It was an old apple orchard. Now it could be the future of clean hydrogen energy in Washington state.

April 15, 2021

EAST WENATCHEE, Douglas County — On warm spring days, when the Columbia River is swollen with snowmelt, hydropower generation soars at times when demand may be weak. Markets tank, and sending water through dam turbines can be a money-losing proposition.

In a quest to end these red-ink power sales, the Douglas County Public Utility District is making a $20 million investment in a new, clean energy business.

In an old apple orchard now cleared of trees, a small portion of the electricity from the district’s Wells Dam will be harnessed to make hydrogen fuel from well water.

“This can solve a lot of problems for us,” said Gary Ivory, the utility district’s general manager at a March groundbreaking for the project. “If it works, we can scale it up.”

The pilot project will put this small rural utility, about 150 miles east of Seattle, on the leading edge of a global push to produce hydrogen, a colorless, flammable gas that when combusted does not emit carbon or other greenhouse gases. Vast quantities are present in the water that covers most of the planet. But massive amounts of electricity would be required to make clean hydrogen a building block of the 21st century low-carbon economy that is envisioned by the international Paris Agreement, signed by more than 190 nations.

This hydrogen could help purge fossil fuels from the cement and steel industries or be used to power long-haul trucks, trains, vessels, aircraft and combusted to generate electricity. It can be carried by pipelines to heat homes and businesses, a use now touted by natural gas utility officials in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere as they try to forge new roles for their companies in a future with fewer carbon emissions.

Read more here.

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