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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Biden administration investing $1 billion in Northwest hydrogen energy hub

The U.S. government has selected Washington, Oregon and Montana for a $1 billion investment into making the region a hub for the hydrogen fuel industry.  (courtesy)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Energy will invest $1 billion to make the Northwest a hub of the hydrogen fuel industry, a key part of the bipartisan infrastructure legislation Congress passed in 2021.

President Joe Biden will announce the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub and six other regional hubs in a speech in Philadelphia on Friday, according to the White House. The administration says the eight-year grant program is expected to create 350 permanent jobs and 8,050 jobs in construction in Washington, Oregon and Montana while harnessing the region’s hydropower capacity to accelerate the nation’s adoption of lower-carbon transportation options.

“This is great news for the Pacific Northwest and for Washington state’s continued leadership in the transition to a stronger clean energy economy,” Sen. Patty Murray said in a statement. The Washington Democrat, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, added that she made the case to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm that Washington was the right place for the “monumental investment.”

The funds will go to the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association, a coalition of public and private groups in Washington, Oregon and Montana that was organized by the Washington State Department of Commerce at the direction of Gov. Jay Inslee. After the association submitted its application to the Energy Department, a bipartisan group of Washington and Oregon lawmakers sent a letter to Granholm in March in support of the region’s bid.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but pure hydrogen must be produced by separating hydrogen atoms from other molecules, most commonly by using steam to split them from methane or electricity to split them from water. The hydrogen can then be used to power trucks, ships, airplanes and other parts of the nation’s transportation infrastructure that are otherwise hard to transition away from fossil fuels.

While some of the seven regional hydrogen hubs will use natural gas to generate hydrogen, the Northwest hub will produce hydrogen exclusively from water via electrolysis, powered by hydroelectric dams and other low-carbon sources of energy.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said the Northwest was selected for the federal investment “because we’ve been innovating and collaborating on clean energy technology for decades.”

“What makes our region an ideal place for a clean hydrogen hub is that we have pioneering researchers, talented workers, and $8 billion in financial commitments to produce, transport, and use this promising new fuel,” Cantwell said in a statement. “The Pacific Northwest Hub is designed to prove that hydrogen can drive down costs and reduce emissions in aviation, maritime, and manufacturing sectors that employ thousands of Washingtonians.”

Congress authorized the money as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed in 2021 with the support of Murray, Cantwell and Idaho’s two Republican senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch. In the House, nearly all Republicans and some Democrats opposed the bill amid complicated wrangling over separate legislation, but it includes provisions that are widely popular in both parties.

Administration officials said the $7 billion in federal funds are expected to catalyze nearly $43 billion in additional investments from the private sector, supercharging the hydrogen industry across the United States.

In a statement, Granholm said unlocking the potential of hydrogen “is crucial to achieving President Biden’s goal of American industry powered by American clean energy, ensuring less volatility and more affordable clean energy options for American families and businesses.”

The other investments, ranging from $750 million to $1.2 billion, will go to California; an Appalachian hub in West Virginia, Ohio and western Pennsylvania; a Gulf Coast hub in the Houston area; a “heartland” hub in Minnesota and the Dakotas; a Mid-Atlantic hub in Delaware, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania; and a Midwest hub in Michigan, Illinois and Indiana.

The seven hubs were selected from a total of 79 applications. The Energy Department and the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Association will now negotiate the project’s objectives, budget and schedule. The funds will be disbursed in phases, with most jobs expected to be created toward the end of the eight-year project, administration officials said.