Economy Op-Ed: Hydrogen is Solution to Montana's Energy Woes

Op-Ed: Hydrogen is Solution to Montana’s Energy Woes

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Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci (Republican) and Energy Leader, John Mues (Democrat) both agree that Montana’s energy facilities need converted to hydrogen rather than to be torn down

Extreme weather events – frigid cold, sweltering heat, and various natural disasters – are a matter of life and death for countless Montanans and Americans every year.  One of the mitigators in reducing chance of injury or death during such events is firm, reliable power, which keeps families warm during the coldest and cool during hottest days.  In addition, hospitals, assisted living centers, and other critical facilities depend on reliable power.

As evidenced by the recent rolling brown outs in Montana, Texas, and other states in the middle of freezing temperatures that have swept our country, there is a major problem with America’s power generation system.

This isn’t the typical traditional energy (coal, oil, and natural gas) versus renewable energy (wind and solar) argument.  During this brown out crisis, both renewables and traditional energy have underperformed.  Traditional energy plants have been neglected because of inadequate attention to upkeep and reinvestment.  Renewable energy assets, on the other hand, have been designed and implemented in a way that can make such assets useless right when they are needed most, such as in a deep freeze.  Together, demand for power exceeds supply, causing huge increases in the costs of marketed power and leaving far too many Americans without essential electricity.

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We – one of us a Republican and the other a Democrat – have several suggestions:

–       Unless for structural reasons, do not rush to demolish or otherwise decommission non-operating traditional energy assets that, for political or profitability reasons, no longer appear viable.  Such assets should be available to be brought back online in the event of extreme, foreseeable weather, such as what our nation has been experiencing.  While we recognize that it is not always easy to bring a non-operable plant back to life, we also believe that there are gradations of being put into non-use.  Analogously, the U.S. Navy decommissions and moth balls unused ships; but it also places certain ships in various stages of non-use, requiring relatively little to make them operational again.  We believe a small investment of time, money, and creativity in positioning such assets for a potential return to action during historically hot or cold months would be in everyone’s best interests and help prevent the kinds of brown outs we’re seeing today.

–       Related to the above, we also believe many such energy assets may be retrofitted to support an energy type that both Republicans and Democrats could get behind:  Hydrogen.  For example, with Hydrogen, not only can utility-scale power be generated – either through specialized turbines or fuel cells – but hydrogen can support everything from Agriculture to Construction to Transportation (if not directly then through products derived from Hydrogen).  Hydrogen, when used, emits only water vapor.  Hydrogen can also be produced using the widest range of feedstocks – coal, natural gas, wind, solar, and hydro – in a zero-emissions manner, resulting in many well-paid jobs.  Hydrogen is also a firm, reliable, non-intermittent source of power.  Hydrogen, when transformed, can be exported to other markets.  Lastly, we believe that Hydrogen represents common ground encouraging folks of all political stripes to come together.

–       Hydrogen, in addition to being firm power, is also a means by which intermittent power from wind and solar can be stored and released to the electrical grid when power demand exceeds supply, as we’re currently experiencing.  While batteries may also serve such a purpose, stored Hydrogen can provide power for much longer stretches of time than batteries.  And, Hydrogen can be produced in the United States and, unlike batteries, is not reliant on the supply chains of (predominantly) China and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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While we recognize that other solutions are also needed, the remedies above would go far in championing the most reliable power system, bringing Americans from all political backgrounds together, and, frankly, saving lives during extreme weather events.                   

[Editor’s Note: By Randy Pinocci, MT Public Service Commissioner, and John Mues, CEO of Cyan H2, a Montana-based LLC.  Mr. Pinocci can be reached at pinocci@3rivers.net and Mr. Mues at team@CyanH2.com]




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