The Port of Chehalis Commission unanimously adopted a vote authorizing CEO Randy Mueller to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Twin Transit to build a hydrogen fuel station on the port’s land in the future.

[By Arnes Biogradlija, H2 Energy News, Sept. 12, 2021]

The non-legally binding agreement paves the way for the state’s first hydrogen fuel station to be built in Lewis County, as well as new chances for alternative fuel development.

The MOU serves to document both parties’ intent and specifies that the station will most likely be housed at the Port of Chehalis, either through a sale deal or a land lease, and states, “The port possesses a number of facilities that the parties believe could be suited for Twin Transit’s future hydrogen fueling operations. Following the signing of this MOU, the parties will continue to look into whether the port has any unoccupied property that could be used for Twin Transit’s purposes.”

CEO Randy Mueller said those involved are looking at a 40-acre area near Twin Transit’s administrative headquarters on Maurin Road and Bishop Road, close off Interstate 5, though the practicality of using the site is still being studied. He also mentioned that the port is working on upgrading the area’s site plan, which will better depict utilities and current property lines.

“Really, at this point, it’s an agreement to agree,” Mueller said, adding that port officials met with Twin Transit, Lewis Economic Development Council executives, and hydrogen industry experts to examine “clusters” of new economic potential near the station.

“No one is saying hydrogen is the be-all and end-all … but hydrogen does seem to be a very important piece of that,” Mueller said. “Of course, 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.”

Twin Transit Executive Director Joe Clark described the MOU as “an enormous step forward,” saying it formalizes the transit agency’s partnerships with the port on the project and may reduce land-acquisition expenses for the project, which has received $4.45 million in funding.

The Douglas County Public Utilities District, which will shortly supply green hydrogen to the Chehalis station, has informed Clark that work on its hydrogen production facility has been delayed by a few months. Officials of the Douglas County PUD plan to finish it before the end of the year.

Twin Transit hopes to open the Chehalis station by October 2022, according to Clark. Twin Transit will get a small fleet of buses outfitted with hydrogen fuel cells the following year.

Electrolysis, a proton exchange process in which electrical currents split water into its two basic forms of hydrogen and water, will produce the hydrogen bonds. The petroleum will then be trucked across the Cascades to Lewis County. Mark Anders, the Commissioner of the Chehalis Port, is concerned about this.

“My biggest focus is devising a localized fueling method that makes sense for everything. We can construct any type of infrastructure, but the most important factor is fuel,” he stated.

As a test pilot, Mueller said using Douglas County as a fuel source is okay, but Lewis County will need to come up with a more local option, perhaps exploiting the cheap energy costs in the area to build its own hydrogen processing facility.

“That’s acceptable on a small-scale, test-pilot-project basis. However, you’re putting pure hydrogen in a dirty diesel truck and driving it halfway across the state, so it’s not exactly renewable,” he stated. “We’re the right people for the job (a hydrogen processing facility). On the west side of the mountains, we have the cheapest power. We have a lot of room at TransAlta that would be perfect for it, as well as our industrial parks.”

While the hydrogen station will only take up approximately an acre of land if it is built on the Bishop Road interchange property, Twin Transit and the port will look at what additional office space, shopping, or manufacturing could be built there to help the transit authority save money.

“It is not a stand-alone product. We’d like to build a cluster around it,” according to Mueller.