Southern California Edison asked state regulators to require its ratepayers to spend $52 million for developing a coal gasification and sequestration power plant. The proposed 600 MW plant has no geographical home at this time. It could be out of state and is planned to be west of the Rocky Mountains, according to the utility. Edison told regulators that it "requires" approval of the spending in advance of any research and development. The May 17 proposal to the California Public Utilities Commission is unusual in several ways. California has no commercial coal-fired power plants and no coal sources. A new state law requires a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, of which coal power is a major contributor. Another state law forbids importing coal power unless the plant's emissions are no greater than those of a natural gas--fired plant. In addition, gasification (integrated gasification combined-cycle, or IGCC) and carbon sequestration (long-term underground storage), expected to be used in this plant, have not been tested on a commercial basis. Furthermore, state policy promotes the use of renewable energy and conservation above the use of fossil-fuel power. Lastly, there remains a question of where to sequester the carbon dioxide that would be bled off the process. On a national basis, however, the country has vast coal deposits. The coal gasification and sequestration plant is considered an avenue for increasing domestic fuel use while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. "If we're going to use domestic coal, we're going to have to figure out how to make hydrogen out of it and sequester the emissions," said Mark Nelson, Edison director of generation planning and strategy. In the utility's plans, hydrogen would be used to fire the power plant. "Experimenting in this technology is needed," said Carl Zichella, Sierra Club Western regional staff director. He questioned the sequestration part of the equation, though. "How could we be guaranteed that CO2 would not be released to the atmosphere?" Currently, a sister company of Edison, unregulated Edison Mission Energy, has a proposal to build a similar facility in Carson, near Long Beach. That plant would use the same hydrogen gasification and sequestration techniques, but it would be fueled with petroleum coke. The sequestration in this project is set for injection into oil deposits to loosen up the oil in order to extract it--known as "enhanced oil recovery." Edison Mission also owns coal plants outside of California. "There's lots of trade-offs," noted Nelson. The new plant would have to sequester carbon dioxide into either oil fields or deep aquifers, he said. There is some concern that injecting carbon dioxide into California's substrate may increase the threat of earthquakes (Circuit, July 21, 2006). Some stakeholders question the source of funds for the project. In the 2005 Energy Policy Act, federal tax funds were allocated for such research. "I have mixed feelings whether ratepayers should pay for it," said Tom Athanasiou, EcoEquity executive director. "At the end of the day, the necessary subsidies should be paid fairly, as in progressive taxation." As Congress is about to pen a bill on coal power use and greenhouse gas reduction, the promise of coal gasification\/sequestration may be gold at the end of Midwestern politicians' rainbow. One Washington source said that with a few projects like what Edison is proposing in the works, it could allow more traditional coal plants to be built in the interim on the pledge that future plants would use the new technology.