SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Utah’s largest coal factory is set to get a major facelift in the next four years.
Green hydrogen, once dubbed Freedom Fuel by President George W. Bush, is making a major comeback.
The Intermountain Power Project is set to convert its Delta coal plant into a green hydrogen plant beginning next year to create renewable energy for the region.
IPP is about two hours southwest of Salt Lake City, along State Route 174. The plant began producing power for 35 entities across six states in 1986.
Nearly 400 people work inside the coal plant where turbine generators produce 1,800 megawatts of energy.
“The new plant will have a smaller footprint,” Intermountain Power Agency Spokesperson John Ward tells us. “When it became apparent that the coal units couldn’t remain open beyond the expiration of the power purchase agreement in 2025, what can you do with all that infrastructure?”
In 2025, the new plant will begin using hydrogen and natural gas to create 840 megawatts of energy, with the ability to boost power capacity up to 2,400 megawatts.
Using existing power lines connecting Utah to Nevada and California, the Intermountain Power Agency will send 100% green hydrogen power from Milliard County in 2045.
How are engineers going to pull off the electrifying task?
Utah sits on the largest salt dome in the west.
“The salt dome under the Intermountain Power Project is so large that it has the capacity for storing more energy than all the installed batteries in the entire world,” says Ward.
It’s called Long-Duration Energy Storage.
Engineers will produce and store hydrogen in off-seasons, like the spring and fall to burn in the summer and winter when energy use typically goes up.
Engineers can drill 3,000 feet underground creating salt caverns where they can store hydrogen. Each cavern is about the size of the Empire State Building.
“The costs of this project are born by the people who buy the power. And, over the history of this project, greater than 98% of that power has been purchased by California entities,” Ward adds.
“Creating an energy future for everyone is critically important,” says Ex. Director Green Hydrogen Coalition Dr. Laura Nelson.
You see, Dr. Nelson used to work in Governor Gary Herberts administration. She knows when the Delta coal plant shuts down, some Utahns will be out of work. But, she also knows about Utah’s ability to export power, and hydrogen can be globally traded.
“The growth potential is really significant in terms of all those ancillary services, and these are high-paying technical jobs,” she says.
Some of those jobs will revolve around chemical manufacturing and the transportation industry where the government is planning on investing big money.
“It will be very important in being able to attract those other pieces of the industry to the project,” Ward adds. “As we get hydrogen going here for power generation, that’s going to lay a base for a whole bunch of new industries that might be able to use that hydrogen as well.”
Experts say hydrogen can be exported out of Utah using the existing railways.
North Salt Lake’s Representative Melissa Ballard says that is where the controversial Inland Port comes in to play.
“Their mission is to be green, and the Inland Port will be able to have the applications for hydrogen, for zero emissions, and so allow them to be able to encourage zero-emission trucks, zeros emissions warehouses, and backup generators. Let them be a part of planning for better air quality in our community,” says Rep. Ballard.
If it works, lawmakers have bigger plans for Utah’s coal plants.
“We want to be able to take our existing plants and convert them to clean energy,” she adds.
Dr. Nelson tells us, “Rural Utah has been an important part of our energy ecosystem and I think that they will be for many, many decades.”