L.A. Aims to be First to Power U.S. City With Renewable Hydrogen

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Los Angeles is aiming to become the first city in the nation to use renewable hydrogen to produce electricity, with the goal of ending the use of carbon-based natural gas entirely.

The city has a two-step plan to replace 1,900 megawatts of coal-fired generation produced at a Utah power plant owned by theIntermountain Power Agency. The first step: Build a pair of gas-fired units able to produce 840 megawatts apiece using natural gas by 2025. The goal then is to link the units to a $1 billionstorage project adjacent to the plant where hydrogen — one of the planet’s most plentiful elements — can increasingly be substituted to replace gas altogether

Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Ltd. won the contract for the turbines last month with the promise the new plant will be able to make a faster transition away from gas to renewable hydrogen, said Paul Browning, the chief executive officer of Mitsubishi’s America’s unit. The deal is being announced on Tuesday.

“California has really ambitious goals to decarbonize their power grid so our customer LADWP doesn’t see any path without hydrogen,” Browning said in telephone interview, referring to theLos Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Burning 100% hydrogen in the gas-fired turbines will take some work, but he said, “we are going to get there before 2045. We definitely think it’s possible to get there in 10 years or less.”

To create cheap, carbon-free renewable hydrogen, excess solar and wind power produced in California would be imported on a 2.4 gigawatt high-voltage line leading to the site. The same line would be used to send it to Los Angeles, which is expected to buy about 65% of the power produced. The rest could go elsewhere in the state.

Environmental activists aretargeting natural gas as a carbon-based fuel that’s outlived its role as a bridge to renewables. Once widely heralded as the transition to cleaner energy, the fossil fuel has come under attack as wind and solar power have become cheaper to develop and amid heightened concerns about global warming. The Intermountain plant will run on 30% renewable hydrogen when it begins operations in 2025.

Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems is one of the world’s largest makers of heavy-duty gas turbines that can operate both around-the-clock, or be ramped up and down during renewable generation that can be intermittent. The total price tag for the Intermountain Power Project is about $1.9 billion, including the cost of gas, service contracts and other infrastructure, Browning said.

Replacing a coal plant like at Intermountain with gas would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 65%, and combining that gas with a 30% hydrogen mix leads to a 75% reduction, Browning said. For the project to get to 100% hydrogen, the company will need to make equipment adjustments and “we need more renewables,” Browning said.

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