NCPA plans hydrogen-fueled power plant

In a first-of-its-kind project, the Northern California Power Agency is preparing to install equipment at a 304-megawatt power plant so it can burn hydrogen mixed with natural gas, a change that would lower its greenhouse gas emissions.

The plan comes as California is aiming to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

In mid-January, the NCPA’s Lodi Energy Center was hit with a sudden failure of its combustion turbine, forcing the facility offline, according to Jeremy Lawson, NCPA director of engineering.

After reviewing its options, the NCPA’s commission recently approved a plan to replace the turbine with a newer model that with planned future upgrades can handle up to 45 percent hydrogen blended with natural gas.

“This unexpected challenge provided us a chance to re-think our long-term resource strategy,” said Joel Ledesma, NCPA’s assistant general manager of generation services. “With the approval of this project, our members and project participants are making a conscious effort to expand their commitment to a cleaner energy future.”

When it was built, the fast-start Lodi power plant was designed to help California meet its renewable energy and decarbonization goals, according to Randy S. Howard, NCPA’s general manager.

“With this addition of new technology to reduce emissions through increased reliance on hydrogen, this facility will continue to set the bar for environmental stewardship and innovation,” Howard said.

The highly efficient plant can start quickly to help the California Independent System Operator meet sudden changes in supply and demand, but also run continuously like a baseload plant, according to Lawson.

NCPA expects to finish installing the new turbine at the power plant by the end of June and hopes to have the plant return to service this summer, according to Lawson. The California Energy Commission has approved the project and the NCPA is working with its air pollution control district on a revised permit for the facility, he said. Approvals from both the Energy Commission and air pollution control district are necessary in order to initiate the repair.

After the plant is operating again, the public power agency plans to begin a second phase and install hydrogen-capable combustors within the turbine, a process slated to be finished by 2023.

As part of the second phase, the NCPA will take further steps to facilitate the integration of hydrogen into the power plant’s operations. These steps include NCPA working with its members and outside resources to assess the availability of hydrogen supply and evaluate potential opportunities for both hydrogen supply and transportation to the facility.

The plant in Lodi, California, started commercial operation in 2012.

NCPA, a joint powers agency, represents its 16 public power utility members that collectively provide electricity service to more than 700,000 Californians. NCPA owns and operates a nearly 800-megawatt power portfolio, including hydroelectric, geothermal, and natural gas generation facilities.