Letter to the editor: The public deserves hydrogen answers


Many folks in the Lewis County area have been asking questions about the proposed PNW Hydrogen (PNWH2) Hub, and specifically the 300 MW Fortescue Electrolysis plant to be built at the former TransAlta mine. Unfortunately, we have been unable to get answers to specifics, like public/private cost share, source of green energy to run the plant, market for hydrogen or the number of full-time jobs at the plant. Before hundreds of millions of our tax dollars are given to an Australian company, shouldn’t we have these questions answered? 

We were told to attend the Economics of Clean Energy “How Lewis County Benefits from the Emerging Clean Energy Economy” on Feb. 5 at Centralia College, where our questions would be answered. Once again, there were no answers on specifics of cost, who pays, energy supply, market for hydrogen or jobs. 

On Feb. 14, I called the Washington state Department of Commerce to see if they knew anything about the PNWH2 Hub $1 billion grant. An employee knowledgeable about the process (government affairs/board liaison for PNWH2) responded promptly. She noted that their first step was to explain the community benefit aspects of the Hydrogen Hub to PNW communities. 

She said that they are not able to provide any details at this time as they are still negotiating with the U.S. Department of Energy, Office for Clean Energy Demonstration (OCED), on public/private cost share and specific project funding, and this effort won’t be completed for four to five months. She assured me these details would be available to the public when it is completed mid-summer. I explained that this creates a problem as the public immediately becomes suspicious when there is talk of all kinds of benefits without any information on costs.  Also, the public is concerned about Fortescue, an Australian company getting U.S. tax dollars. Why not a U.S. company?

She indicated that she understood the problem with pushing out the community engagement program with only the purported benefits and no details about the costs or the public/private partnership, including having an iron-ore company from Australia involved. She also noted that no federal grant dollars have been spent or will be distributed prior to the completion of the negotiations with the DOE, OCED. 

One more issue that I brought up was the security contracted by Centralia College for the public meeting on clean energy on Feb. 5. I and at least one other person had our papers (notes and information on hydrogen) searched before entering the meeting. We were not searched for any public safety reason. This raised a red flag for me and I believe also for the other gentlemen. The Department of Commerce representative apologized that this happened, saying she believed it was inappropriate. She wanted the name of the other person so she could apologize to him as well. She was not happy and said she would get in touch with the folks at Centralia College to address this issue.

Since that night, I communicated with the Economic Alliance and Centralia College trying to find out why this search was done. Unfortunately, Centralia College informed me they didn’t know why the security guard did this search and that I would not be allowed to ask the security officer who had given her instructions to do this search.

As it stands, local entities like the Economic Alliance, Centralia College, the mayor of Centralia and other political leaders have jumped in to support the PNWH2 Hub and Fortescue Hydrogen plant, assuring us it is good for us even though they have not answered the public’s questions. The right of the public to be involved in the decision making has not been addressed. We should all be asking: “Why?”


Dave Muller