By DON McINTOSH
Roughly $1 billion in federal money will help pay for new hydrogen infrastructure in Washington, Oregon, and Montana, the White House announced Oct. 13. And the work will be done by union members. The award is one of seven grants totaling $7 billion that are being funded thanks to a 2021 infrastructure spending law.
As laid out in the winning proposal from a region-wide coalition called the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association, federal money will subsidize part of the cost to construct facilities to produce hydrogen using wind and solar power, plus pipelines to transport it to users. The hydrogen will be burned as fuel or to generate electricity, or mixed with natural gas to lower its carbon intensity, or used in industrial processes like fertilizer production as an alternative to hydrogen that comes from hydrocarbons (nitrogen-based fertilizers like ammonia and urea are currently produced using natural gas).
The basic concept is simple: Use electric current to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The challenge is that right now it costs about $5 per kilogram to produce hydrogen that way. One of the goals of the government grants is to scale up production and reduce the cost to $1 per kilogram in the next 10 years.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the infrastructure funded by the $1 billion federal grant in the Pacific Northwest will employ 8,050 workers in construction and 350 in permanent positions. Construction is at least a few years away, but when it begins, the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association has committed that all projects over $1 million will be under the terms of project labor agreements to be negotiated with building trades unions. Contractors doing the work will also have to be enrolled in state-registered apprenticeship programs. The coalition that put the proposal together included labor and business leaders, state government officials, tribal officials, and leaders of environmental groups.
Washington State Labor Council President April Sims is on the coalition’s board and traveled to Washington, D.C., in August to take part in the interview process that the U.S. Department of Energy set up to evaluate grant proposals.
The Northwest proposal envisions eight “nodes” or sites of hydrogen production or use. The exact locations haven’t been finalized, but are likely to include a hydrogen factory next to the soon-to-close Centralia, Washington, coal power plant and a green fertilizer plant near Richland, Washington. PGE (Portland General Electric) is looking at the feasibility of a hydrogen production plant at the site of its former coal power plant in Boardman, Oregon. Construction on one or more of the projects may begin as soon as 2025.