Back in 2019 I partnered with Douglas County PUD to sponsor and pass a bill authorizing public utility districts to produce and sell renewable hydrogen.
Hydrogen is a gas that can be created from a process that uses electricity to separate hydrogen and oxygen molecules in water.
I worked closely that year with Douglas County PUD because of their interest in using surplus hydropower to produce hydrogen. The bill’s passage allows for the production and sale of “renewable hydrogen,” which is defined as hydrogen created from an emissions-free electricity source. With state authorization in place, renewable hydrogen will soon be developed in Douglas County. The opportunity PUDs now have to produce renewable hydrogen provides our hydroelectric facilities a new way to address an ever-increasing challenge.
Given recent expansion of wind and solar generation across many western states, the Pacific Northwest’s electric grid experiences periods of surplus power generation in the spring. During periods of springtime snow melt, hydropower generation is abundant because of high flows in the Columbia River. Wind and solar generation are often strong in the spring as well. Not generating power by spilling excess water through our dams can adversely impact fish but securing buyers for our hydropower when supply exceeds demand can be both financially ineffective and challenging. Using surplus electricity to produce hydrogen is an exciting opportunity because it can be both environmentally and economically beneficial. As owners of the PUDs, anything that benefits a PUD will ultimately help its customers.
Hydrogen can serve many purposes, but one of its uses is clean fuel for vehicles. Hydrogen-based vehicles, similar to plug-in electrics, produce zero greenhouse gas emissions. Now that the PUDs have the authority to produce hydrogen, our state should consider how it may incentivize use of this clean fuel for vehicles. Currently, our state provides a 50% sales tax exemption to purchasers of traditional plug-in electric vehicles. I recently introduced Senate Bill 5000 to establish an eight-year pilot project to extend to fuel cell vehicles the same sales tax benefit the state already provides to plug-in electrics. So far, the bill has gained commitments from over 20 bipartisan co-sponsors.
We should be very proud of the abundant clean energy produced in our region. As a result of our renewable hydropower, North Central Washington has provided tremendous leadership and innovation on clean energy. As you know, there has been continued focus in recent years on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, our region already leads the way with low emissions due to our hydro-based electric sector and little to no industrial emissions. Most of our region’s emissions are a result of transportation activities.
As drivers explore options for zero-emissions vehicles, hydrogen-based fuel cell vehicles may be an excellent option. It is difficult to currently envision, but plug-in electric vehicles may not be the most viable option in the future once a large-scale number of drivers make a switch, given the long charging times and the upstream costs and environmental considerations of electric infrastructure. Hydrogen can easily be delivered to fueling stations (on hydrogen semitrucks). Hydrogen cars take about 5 minutes to refuel and generally have a longer range. The case for hydrogen is even stronger when considering hydrogen long hauling and busing options.
When it comes to clean energy policies, I believe it is important to offer incentives and options to promote clean energy rather than push for policies with punitive measures. My bill provides this option while encouraging the state to be “technology neutral” when offering state incentives to zero-emission vehicles. As a long-time proponent of clean energy, I support a variety of options and technology. However, I am excited about the many beneficial purposes of renewable hydrogen and especially so because it will be produced locally.
Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, represents the state’s 12th District in Olympia. He may be contacted at 360-786-7622 or [email protected].