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Montana view: Hydrogen projects are ripe for Montana, NorthWestern Energy

Montana view: Hydrogen projects are ripe for Montana, NorthWestern Energy

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Time and tide wait for no man, and it's clear that the tides of climate-related change are lapping against Montana's shores.

While places like Miami Beach are uncomfortably contemplating large sea walls, the impacts are less obvious here, but they are here nonetheless.

The state, long an exporter of coal-fired power, is facing a rapidly approaching reckoning.

While Montana has not yet seen fit to do so, neighboring states like Idaho, Washington and Oregon have set hard, statutory deadlines for decarbonization. That means sources of green energy are in great demand. Coal? Not so much.

The Legislature and the executive branch of Montana's state government can whistle past this graveyard all they want, but temporary measures like trying to drag Colstrip owners into Montana to resolve their disputes, and trying to force the owners to pay for extended maintenance at the plant, are not destined to be effective.

While Puget Sound Energy, one of the Colstrip co-owners, has just contracted with the state's largest wind-power project, larger and more reliable sources of green energy are going to be required. And instead of trying to force Colstrip owners to turn back the clock with artificial measures, the state of Montana — as well as NorthWestern Energy — would do well to pay attention to the activities of Mitsubishi Power Systems in the region.

This week, Mitsubishi announced plans for a major "hydrogen hub" in North Dakota, which will include hydrogen production, transportation, storage and consumption. Mitsubishi already is a player in a huge hydrogen hub in Utah, where the gas is being stored in salt caverns and is expected to be used in a plant to power much of Los Angeles.

Even more to the point, the company is involved in a proposal to build a huge hydrogen production plant in Butte, where the plan is to electrolyze hydrogen from treated Berkeley Pit water and transport it 400 miles to the Utah storage caverns, as well as fuel a major power plant in Butte.

Mitsubishi has "gone all-in on decarbonizing energy," said Paul Browning, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Power Americas.

Projects such as these have the potential to carry Montana's economy past the inevitable closure of Colstrip with barely a hiccup — including jobs to replace those in Colstrip.

It's past time for the state and its biggest utility to be focused on projects such as these — before out-of-state interests end up with the power, the plants, the jobs and the money that such innovation will produce.

— The Billings Gazette

The Billings Gazette Editorial Board includes President and Publisher Dave Worstell, Regional Editor David McCumber, and Chief Photographer Larry Mayer.


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