Cleco holds first community meeting on Project Diamond Vault

Boyce residents question safety, community benefits of carbon capture sequestration project
On April 13, Cleco held its first public meeting on its Project Diamond Vault, the first-ever carbon capture project for the company and Cenla.
Published: Apr. 19, 2023 at 11:32 PM CDT
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BOYCE, La. (KALB) - In its first public meeting, Cleco Power attempted to answer questions on residents’ minds regarding Project Diamond Vault, the first carbon capture sequestration (CCS) endeavor in Louisiana.

Announced in April 2022, Diamond Vault will refit the Madison 3 power unit housed at Brame Energy Center in Boyce. Madison 3 runs primarily on coke (coal). The CCS technology would capture an estimated 95% of the unit’s carbon emissions, storing CO2 under geological formations on Cleco’s 6,000 acres. The burden of the funding for the project is supposed to come through 45Q tax credits provided through the Inflation Reduction Act, intended to encourage energy companies to begin moving toward de-carbonization.

Cleco’s project is currently undergoing a $9 million Front-End Engineering and Design, or FEED, study. That study is not projected to be done until the end of 2023.

Cleco President Shane Hilton touted Diamond Vault as a “great opportunity” for both the company and the region to be a leader in clean energy.

“Cleco is really leading as a clean energy provider in Louisiana,” said Hilton. “This is a big step in the right direction toward reducing our carbon footprint in the state of Louisiana and really being a leader in that space.”

Hilton explained to those at the meeting that the project is leading to national attention in the area, some calling it the Carbon Hub or Cenla Hub.

However, there were still many questions from residents, including regarding the safety of the project.

“The storing is what bothers me. The storing is the danger part of it. In all the things I’ve read and all the research I’ve done, the storage is the danger part of it.”

Mike Bordelon, Diamond Vault project leader, said that he disagreed with the resident on that concern. He explained that the sequestering will be to formations far underground and far away from aquifers that would impact what sources.

Bordelon said that the carbon would be compressed and injected into an injection well. Permits require the company to have monitoring wells all around the plant.

However, concerns remained about whether there could be potential fallout on the area’s environment, pointing to South Louisiana’s Cancer Alley.

“I’m down there just riding around, and I see all these pipelines going to all these chemical plants down in that area where people have died because of bad air. I had my car window up, and I still could smell chemicals,” said one resident. “So, are you guaranteeing us that same thing, that down the line, if you put this stuff in the ground, that we’re not gonna become another Cancer Alley?”

Bordelon said he is not aware of CO2 being a carcinogenic. The concern the company has is with leaks into the drinking water, which he said the monitoring wells would be for.

Regarding long-term studies of storage of the kind Cleco is proposing, Bordelon explained he is not aware of any but said that for CCS there are.

At this point, Cleco estimates that CO2 can be stored in the underground formations for at least 12 years, pointing to the FEED study still ongoing that could change that timeline. Residents expressed concern about whether the amount of carbon would exceed the storage capacity on Cleco’s property.

Hilton emphasized that there are also no plans for other third-party companies to pump their carbon emissions into Cleco’s geological formations.

“It’s a Cleco-specific product,” said Hilton. “We’re looking at the longevity, the benefits of our plant, the Madison unit in that area. Again, the initial scope of the study was for a minimum of 12 years. So, as we get more information back from the study, we’ll see what kind of life cycle extensions we may have, but right now, we’re focusing on that just as a minimum part of the study.”

He believes Diamond Vault will put Central Louisiana on the map, not just in clean energy, but also economically.

Cleco estimates an impact of more than 2,500 indirect jobs during the construction phase and 30-40 permanent jobs, as well as $2.2 billion in sales and billions in tax revenue.

One resident criticized Cleco’s job projections, feeling as if the jobs were far too few and would primarily benefit existing Cleco employees.

“Your younger bunch here, you gonna give them an opportunity,” said the resident. “I mean 30 jobs for something this big? Man, that - I can’t see how that’s going to come out ahead for our town.”

Cleco believes the CCS technology will incentivize additional businesses and industries to move into the area.

Additionally, Cleco’s president emphasized that much of the traffic along the Red River, which runs through Central Louisiana, is due to the operation of Brame Energy Center, saying that commerce is dependent on the plant’s operation.

The big question when it comes to community impact, though, is energy bills. Many questioned whether the change would actually lower their energy bills.

“Are there any projections at this point, that it will lower energy bills for customers?” asked News Channel 5.

“There are no official projections at this point,” said Hilton. “You know, all indications, we think that it will help moderate, mitigate, you know, utility bills, utility spikes in the future, but we don’t have any specific projection of that right now.”

Cleco has previously said they “do not expect Project Diamond Vault to result in any rate increase” to customers.

For many questions, from safety to economic benefits and utility bills, Cleco emphasized there is still much to be learned from the FEED study, which is ongoing and still several months out from completion.

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