Tribes, States Apply for $1B Federal Grant to Create Lewis County-Based Hydrogen Hub


Four-year-old Tamika Starr, a Miss Chehalis “princess,” was dressed for the part on Wednesday morning as she greeted Gov. Jay Inslee at the Chehalis Tribe Community Center, who described Tamika’s “bright-eyed,” hopeful look as “the cherry on the top” of a great day.

The governor joined local electeds, Chehalis and Cowlitz tribal leaders, representatives from the Oregon and Washington departments of commerce and other officials to announce a joint application to the U.S. Department of Commerce for $1 billion in a grant that, if secured, would go toward making a clean energy-producing “hydrogen hub” in Lewis County. It would include a facility to manufacture the non-fossil fuel energy form.

“We do have some things growing in Washington that are going to give (Tamika) a chance … to have timber in the woods, salmon in the rivers and air to breathe,” Inslee said. 

The grant applicant is the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub Board, made up of representatives from Amazon, Puget Sound Energy, tribes and other agencies across Washington, Oregon and Montana, according to Chehalis Tribal Government Relations Director Jeff Warnke. 

Both Oregon and Washington have been leaders in climate change policy, Inslee said, adding he signed a memorandum of understanding with a South Korean governor in 2016 to create a “green transportation” relationship across the Pacific Ocean.

The memorandum language states intent to develop “complimentary strategies to deal with the challenges of global climate change and the need for carbon reduction.” 

Last May, the Economic Alliance of Lewis County announced it is facilitating a partnership between TransAlta and Fortescue Future Industries to potentially bring a hydrogen plant to the Centralia area. Twin Transit has also been eyeing the creation of hydrogen fueling stations at the Port of Chehalis to power hydrogen buses.

With TransAlta’s power plant set to fully shutter in 2025, community leaders have sought to create the hydrogen hub as a new opportunity to spur innovation and attract jobs.

If built, according to previous reporting by The Chronicle, the Fortescue plant would cost between $400 million and $600 million. It would bring in about 140 permanent jobs and around 200 during construction. 

Centralia Mayor Kelly Smith Johnston called the grant application “hope” for her constituents, who, she told attendees on Wednesday, struggle to keep their educated children in the community due to the lack of available high-wage jobs.

“Hope has been missing in my community,” Smith Johnston said, adding, “Today, we celebrate. … The partnerships within this room — you are all working on behalf of the future. On behalf of young people, on behalf of our state, on behalf of our planet.”

The most abundant element in the universe, hydrogen is sourced from water by a process called electrolysis, with the only byproduct being oxygen. When used by hydrogen fuel cells, the byproduct is water. 

“The green energy economy is going to help us build the future. I believe in it,” Smith Johnston said, later adding, “Every time you all come together to work on this application, to create submissions to support these projects, you’re building hope.”