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Officials With Energy Northwest, Douglas County PUD Detail SMR, Hydrogen Efforts

At a recent Northwest Public Power Association conference, Jason Herbert, Senior Director for External Strategy at Energy Northwest, detailed the joint action agency’s plans for the development of small modular reactors, while Meaghan Vibbert, Public Information Officer at Washington State’s Douglas County PUD, provided an update on the PUD’s renewable hydrogen project.

Herbert and Vibbert participated in a panel at the Northwest Public Power Association’s Northwest Innovations in Communications Conference in Santa Rosa, Calif., last week.  Another panelist, Brent Bischoff, General Manager and CEO of Oregon’s Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative, discussed the cooperative’s pursuit of an offshore floating wind project.

In July, Energy Northwest and X-Energy Reactor Company LLC announced the signing of a joint development agreement for up to 12 advanced small modular reactors in central Washington capable of generating up to a total of 960 megawatts of electricity. 

Under the agreement, the project is expected to be developed at a site controlled by Energy Northwest adjacent to the JAA’s Columbia Generating Station. 

“We think this is an ideal place to build and to tap into some existing infrastructure capacity and transmission capacity that we have out there,” Herbert said.

One of things that is attractive about the SMR technology is that there is continuous online refueling, Herbert said.

While existing traditional nuclear power plants have to undergo refueling outages, X-Energy’s SMR design never has to go offline for a refueling outage, he pointed out.

In addition, the SMR design is attractive to Energy Northwest because it is scalable, said Herbert. “We can license up to 12 80-megawatt modules – so 960 megawatts of total output on one site, but we don’t have to build all 12 of them at first,” he noted.

“We can start with four, which is what our current plan is to do, so 320 megawatts, but we’ll license it” with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for 12 modules.

“The plan is to have this come online in 2031 and, if in 2035, a big industrial end user or a data center comes to us and says, hey, we need 400 megawatts – we can say, OK, in three years we can add in four more modules because we’ve already gotten the license for them, we don’t have to go back to the NRC,” he said.

“The way I describe it is we’re building a parking lot with 12 spaces and we’re only allowing four cars, but anytime we want to buy more cars we don’t have to build additional spaces,” he said.

Another advantage with the SMR technology is that fuel is a variable cost. “When you back this reactor down, your fuel is not cycling through the plant anymore, whereas with existing plants, your fuel is a fixed cost, you’re refueling every two years,” he said. With SMRs, “we could save up to forty percent on our fuel when we load follow, which is a huge advantage, especially as we see more penetration of intermittent renewables on the grid.”

Herbert also detailed the safety features of the X-Energy SMRs.

Energy Northwest is a Washington state public power joint operating agency. Energy Northwest comprises 28 public power member utilities, serving more than 1.5 million customers.

Douglas County PUD Hydrogen Project

Meanwhile, Douglas County PUD’s Vibbert provided details on the PUD’s green hydrogen project.

Earlier this year, the PUD said that it was moving ahead with the second phase of its green hydrogen project.

Specifically, Douglas County PUD Commissioners Ronald Skagen, Aaron Viebrock and Molly Simpson recently approved the purchase of a second 5-megawatt electrolyzer. Delivery of the second electrolyzer is expected to take 24 months.

The pilot project will provide flexibility to Douglas PUD operations at its Wells Hydroelectric Project.

Generation requests can be sent to the hydrogen electrolyzer to reduce the mechanical adjustments necessary at the Wells Hydroelectric Project to balance the grid. This will reduce the maintenance necessary on the turbine units and associated equipment.

Vibbert noted that the hydrogen project is being designed so that it can be scaled up to approximately 100 megawatts.

The hydrogen will also be sold for industrial purposes and as transportation fuel, Vibbert said.

She said that the PUD anticipates production to start at the hydrogen facility in June 2024.

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