Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Investing in hydrogen power production


BRIDGEPORT – Douglas County PUD is involved in a hydrogen production — a project for future power — to help meet long-term community energy needs and to create more energy efficiency at Wells Dam. That was one of the topics General Manager Gary Ivory addressed in an update before the Bridgeport city council at its regular monthly meeting on Oct. 18.

“There are inefficiencies in creating energy at Wells Dam,” said Ivory. “We are going to take some of those inefficiencies and run them through our hydrogen plant and produce hydrogen for the community.”

While there are a variety of applications for hydrogen, Ivory said its principal use in the Northwest is for the creation of solar panels, and computer chips for companies like Intel.

“The region recently got a billion dollars from the federal government to promote hydrogen,” said Ivory. “We can call our hydrogen green because it’s produced at Wells Dam.”

Ivory said one of the purposes of the PUD producing hydrogen is to sell it to those who want to drive around in hydrogen-powered cars.

“We are going to try to sell this hydrogen out of the county and if there is any use inside the county we will offer it at a discounted price, similar to what we do with our electricity,” Ivory said.

PUD power-users pay about a third of the actual cost to produce it, Ivory noted.

“The reason we can keep your rates so low is because we have all this excess energy we can sell outside the county,” said Ivory. “We plan to do that with hydrogen also.”

The new $45 million PUD hydrogen plant is being built near Rocky Reach Dam and Lincoln Rock State Park. Plans call for hydrogen production to begin early in 2024. It will be used mainly to provide backup power in place of fossil fuel generators.

“In the future as we run out of the Wells power resource, we are going to have to develop other sources of power,” said Ivory.

Ivory said large trucks fueled by hydrogen are ideal candidates for the energy source. He said it takes 1,000 pounds of batteries to power a large truck, plus the long distances they must travel make the time required for electrical charging an obstacle.

“You can fill up with hydrogen as quickly as you can with gasoline or diesel,” said Ivory. “And the exhaust is water vapor.”

Wells Dam

“Wells Dam is the power resource for the whole county,” said Ivory, “and it is the reason we have low rates.”

Ivory said both sides of the dam have earth embankments and the utility is checking them for any sink holes that may have occurred over the years. Different layers of material were engineered and compacted to make the embankments, but they are heavily saturated with water.

“Water does flow through the embankment,” said Ivory. “The key is when water flows through we don’t want it taking little particles or little pieces of rock because that means we are losing material.”

Ivory said an extensive and expensive study is underway to analyze what is going on with the condition of the embankments and to make sure they can withstand a future seismic event.

“Around the nation there have been a lot of dam failures because the dams are getting old,” said Ivory. “The federal government is really pushing dam owners to take better care of the structures.”

Ivory said the PUD is working through a $300 million-plus refurbishment plan on the 50-year-old dam to keep it at a high level of maintenance for the future. Related to the refurbishment the PUD is holding strategy sessions to address future rate increases necessary to cover some of the infrastructure costs and to keep those increases as reasonable and incremental as possible.

Ivory added that Wells Dam has the best fish passage records on the river.

Mike Maltais: 360-333-8483,



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