The Port of Chehalis Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a motion to allow CEO Randy Mueller to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Twin Transit to eventually construct a hydrogen fuel station on its property.
The non-legally binding agreement further paves a path forward to establish the state’s first hydrogen fuel station in Lewis County, and to open up opportunities for further development of alternative fuel opportunities.
The MOU serves to memorialize a commitment of intent for both parties and identifies that the Port of Chehalis will likely serve as the home for the station, either by way of a sale agreement or lease of land.
“The port owns a number of properties that the parties believe may be suitable for Twin Transit’s future use of hydrogen fueling. Following the execution of this MOU, the parties will continue to explore whether the port has vacant property suitable for Twin Transit’s use of these purposes,” the MOU states.
Mueller said those involved are looking at a 40-acre lot at the corner of Maurin Road and Bishop Road, located just off Interstate 5 and near Twin Transit’s administrative office, though the feasibility of using the site is still being considered. He added that the port is working on updating its site plan for the area, which will more correctly show utilities and current property lines.
“Really, at this point, it’s an agreement to agree, if you will, that both parties are on the same page,” Mueller said, noting that port officials met with Twin Transit, Lewis Economic Development Council leaders and hydrogen industry specialists to consider “clusters” of additional economic opportunities around the station.
“Nobody’s saying that hydrogen is the end-all, be-all … but hydrogen does seem to be a very important piece of that and, of course, in Washington state there’s a lot of energy and efforts going out behind green fuels and green technology, specifically hydrogen, and it’s very possible we could create a cluster of those opportunities here,” Mueller said.
In a Thursday phone call, Twin Transit Executive Director Joe Clark said he saw the MOU as “an enormous step forward,” which formalizes the transit agency’s relationships with the port on the project and possibly minimizes its land-acquisition costs for the project, which has secured roughly $4.45 million in funding.
Clark said he has received word from the Douglas County Public Utilities District, the agency that will soon supply the Chehalis station with green hydrogen, that construction on its hydrogen production facility has been delayed by a couple months. Douglas County PUD officials hope to have it finished by the end of the year.
Clark said Twin Transit is hoping to have the Chehalis station open by October 2022. The following year, Twin Transit will receive a small fleet of buses equipped with hydrogen fuel cells.
The hydrogen bonds will be formed through a process called electrolysis, a proton exchange process in which electrical currents split water into its two basic forms: hydrogen and water. From there, the fuel will be trucked over the Cascades to Lewis County.
Chehalis Port Commissioner Mark Anders is concerned about that.
"My main concern is coming up with a fuel process that's local and makes sense to fuel everything. We can build all kinds of infrastructure, but the fuel is the main thing," he said.
Mueller said using Douglas County as a fuel source is fine as a test pilot, but Lewis County will need to come up with a more local option, possibly utilizing the low energy costs locally to establish its own hydrogen processing facility here.
“On a small-scale, test-pilot-project nature, that’s fine. But, of course, you’re taking clean hydrogen and putting it in a dirty diesel truck and trudging it halfway across the state, so that’s not so renewable,” he said. “We are well suited for (a hydrogen processing facility). We have the cheapest power on the west side of the mountains. We do have a bunch of space up at TransAlta that would be ideally suited, and potentially our industrial parks.”
While the hydrogen station is expected to only take up about an acre, if placed on the Bishop Road interchange property, Twin Transit and the port will look at what other office space, shopping or manufacturing that could be put on the property as part of the transit authority’s savings.
“It’s not just a standalone. We want to cluster other things around it,” Mueller said.