DTE Energy on Monday said it would buy a significant interest in the 49.5-MW Mt. Poso Cogeneration Co. power plant near Bakersfield, Calif., and convert it entirely to biomass. After the conversion, the plant will operate on wood fuel, primarily derived from urban wood waste, tree trimmings, and agricultural residues.

The acquisition would be the latest for the Ann Arbor company, which has been actively seeking opportunities to convert coal-fired facilities to biomass. It recently completed a similar conversion in Cassville, Wis., and has another under way in Stockton, Calif. DTE also operates biomass power plants in Woodland, Calif., and Mobile, Ala.

The Mt. Poso plant currently operates on a blend of coal, petroleum coke (petcoke), and tire-derived fuel. Operating on biomass fuel—as is expected when the conversion is complete by 2012—the plant will have a nameplate capacity of 44 MW, DTE said.

The plant began operation in 1989 and it employs the best available control technologies to minimize air emissions, uses no potable water (its water supply comes from the Mt. Poso oil field), and maintains zero discharge of solid and liquid wastes, DTE said.

One of Mt. Poso’s three current partners, a subsidiary of Macpherson Oil Co., will increase its ownership position and continue to have a management interest. The Santa Monica, Calif.,–based company has been an owner of the facility since 1987 and operator of the adjacent West Mt. Poso Oil Field since 1981. The other two partners, Northern Star Generation LLC and Red Hawk Energy, both of whom have been instrumental in developing the biomass conversion project, are selling their interests.

Following the conversion, the plant will provide power to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) under a long-term renewable power purchase agreement. The plant will help PG&E meet California’s 33% renewable power requirement.

The conversion will employ approximately 90 construction workers at its peak. Permanent employment at the plant will increase from 28 today to 38 when the conversion is complete. In addition, the project will create additional jobs and business activity through agreements with fuel suppliers and other companies that will provide services to the plant.

Source: DTE Energy, POWERnews