Initiative to expand hydrogen fuel production unanimously passes state Senate

Source would be excess renewable energy from public utility districts

OLYMPIA — A bipartisan bill to enable public utility districts to sell and distribute hydrogen fuel and sponsored by 33 senators — well over half the state Senate — unanimously passed the chamber and is now in the House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate Bill 5588 would authorize public utility districts to sell renewable hydrogen to consumers via pipeline or shippable pressurized containers.

“If you take H2O and you separate the ‘O,’ you end up with H2, which is hydrogen,” said Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, prime sponsor of the bill. “And that is becoming increasingly popular for powering hydrogen vehicles and U.S. fleets.”

Public utility districts provide electricity, sewer, water and telecommunication services to more than 1 million of Washington’s residents in 26 counties, according to the Washington Public Utility Districts Association.

In 2007, Olympia authorized utility districts to sell biodiesel and ethanol fuels.

In 2015, the Legislature approved the districts to produce and distribute renewable natural gas.

“Hydrogen is one of the most common chemical substances in the universe,” said Gary Ivory, the general manager of Douglas Public Utility District.

“This would not produce any carbon emissions in the production or the consumption of the fuel,” he said.

In the springtime, when the snow melts, the sun shines and the wind blows, a public utility district sometimes experiences an excess of renewable energy. Public utility districts distribute renewable energy from wind turbines, solar and hydroelectric sources.

When there’s excess energy produced, Ivory said, he has to pay people to use his extra energy.

With electrolysis, the districts can use excess energy to create renewable and storable energy for the entire state.

“Production of hydrogen, which is a storage for energy and could be used in transportation, is a great use of this renewable resource,” said George Caan, executive director of the Washington Public Utility Districts Association. A “cost-effective use of this resource to help reduce carbon. Help us move towards a clean energy path.”

“The sky’s the limit for this,” said Ken Dragoon, executive director for the Renewable Hydrogen Alliance. “It’s a huge amount of fuel.”

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This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation.

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