About 18 months ago, Economic Alliance of Lewis County Executive Director Richard DeBolt wrote a commentary for The Chronicle questioning my intelligence for asking critical questions about a proposed hydrogen project.
Now, here we are, with information coming out that the other two county commissioners had non-disclosure agreements regarding the project; the Economic Alliance Board claims transparency; and a Lewis County Public Utility District (PUD) commissioner with similar questions and concerns as I raised back then.
Thank you, PUD Commissioner Mike Hadaller, for looking into this on behalf of the ratepayers of Lewis County.
My questions and concerns regarding the proposed hydrogen facility remain:
1.) Who is paying for construction?
Concern: Fortescue’s “green” spin-off FFI is applying for U.S. tax dollars through the Department of Energy’s Hydrogen Hub multi-billion dollar grant program. In other words, we will pay for an Australia-based corporation’s construction costs.
2.) It is claimed the Centralia School District will benefit by receiving property tax dollars from the facility. How much will they get?
Concern: Washington state law has been altered to grant exemptions to green energy facilities, including hydrogen. I have asked and no one has been able to explain why Fortescue’s plant would not qualify for these exemptions.
3.) Where will they get the 300 megawatts of electricity they need to run the plant?
Concern: They don’t know, or aren’t willing to say. The problem we have is that we’re going to be short approximately 240 megawatts of electricity when the coal plant comes offline. (For comparison, the entire City of Centralia uses 30 megawatts.) Adding Fortescue’s hydrogen plant puts us at a deficit of 540 megawatts. We all know what happens to prices when something becomes scarce.
4.) Who will be buying and using the hydrogen they produce?
Concern: Again, Fortescue does not know or will not tell. I don’t believe a billionaire corporate head would build a plant without knowing the market for the product. A quick look at the market shows us that Asia, primarily China, is the main importer of hydrogen.
5.) How many jobs will this plant produce?
Concern: Fortescue is estimating between 35-65 jobs for operating the plant. As for construction, they noted that much of the plant needs specialized construction labor, which we all know means flying in skilled labor teams and leaving the unskilled labor to locals.
From what I can determine, U.S. taxpayers will be giving $600 million to a foreign corporation so that our electricity and water can be turned into a product shipped to China. Fortescue and its investors will profit. China will benefit. In exchange, we’ll get around 35 jobs, no relief to the taxpayers of the Centralia School District and a high risk of increased electricity rates to Lewis County residents.
We will pay to be an energy mining colony for China. Why would we do this?
The Economic Alliance has now twice stated they will host a public forum to answer these questions. Let’s find a date on the calendar.
Lindsey R. Pollock is a Lewis County commissioner representing District 2.