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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Can Green Hydrogen Save a Coal City and Slow Climate Change?

by Sam Metz

20 July 2022 GMT

DELTA, Utah ( Associated Press) — The coal plant is closing. In this small Utah town surrounded by cattle, alfalfa farms and clear desert highways, hundreds of workers will be laid off over the next few years – a casualty of environmental regulations and competition from cheap energy sources.

Yet from coal piles and kilns, beneath dusty fields, another transformation is underway that could play a vital role in providing clean energy and transforming some of those jobs.

Here in the rural Utah desert, developers plan to build underground caverns in ancient salt dome formations where they hope to store hydrogen fuel on an unprecedented scale. The undertaking is one of several projects that could help determine how large a role hydrogen will play globally in providing reliable, round-the-clock, carbon-free energy in the future.

What sets the project apart from other renewable energy ventures is that it is about seasonal storage, not about energy production. The salt caves would act like giant underground batteries, where energy in the form of hydrogen gas could be stored when needed.

“The world is watching this project,” said Rob Webster, co-founder of Magnum Development, one of the companies making the effort. “These technologies have not been scaled to the extent that they would be for this.”

In June, the US Department of Energy announced a $504 million loan guarantee to help finance the “Advanced Clean Energy Storage” project – one of its first loans since President Joe Biden was revived. Obama-era program known to loan Tesla and solindra, The support aims to help convert the site of a 40-year-old coal plant into a facility that burns clean hydrogen by 2045.

Amid the polarizing energy policy debate, the proposal is unique in winning support from a broad coalition that includes the Biden administration.Mitt Romney and five other Republicans who make up Utah’s congressional delegation, rural county commissioner and electricity provider. Biden was ready to announce new actions on climate change Wednesday during an event at a former coal-fired power plant in Massachusetts that is relocating to a renewable energy center.

Renewable energy advocates see the Utah project as a possible way to ensure reliability as more electrical grids become powered by intermittent renewable energy in the coming years.

In 2025, the initial fuel for the plant will be a mixture of hydrogen and natural gas. It will then transition to run entirely on hydrogen by 2045. Skeptics worry there may be a ploy to lengthen fossil fuel use by two decades. Others say they support investment in clean, carbon-free hydrogen projects, but worry that doing so could actually create demand for “blue” or “gray” hydrogen. Those names are given to hydrogen produced using natural gas.

“Convincing everyone to fill the same pipes and plants with hydrogen (of fossil fuels) is a great move for the gas industry,” said Justin Mikula, a think tank focused on the energy transition at New Consensus. “

Unlike carbon capture or gray hydrogen, the project will ultimately require no fossil fuels. In June Chevron reversed its plan to invest in the project. Company spokesman Creighton Welch said in a statement that it had not reached the standards by which the oil and gas giant evaluates its investments in “low-carbon businesses.”

As utilities transition and become increasingly interdependent on wind and solar, grid operators are facing new problems, producing excess electricity in winter and spring and less than needed in summer. Supply-demand imbalances have led to fears about possible blackouts and sparks About further reducing fossil fuel sources.

The project converts excess wind and solar energy into a form that can be stored. Proponents of clean hydrogen hope they can bank the energy during seasons when supply exceeds demand and use it when it is needed in later seasons.

Here’s how it would work: Solar and wind would power electrolyzers that split water molecules to make hydrogen. Energy experts call it “green hydrogen” because no carbon is emitted from producing it. Initially, the plant will run on 30% hydrogen and 70% natural gas. It plans to transition to 100% hydrogen by 2045.

When consumers need more electricity from renewables, the hydrogen will be piped across the street to the site of the Intermountain power plant and burned in power turbines, much like coal is used today. This, in theory, makes it a reliable complement to renewable energy.

Many in the rural delta hope that turning the city into a hydrogen epicenter will allow it to avoid the fallout in many cities near closed coal plants.Including the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona.

But some worry about using the energy to convert it into energy rather than sending it directly to consumers – itself costlier than using renewable energy or fossil fuels such as coal.

Although Mitsubishi Power’s head of hydrogen infrastructure Michael Ducker acknowledges that green hydrogen is more expensive than wind, solar, coal or natural gas, he said the price tag of hydrogen should not be compared to that of other fuels, but rather lithium- Storage technologies like ion batteries should be used instead. ,

For the Intermountain Power Agency, the hydrogen plans are the culmination of years of discussion about how to adapt to efforts to transition away from fossil fuels – the generous Los Angeles and its water and electricity divisions – the coal plant’s top client. Now, resentment toward California rages in the Utah community as workers worry about the local impacts of the country’s energy transition and its meaning for their friends, families, and careers.

“California can sometimes be a hiss and a scoff here,” said City Councilor Nicholas Kilpak, one of Delta’s few Democrats. “I think we all recognize that we have to do what the customer wants. Everyone, regardless of their political opinion, believes that California doesn’t want coal. Whether we want to sell it to them or not, they Not going to buy it.”

The coal plant was built in the wake of the energy crisis of the 1970s primarily to provide energy to the growing Southern California cities, which today buy most of the coal power. But the battle over carbon emissions and the future of coal has pitted states against each other and prompted lawsuits., Laws in California to transition away from fossil fuels have reduced demand for coal and threatened to leave the plant without customers.

In Millard County, a Republican-leaning area where 38% of local property taxes come from Intermountain power plants, two coal plant workers ousted current county commissioners in last month’s Republican primary. The race saw campaign signs across the city and sparked concern about the multi-million-dollar plans and how they might change the job market and the character of the rural community.

“People are fine with the concept and the idea of ​​building it,” said Trevor Johnson, one of the GOP’s primary winners, “where the hydrogen facility will be from the coal plant’s parking lot.” “It’s just coal power is cheap and provides a lot of good jobs. Here’s the hang-up. ,

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Follow Associated Press’s climate coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

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Associated Press climate and environmental coverage is supported by a number of private foundations. See more about Associated Press’s climate initiative here. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

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