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AltaGas outlines economic potential of ‘green’ hydrogen plant at former Intalco site

By Robert Mittendorf, The Bellingham Herald
Published: May 9, 2024, 7:37am

BELLINGHAM — A Canadian energy company described plans for a “green” hydrogen manufacturing and storage facility at the site of the former Intalco aluminum smelter in the Cherry Point industrial area west of Ferndale.

If brought to full fruition, the AltaGas Ltd. project could cost $850 million to $1 billion and provide hundreds of living wage jobs in Whatcom County during its construction phase, a company official said Wednesday.

Andrea Doyle, Altagas’ manager of stakeholder and tribal relations for Whatcom County, outlined the company’s plans at a Bellingham Regional Chamber Commerce meeting.

Doyle’s description of the project was the most information that’s been released since the Calgary-based company bought the mothballed Intalco plant in 2023.

Success with the project depends on a combination of federal funding, local political decisions and public opinion, Doyle told business leaders assembled at the Bellwether Hotel ballroom.

AltaGas is in line for funds from a total $1 billion that the U.S. Department of Energy has promised hydrogen producers in the Pacific Northwest.

“We know that we stand to get a healthy sum of that,” Doyle told The Bellingham Herald. Those federal funds are critical to the project, she said.

Doyle promised equitable hiring and training, especially for people “facing historic barriers.” Construction will require 350 to 400 workers. About 30 to 40 workers will be employed at the plant once it is operational.

Of the plant’s projected $850 million to $1 billion installed cost, “a large chunk of it will be spent locally,” she said in an interview.

Production will use a combination of hydroelectric and wind power obtained regionally, Doyle said.

The 100 metric tons of hydrogen produced at the plant will replace 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel and reduce greenhouse gases by $00,000 tons, she said.

Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu welcomed the AltaGas proposal in an email to The Herald.

“The closure of Intalco was a big loss for our community, so I’m glad to see AltaGas come in and propose a next-generation facility at this site. We need clean energy options, and now Whatcom County has the opportunity to be at the forefront of innovation in this area,” Sidhu said.

Alcoa’s Intalco Works smelter operated from more than 50 years and the 1,600-acre site. Production was curtailed in 2020 and the plant officially closed in March 2023.

Closure of the site that once employed more than 1,300 people ultimately came because the smelter “lacks access to competitively priced power and would have required significant capital expenditures to restart,” Alcoa said at the time.

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