical plant that is situated nearby."
The decision to award the money to the company for the study will come in July.
If California Edison receives the funding, company will probably be awarded the money in about a year.
Adter securing the funding, the company indicated that the study on the plant and the permitting process will take about three years to complete.
If everything goes well for the company and the construction takes the time expected, the plant could be up and running somewhere around 2017 or 2018.
"This is just the beginning," said Hedrick. "There will be plenty of time for studies, community outreach, permitting and public comment before the whole thing is done, if the study proves we should build it here."