LESS THAN TWO weeks after Earth saw the highest average daily temperatures in recorded history, energy officials gathered in eastern Contra Costa County to kickstart a major weapon in the fight against climate change.

Electricity producer Calpine cut the ribbon this past Friday on its new pilot project at the Los Medanos Energy Center in Pittsburg that aims to capture 95 percent of the carbon produced by its electrical generation.

Carbon, when it comes to climate change, is a heat-collecting problem in our atmosphere, especially when human energy producers send so much carbon dioxide into the air making electricity from natural gas and geothermal sources.

Dignitaries cut the ribbon on a new carbon capture and storage (CCS) pilot project at the Los Medanos Energy Center in Pittsburg on Friday. The goal is to capture 95 percent of the carbon produced by electrical generation at the facility. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

Calpine — which says it is the nation’s largest generator of electricity from natural gas and geothermal resources — has worked with solvent technology developed by ION Clean Energy and the U.S. Department of Energy to develop a 13-15 month pilot project to further the technology.

While carbon capture has been around for decades, and ION has done other pilot projects, this is the first that was specifically designed for ION’s new technology.

“It’s a very selective process to specifically remove the CO2,” said Barbara McBride, Calpine’s director of environmental policy.

A small-scale demonstration — for now

Almost all of the carbon produced by converting natural gas and geothermal into electricity is captured by ION solvent and gets stored underground, then repurposed for other uses.

The project is considered small scale, compared to what it could eventually do, said Jennifer Atcheson, ION’s vice president of operations.

“But it’s big enough scale for us to demonstrate the technology to go to the next step for commercial demonstration,” Atcheson said.

Corporate staff, workers, government officials and others assemble prior to the ribbon cutting at the new carbon capture and storage unit at the Los Medanos Energy Center in Pittsburg. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)
Barbara McBride, director of Strategic Origination and Development at Calpine, answers questions for reporters at the CCS presentation at the Los Medanos Energy Center in Pittsburg. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)
Thad Hill, Calpine’s CEO, speaks about the process of capturing carbon emissions during Friday’s demonstration. He said said the coming “energy transition” requires electricity to be reliable, affordable and clean, which the Pittsburg plant can produce. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

The tall, modulated towers — built in Texas and moved to Pittsburg in May — were already humming Friday. After media got a quick look at the facility, about a hundred guests gathered to hear energy officials talk about the project.

“I personally have been working on this problem for 20 years, boy am I excited to see this happening in the field,” said Roger Aines, a senior advisor on carbon dioxide removal for the U.S. Department of Energy. “We asked ourselves two questions: Can we reduce carbon dioxide pollution to the betterment of the nation? And secondly, can we reduce local pollution to clean the air in the communities that help host these power plants?

“Carbon capture plants like the one sitting here — a plant that is reliable, that is safe, that is efficient — can literally change the world.”

Thad Hill, Calpine CEO

“We’ll emphatically answer yes to both those questions, but it has to be tested and demonstrated and above all, measured.”

Thad Hill, CEO of Calpine, said the coming “energy transition” requires electricity to be reliable, affordable and clean. He said this project will help drive that change.

“Carbon capture plants like the one sitting here — a plant that is reliable, that is safe, that is efficient — can literally change the world,” Hill said. “Solar, wind, geothermal, batteries, these are all important parts of the journey, but you need dispatchable power that is carbon free.”

The absorption tower at the Los Medanos Energy Center is used in the carbon capture and storage (CCS) process. A 13-15 month pilot project at the Pittsburg energy facility will demonstrate the effectiveness of recovering carbon dioxide from the plant’s emissions to divert it from the environment. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

‘On the front lines of climate change’

Wade Crowfoot, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, said Friday was a big milestone, especially considering the state’s roller coaster weather changes of the past few years.

“We know that Californians are on the front lines of climate change,” Crowfoot said. “We have lost 7 percent of our lands to catastrophic wildfire in the last three years alone. The water year that ended this past October ended the driest three-year period in the state’s over 170-year history … and we went into the winter with 6 million Californians under water rationing as a result of the drought. Just several weeks later, we experienced what was likely the wettest three weeks on the state record.”

Wade Crowfoot, Natural Resources Secretary of California, holds soap made from the byproducts of carbon capture and storage (CCS) during a demonstration of the fledgling technology in Pittsburg on July 14, 2023. Environmental changes exacerbated by greenhouse gases “will fundamentally change the lives of our children and grandchildren,” Crowfoot said during his speech. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News)

Crowfoot said we don’t live on the planet we did 10 years ago.

“That will impact our lives and probably more importantly, will fundamentally change the lives of our children and grandchildren,” Crowfoot said. “So for all of those reasons, we have to move further and faster to protect Californians, protect Americans from these impacts of climate change, but also combat climate change, build a brighter future. And we do that by reducing pollution, moving as much as we can beyond fossil fuels, and capturing pollution and carbon that we’re generating right now.”