Like a parent with more than one child, Gov. Jay Inslee won’t say which of Washington’s 39 counties are his favorite.
“The governor loves all his counties equally,” Inslee told The Chronicle in a news conference Friday. “But, I have to say, Lewis County is out of the chute earliest” on development plans for hydrogen fuel technology.
The conference was set up following news of the Biden-Harris administration’s plans to invest $7 billion in proposed hydrogen “hubs” across the country. The hubs are regional collections of hydrogen technology projects. One is set to be in the Pacific Northwest.
Inslee was joined by one of Washington’s U.S. senators and one representative each from the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, the Washington State Labor Council, Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek’s office, and Washington State University.
The region’s proposed hub could see up to $1 billion for four project phases spanning nine years, with $20 million allocated for the first phase, according to a news release from the primary grant applicant, the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association. The U.S. Department of Energy will evaluate the hub’s activities and deliver “go” or “no-go” decisions at each phase.
Of the 17 proposals listed for the Pacific Northwest hub, three are directly based in Lewis County. Southwest Washington’s role in the process isn’t lost on state and federal officials: One speaker in a Monday morning national policy briefing from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations listed Centralia College by name.
The Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association intends to put a significant chunk of its cash into worker training, according to Todd Schrader, a project management director for the office.
This will include “investing more than $4 million in (the) Centralia College training center to provide worker training,” Shrader said Monday.
Other local projects set to benefit are Twin Transit, a Chehalis and Centralia-based public transportation authority which intends to build Washington’s first hydrogen fueling station and fuel buses with hydrogen; and USA Fortescue Future Industries Inc., a branch of the Australian mining company Fortescue, which has announced plans to build a hydrogen fuel plant in Centralia after the 2025 closure of TransAlta’s Centralia plant.
Asked if it was accurate to call Lewis County an “anchor” in the Pacific Northwest hub, Inslee said the area is likely to see “some of the earliest action” on the new technology. He added that he believes the diverse applications of hydrogen fuel will eventually benefit counties throughout the state.
Inslee said Lewis County’s position in the hub proposal is, in part, due to the Centralia Coal Plant’s transition and in part due to “the community leadership that's been shown by the tribes and local leaders on a bipartisan basis. They're really early out into the potential development of these projects, and it's extremely encouraging to see this transition.”
In Monday’s briefing, Kelly Cummins, acting director of the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, explained the department’s goals for the massive chunk of funding across the nation, starting with a high-level look at hydrogen fuel’s creation.
Hydrogen is the “simplest and most abundant element in the universe,” Cummins said.
According to the Department of Energy, hydrogen fuel is created through the process of electrolysis, which uses electricity to split water (H2O) into hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O).
Powered by renewable energy, such as hydro, wind or solar power, electrolysis can create hydrogen without producing carbon emissions. This is among the reasons the Pacific Northwest is a good candidate for a hub, in the department’s eyes, as Washington is already mostly powered by renewable energy.
The goal, Cummins explained, is to “decarbonize” heavy carbon emission industries such as air travel, maritime shipping and other kinds of transportation, by fueling them with hydrogen made with renewable energy, instead of fossil fuels. Similarly, representatives said the Department of Energy aims to invest in hydrogen hubs along major transportation corridors, such as Interstate 5 and Western Washington’s seaports, which could serve to make hydrogen fuel more accessible to regions outside the seven hydrogen hubs.
The projects span coast-to-coast, Shrader said. From west to east, hubs named as eligible grant recipients are in the Pacific Northwest, California, Heartland, Gulf Coast, Midwest, Appalachia and Atlantic regions.
Grant applicants were required to develop a community benefit plan, Cummins said. The Pacific Northwest’s plan includes approximately 10,000 new direct jobs at full build-out of the projects. Embedded into the agreement, Inslee said, are plans to prioritize awarding those jobs to labor union-represented workers.
“We will lead the way on a clean hydrogen future, starting right here in Washington state, in the Pacific Northwest,” said U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Bothell, later adding, “This is really an exciting day for our region.”
The Chronicle intends to meet with local stakeholders and expand on this coverage in the coming weeks. For more information on the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association and its grant proposal, including a list of the 17 projects, visit https://pnwh2.com.