Putting Communities in Charge: A Groundbreaking Carbon Removal Projectwordpress,carbonremoval,communities,project,groundbreaking
Putting Communities in Charge: A Groundbreaking Carbon Removal Project

Putting Communities in Charge: A Groundbreaking Carbon Removal Project

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The Community Alliance for Direct Air Capture: Seeking Community-Led Solutions for Carbon Removal

In a groundbreaking move, the Department of Energy (DOE) has allocated funding for nearly two dozen direct air capture (DAC) projects, with only one of them focusing on community-led efforts. The Community Alliance for Direct Air Capture (CALDAC) aims to receive $3 million to study the feasibility of removing significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. What sets CALDAC apart is its focus on community involvement and ownership throughout the entire process.

Bridging the Gap Between Technology and Social Justice

CALDAC, a coalition of researchers, start-ups, and nonprofits, intends to build a carbon removal facility in the economically challenged San Joaquin Valley of California. This area has long been associated with the declining oil and gas industry. The primary objective of CALDAC is not only to demonstrate the potential of DAC technology in reversing climate change but also to pioneer an innovative approach to project governance and ownership.

“We’re thinking about feasibility both in terms of technical and engineering terms but also fundamentally in social and justice terms,” said Celina Scott-Buechler, a senior resident fellow at Data for Progress and a participant in the grant application.

A New Framework for Community-Led Industrial Facilities

The Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE) at the University of California, Berkeley’s law school leads CALDAC. Their vision extends beyond demonstrating DAC technology. CLEE and its partners seek to design a model for community-led governance and ownership that can be replicated in other large-scale industrial projects.

Louise Bedsworth, executive director of CLEE and lead applicant to the DOE, explained their approach: “We want to do community engagement in a way that we can draw out community vision and concerns and desires and have that inform the governance and technical design of the project.”

CALDAC plans to collaborate with local residents and civil society to determine the viability of the project. This process involves technical feasibility analysis, community engagement, and understanding local desires and concerns. The project leads have voluntarily established “go/no-go” decision points to ensure community support and benefits are prioritized.

Challenges and Concerns

While CALDAC emphasizes community involvement, environmental justice advocates have expressed reservations about constructing a DAC facility in any location. They argue that carbon removal projects should be situated far away from population centers and not in towns.

Daniel Ress, a staff attorney at the Center on Race, Poverty & Environment, voiced concern about partnering with polluting local industries like biomass. CALDAC acknowledged their attempt to find an environmental justice group willing to collaborate had failed. However, they assure critics that a community oversight panel will be established, allowing input on technical design, operations, benefits, and risk mitigation.

The Role of Public Ownership and Community Sentiment

CALDAC is exploring the possibility of public ownership for the eventual project, potentially resembling a rural electric cooperative. All aspects, including ownership, will be decided with public input.

The alliance plans to allocate some of its DOE award to community groups to dedicate staff hours to the decision-making process. Carbon180, another partner, is developing a curriculum to address technical questions. Ultimately, CALDAC pledges to respect the decision of the community. If, after extensive consultation and addressing all concerns, the project lacks public support, it will be abandoned.

Community veto power is not currently a feature of DOE’s DAC hub program or past industrial facilities. However, CALDAC’s approach challenges conventional practices and aims to promote community autonomy in deciding which projects are established in their midst.

The San Joaquin Valley as a Crucial Testing Ground

The San Joaquin Valley, known for petroleum and agriculture, has long dealt with air pollution as a consequence of these industries. Bakersfield, the largest city in the region, suffers from some of the worst particulate and ozone pollution in the United States. However, the oil and gas industry remains a significant employer in an area grappling with high unemployment.

CALDAC has proposed three potential sites for its carbon removal facility, including Mendota, Madrea, and Delano. These locations, along with their proximity to Bakersfield, are owned by Clean Energy Systems, a company that specializes in oxy-combustion technology. This technology captures the majority of CO2 emissions for storage and releases no other pollutants.

Other DAC projects led by oil companies Chevron and Aera Federal are also eyeing potential sites in the San Joaquin Valley. The nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute is exploring a separate project. Bakersfield’s Mayor Karen Goh, representing the interests of the region’s core industries, including oil and gas, has shown support for climate policies that benefit the area economically.

Striving for an Inclusive, Ethical Approach

CALDAC’s commitment to inclusivity and responsiveness to concerns is evident in their willingness to drop a local biomass company, tied to oil and gas, from their list of potential partners. Matt Holmes of the California Environmental Justice Coalition has conditionally agreed to join CALDAC’s community oversight panel after seeing their response to advocate concerns. He appreciates their effort to be inclusive but remains cautious given the region’s history of exploitation by industry.

CALDAC, through its pioneering efforts in community-led governance and ownership, aims to provide a blueprint for communities worldwide. As the world scrambles to build climate infrastructure, CALDAC seeks to ensure that local communities have the autonomy to design, govern, and ultimately benefit from large-scale climate projects.


The Department of Energy’s funding of almost two dozen direct air capture projects marks an important step towards mitigating climate change. CALDAC’s unique community-led approach is a breakthrough in designing and operating industrial facilities that prioritize the rights and desires of local communities.

By involving communities in decision-making processes and recognizing their ability to veto projects, CALDAC is challenging conventional practices and promoting a more inclusive, ethical approach to addressing climate change. CALDAC’s work in the economically disadvantaged San Joaquin Valley could serve as a model for communities facing similar challenges worldwide.

As the Biden administration aims to jump-start a new industry to combat climate change, CALDAC’s drive for community empowerment and justice reminds us that technological solutions must also consider social and environmental implications. The success of CALDAC’s project could pave the way for a more equitable and sustainable future for communities impacted by large-scale infrastructure development.


Putting Communities in Charge: A Groundbreaking Carbon Removal Project
<< photo by Adelien Vandeweghe >>
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G'day, mates! I'm Greg Buckley, and I've been reporting here in the land Down Under for the last 15 years. I'm all about sports and culture, so if there's a footy match or an art exhibit, you'll likely see me there. Let's give it a burl together, Australia!

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