Local media partner Wenatchee World organized a community roundtable with Douglas County PUD General Manager Gary Ivory and 12th-District Senator Brad Hawkins on the district’s future with hydrogen fuel Thursday.

At Pybus Public Market, Wenatchee World Journalist Kalie Worthen moderated the discussion and shared some questions that residents submitted to the World regarding the hydrogen plant.

The PUD is building a $25 million hydrogen plant behind the Shell station in the Baker Flats area north of East Wenatchee.

When finished, the plant will function as a hydrogen fueling center as well as hydrogen production hub. 

Ivory introduced the crowd to the PUD’s history with hydrogen, detailing their plan to use surplus hydropower generated through the Wells Dam during the “shoulder seasons,” times in the year when energy usage is at the lowest.

“The hydro dams in the mid-Columbia can't really store a lot of water, so they have to either spill it over their spillways or generate with it," Hawkins explained. "If you can generate with that, that's a whole lot better, utilizing your surplus hydropower electricity to produce hydrogen."

Hawkins shared that there is tension in the Pacific northwest between legacy renewable resources, specifically between hydropower and non-hydropower sources like wind and solar. 

“I think with the opportunity with hydrogen, it kind of creates an opportunity for all of the renewable energy sources to be sort of more harmonious,” Hawkins said.

Ivory explained how the plant would produce emissions free renewable hydrogen energy by recycling the hydrogen.

The PUD hopes to sell hydrogen on the open market with overwhelming demand for green energy. 

“It's likely that we could produce multiple times what we're going to produce right now and the demand would still be there,” Ivory said.

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They are hoping to market their fuel for industrial purposes with companies like Microsoft, Kroger, and Amazon.

Hawkins’ shared that he passed SB 5588 back in 2019, which allowed the production, distribution, and sale of renewable hydrogen. He also said that SB 5000 passed, giving tax incentives to hydrogen-fueled vehicles and that many semi trucks could be converted to use hydrogen fuel rather than diesel or electric energy.

“There's really no reason we couldn't be hauling the world's best apples from Wenatchee to the Port of Seattle on a hydrogen semi truck,” Hawkins said.

Compared to diesel fuel, Ivory said hydrogen prices can get expensive, using fuel prices in California as an example. However, he hopes the PUD can provide reasonable prices for their customers and could use hydrogen fuel to stabilize the price of diesel.

The hydrogen plant will have the capacity to accommodate up to 80 megawatts of hydrogen, which is enough to fill-up 6,400 hydrogen powered cars every day.  

The PUD partnered with Toyota Motor Corporation and will receive three Murai vehicles for their own personal fleet.

In regards to future job opportunities, Ivory shared that they plan on running the plant for 24 hours a day and would need to employ at least six to eight employees, consisting of a plant manager and some engineers.

The plant is expected to be up and running by June of 2024.

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