California's first proposed power plant designed to capture and sequester carbon dioxide emissions is embroiled in controversy over its impact on coveted groundwater. At issue is whether the project would augment or deplete the salt-laden local groundwater supply in western Kern County. The California Energy Commission--which has to issue a construction license for the project-- is concerned the plant could lower the water table, threatening well owners. The local water agency--the Buena Vista Water Storage District--views the project as an opportunity to implement a long-planned water reclamation project that will help prevent the groundwater from becoming too salty to use for crop irrigation. The supply is used primarily for irrigating farms. The two agencies aired their differences Feb. 20 during a public meeting that was part of the Energy Commission's licensing proceeding for the proposed Hydrogen Energy California project. The 300 MW coal-powered plant would be built on farmland in western Kern County. It would use groundwater pumped from the western edge of the district's boundaries where saltwater from the hills to the west is intruding into the underlying aquifer that farmers to the east depend upon in part for irrigation. The proposed Hydrogen Energy California plant would run on a combination of coal and petroleum coke brought in by rail. It would gasify the coal and burn the resulting hydrogen to make power. The carbon dioxide would be captured and piped to an Occidental Petroleum (Oxy) oil field to the west. Oxy would pump the gas into the field to force petroleum it otherwise could not produce out of the ground, a technique called enhanced oil recovery. The plant also would produce fertilizer and other chemicals for sale to nearby farms. "It's not simply pumping water for a power plant,"\u009d said Buena Vista engineer Dan Bartel. "It's a remediation effort." He explained that pumping 7,500 acre feet of water a year from the area where the saltwater is intruding into the aquifer would allow the district to store more freshwater in the ground and increase the supply for irrigation. The water district has been hoping to pump out the salty water to prevent it from intruding into the freshwater for 20 years, he and another district official explained. Until the power project was proposed, it has never had a potential customer for the saltwater. "In this situation, the problem isn't a shortage of water, it's a surplus of water,"\u009d said Mike Carroll, attorney for Hydrogen Energy California. Energy Commission hydrologist Mike Conway questioned the assumptions behind the water district's view. A commission analysis he prepared found that using the water could threaten the supply of well owners in the area, as well as potentially cause subsidence undermining the California Aqueduct, which brings water from the north. The aqueduct runs through the area. Conway said he wants the Energy Commission to be able to say the project could enhance the local water supply, but that it needs the project proponents to provide conclusive data to support that finding. Carroll said Hydrogen Energy is working to gather the data. The Energy Commission expects to issue a final environmental analysis for the project by July and then schedule evidentiary hearings in the licensing proceeding.