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Tulare Co. may get biogas power plant

Tulare County could be the home of a new power plant fueled partly by "biogas" from cow manure, if a Fresno company's plans bear fruit.

Central California Power is in the early stages of raising money and negotiating contracts that could allow it to build a 217-megawatt power plant somewhere in Tulare County, said Joe Langenberg, sole proprietor of the business.

The plant would generate enough electricity to power about 217,000 homes using a combination of natural gas and methane derived from manure from the region's dairy industry, said Langenberg, an engineer who's worked with giant engineering companies like Parsons Corp. and Bechtel Corp. in the past.

"It's going to be a hybrid -- roughly half natural gas and half renewable fuel," or biogas, he said. "The big reason that we're doing this is there's a call for renewable energy."

California law calls for utilities in the state to buy 20% of their power from renewable sources by 2010, which has increased interest in biogas production. Also, using manure to create natural gas helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairies, a key goal of a new state law calling for reduction of such emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

In the past year, several deals have been announced by utilities planning to buy natural gas created from cow waste and other renewable sources.

In November, New Hampshire-based Environmental Power Corp. announced a deal to build methane digesters at six large central San Joaquin Valley dairies and supply the natural gas they generate to Pacific Gas Electric Co. Plans call for production to begin late this year or early 2008.

In February, PG&E announced an agreement to buy up to 3 billion cubic feet of renewable natural gas a year -- enough to meet the electricity needs of approximately 50,000 PG&E residential customers -- from BioEnergy Solutions, a Bakersfield-based company seeking to install waste-to-gas systems at dairy farms and processing facilities.

Langenberg said he's working with Southern California Edison to secure a power purchase contract that will allow Central California Power to get financing for the project.

He would not estimate the project's cost but said that his company could begin to seek formal permitting for the project late this year or early 2008.

A California Energy Commission spokeswoman said the agency has not received a formal application from Central California Power but has received preliminary plans for the Tulare County plant.

The commission would be in charge of approving a project of the size Langenberg is proposing.

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