Week of June 16, 2003
from Site Selection's exclusive New Plant database
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$1B Calif. 'Energy Park'by JACK LYNE, Site Selection Executive Editor of Interactive Publishing BARSTOW, Calif. It's not yet a done deal, but it's most definitely a blockbuster: It's the Harper Lake Energy Park (www.HarperLakeEnergyPark.com), a US$1-billion project that would generate 700 jobs on a 1,920-acre (768-hectare) Mojave Desert site just north of Barstow, Calif.. And the ideas driving the project are nothing if not ambitious.
Would Create 700 Jobs
The park would involve a 600-worker dairy farm, a built-from-scratch mini-city, and two energy plants employing 100 additional workers. One of the electricity-generation plants would be powered by methane gas; the other would use a combination of solar, jet-turbine and steam-turbine power.
But is this really only just so much cow pie in the sky?
The smart money, it seems, wouldn't bet against it. Located 115 miles (184 kilometers) northeast of Los Angeles, the energy park is the brainchild of two shrewd Californian businessmen, William Buck Johns and Henry Orlosky. Both have long, highly successful track records.
For certain, though, cow pie is an essential ingredient in Harper Lake Energy Park. And the project involves a lot of cow pie.
The park, in fact, would create perhaps the definitive cow town, housing a whopping 90,000 dairy cattle.
That massive bovine army would do what comes naturally in creating one of the park's key raw materials: cow patties. An on-site anaerobic digesting facility would then use bacteria to turn the mega-manure supply into methane. That gas in turn would fire a jet-turbine generator to provide the park's primary energy source.
Significantly, the entire dairy would be what Orlosky calls a "flush operation."
"Flush dairies are the dairy industry's future," Orlosky told The SiteNet/IAMC Dispatch from his office in Irvine, Calif., where he founded Tool Research (www.toolresearch.com), a highly successful medical-tools manufacturing company,
"All milk parlors are now required to be flushed, and we are taking it one step further; we're flushing the entire dairy," he explained. "Flush systems do a very good job in the desert. They dry quickly, leaving the dairy pristinely clean compared to non-flush or 'scrape'-type operations."
Nearby Energy Plant Has $3.8-Billion ContractAnd there will be methane power aplenty - plus a lot of flushing. A single cow is capable of daily producing as much as 100 pounds (45 kilograms) of solid waste. The manure-to-methane system will generate almost 50 megawatts of electricity, Orlosky anticipates.
Only about 25 megawatts will be needed to power the entire park, he says. "The rest will be sold on Southern California's electricity grid as renewable energy," Orlosky explained.
Harper Lake Park, though, will generate considerably more power. The giant complex would also include a 550-acre (220-hectare) solar/thermal generation field, which would produce 100 megawatts, and a combined cycle jet-turbine and steam-turbine plant, which would generate another 500 megawatts.
Johns and Orlosky have already demonstrated the validity of alternative-energy plants in the area. Their $500-million High Desert Power Project, located in Victorville, Calif., 32 miles (51 kilometers) southwest of Barstow, came online on April 22 as a combined-cycle gas-turbine power-generation facility.
One of the Victorville project's co-founders was Inland Energy (www.inlandenergy.com), which Johns created and heads. Inland Energy subsequently teamed with Baltimore Gas and Electric to develop the plant, which will produce 830 megawatts, enough energy to power more than 500,000 homes.
And there's gold in them thar alternative-energy sources. The California Department of Water Resources has signed a 10-year, $3.6-billion contract for the Victorville plant's power output.
Orlosky, however, maintains that "the profits for making renewable electricity are modest when compared to non-renewable natural gas power plants. The cost to build and operate a renewable plant is several multiples of a conventional natural gas plant.
For one thing, there are the logistical challenges of creating a mini-city with housing for the 600 dairy farmers. In addition, the development would include paved roadways, parks, tennis courts, a swimming pool, a feed-sales operation and a veterinary clinic. The park will even have its own fire station.
The original plan called for the mini-city to be built in the park. Now, though, it looks as though most of it will be built on adjacent land that Orlosky owns.
"We posed the housing question to San Bernardino County and the surrounding communities to see what everyone wanted," Orlosky explained. "It now appears that the housing will not be on site except for emergency personnel that need to be on site, such as fire and safety workers."
The site's remoteness also presents supply-chain difficulties. Huge feed supplies will have to be trucked in to feed the 90,000 cattle. Similarly, milk would have to travel considerable distances to market.
But the operation's remoteness and flush technology provide some production-boosting benefits, according to Orlosky. "Workers and animals alike are healthier when they do not breathe methane or ammonia emissions that are produced from decaying manure that is usually piled high on-site," he said. "Cleaner cows are happier and healthier and produce more milk under less stress."
Flushable 'Cow Condos': Will
"That type of massive dairy operation comes with massive environmental effects," Daniel Patterson, an ecologist with the Tucson, Ariz.-based Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, told The Los Angeles Times. "I'm not sure how excited the public is going to be on a threatened desert wetland when you have tens of thousands of dairy cows and the associated stench and flies."
Orlosky vigorously contests that notion.
"We intend to meet or exceed all environmental regulations by providing 100-percent waste containment and treatment, much like a modern sewage plant that treats bio-solids."
The cattle, Orlosky explains, will do their business in "cow condos," with paved floors and solar-panel roofing. All condos will have a plumbing system that daily pumps out and flushes each stall, funneling waste to the methane factory.
"The system is much like the one that humans use with flush toilets, and with similar success in sanitation and cleanliness," Orlosky asserted. "The system solves or mitigates the common problems all dairies have."
Harper Lake Park's methane plant, he contended, would "eliminate any ground or water contamination from E-coli bacteria," and would "reduce or eliminate objectionable waste odors." In addition, Orlosky said that the system would "greatly reduce" emissions of methane and ammonia, two often-cited environmental culprits. And the plant would have "few or no flies because of the elimination of standing decaying manure," he added.
Local Pols Backing Project;
"I'm concerned that California citizens don't have sufficient in-state electrical power-generation plants to meet increasing demand," said Postmus. The park, he added, "would be a huge economic development boost for the High Desert region's job and tax bases. I support the concept."
Postmus particularly likes the fact that the developers already have the necessary water rights. What's more, they own the entire site, plus another 2,000 nearby acres (800 hectares).
Orlosky bought that acreage in 1999 from rancher Milton Most. Then used to grow alfalfa, the land was a natural for a farm housing those bovine methane machines. And the park's solar segment gets a major leg up from the desert area's 300-plus days of annual sunshine.
In addition, Orlosky already owns the site water rights, part of the 10,000 acre feet of area water rights that he holds. (That's one of California's biggest water-rights holdings.)
The energy park, however, won't need near that much water, which represents roughly 435.6 million cubic feet (13.1 million cubic meters) of water. Orlosky estimates that the plants and dairies will annually require about 1,500 acre-feet (1.96 million cubic meters) of water - roughly enough to supply 1,500 typical homes.
On top of that, there's the site's prime power-grid location. The park would sit directly next to an intersection of California's electrical-transmission and natural-gas corridors.
Dairy Farmers among Big BackersMany California dairy farmers are also strong supporters. About a dozen major players have expressed strong interest in relocating to the park. They've met as a group with Orlosky, Johns and officials from Solargenix Energy (www.dukesolar.com), which is partnering in building the solar power station. Robert Feenstra, executive director of the Ontario, Calif.-based Milk Producers Council, likes the project's economies of scale. And, Feenstra asserted, "Harper Lake Energy Park addresses environmental-exposure concerns."
Project supporters, in fact, see the park as a refuge from the air-pollution criticisms battering the state's massive $4-billion-a-year dairy industry.
Massive, too, though, is the inevitable bovine output. In Southern California alone, 350,000 dairy cows produce 1.5 million tons (1.35 metric tons) of waste a year. That produces huge amounts of ammonia. And ammonia, in combination with the nitrogen oxides from vehicles and industrial plants, produces ammonium nitrate, a major health threat. In addition, methane is a smog-creating culprit.
Such environmental pressures, plus developers' offers often topping $200,000 an acre, have driven many California dairy farmers to relocate to adjoining states.
The Harper Lake Park's dairy farm could largely eliminate those environmental burdens. And the methane plant isn't an untested leap forward, Orlosky added. The technology is already in use, only on a much smaller scale, he said. A 436-cow farm near Princeton, Minn., for example, uses a methane digester to provide its own electric power, as well as power for 78 nearby homes.
Project Could Gain Permitting SoonThe park's considerable support bodes well for its acquiring the necessary permits.
One of those permits could soon be secured. Since the methane plant's output would be slightly less than 50 megawatts, it will need approval only from San Bernardino County, not the California Energy Commission, Orlosky asserted. The development plans to seek the dairy farm permits in July, he said.
The other plant, though, would need California Energy Commission approval.
There, too, though, the project's prospects look good. California has passed a law mandating that 20 percent of state energy come from renewable sources by 2017. And statewide power demand is growing by 2 percent a year.
Even with successful permitting, though, some major steps remain, Orlosky concedes. Harper Energy Park, for example, must still "secure preliminary more permanent financing to pay for construction costs," he explained.
But if everything goes smoothly, the first of the park's cows could begin arriving before the year's end, Orlosky added.
"California," Gov. Gray Davis (D) said in lauding the bill, "has long been the nation's leader in renewable energy."
And soon a massive herd of cattle may also be following.
©2003 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.