Twin Transit Eyes Renewables as Legislature Considers Allocating Funding for State’s First Hydrogen Refueling Station in Chehalis

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It’s blue, clean, quiet and just might be the future of transportation in Lewis County.

Twin Transit staff and community leaders on Tuesday afternoon got a close look at a zero-emissions, hydrogen fuel cell-powered bus.

The specific bus looked at Tuesday was an Xcelsior CHARGE H2 model from New Flyer, a subsidiary of leading bus manufacturer NFI Group. The 40-foot bus is a battery-electric vehicle that uses compressed hydrogen as a refuelable energy source, according to the company.

This comes at a moment when the local transit authority is seeking out low-cost, renewable fuel sources to replace its aging fossil fleet and as the state continues its march away from fossil fuels.

The bus is seen as comparable in range, maintenance and, in some cases, fuel efficiency to gas-powered vehicles. The bus also gets upwards of 350 miles on a single tank and has refueling times averaging in the low double digits.

Joe Clark, executive director of Twin Transit, said they’re hoping to have 100 percent of their fleet carbon neutral by 2030. Twin Transit’s first two electric buses are expected to arrive this year, and Clark said they’re working on applying for grants to secure an additional two hydrogen buses and two electric buses.

The high stop density of the Twin Cities and relatively flat surface streets allow for good conditions for these fuel types.

“We have an ideal topography to run these side-by-side,” Clark said.

By the end of 2022, Clark said, they hope to have renewables running on half of their fixed routes. Twin Transit’s fleet currently consists of 10 35-foot long buses, six cutaway buses and a dozen Dial-a-Ride vans.

Chehalis could also soon become a major stop on the hydrogen superhighway.

A recent allocation of $2.55 million in the Legislature’s 2021-2023 Capital Budget proposals would bring the state’s first commercial renewable hydrogen fueling station to Chehalis. The project is being slated for a piece of property off Exit 74 in Chehalis.

The fuel station would open as soon as early 2022 and the fuel would be transported over the pass from Douglas County PUD, said Dave Warren with lobbyist firm Warren Group.

“Longer term, we’re going to need to get something on this side of the mountains … That’ll be a little longer term, but we know that’ll be our hydrogen supply right now from Douglas,” Warren said.

The approach has been a regional collaboration with state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, and former Rep. Richard DeBolt leading the charge from the state level. Abbarno currently serves as an assistant ranking minority member on the state House Capital Budget committee.

“I’m just super supportive of helping Lewis County become a part of the hydrogen-highway network,” said DeBolt, who now leads the Lewis Economic Development Council, during the bus tour. “I think it’s a good opportunity for us.”

The incentives for hydrogen renewables also seems to be building. Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, also a 20th Legislative District lawmaker, got a sales and use tax credit for renewable hydrogen production equipment and fueling stations passed through a transportation bill, Warren said, as well as credits for associated labor, construction and capital costs.

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