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Kern attracts another 'green hydrogen' energy project

Nov. 28—A large-scale "green hydrogen" project in Kern County has been announced that would convert 75 megawatts of photovoltaic solar power into fuel for vehicles including heavy-duty trucks.

The joint venture between an Irish-Portuguese designer of electrolysis systems called Fusion Fuel and Electus Energy, a Los Angeles company focused on regional transportation infrastructure, is proposed to be built at an undisclosed, 320-acre location at an estimated cost of about $180 million.

If a planned conceptual study leads to a decision to proceed in early 2024, the project is expected to produce 9,300 tons of hydrogen per year, enough to power more than 1,000 Class 8 trucks of buses per day starting in the first half of 2025, according to a news release finalized Monday morning.

The proposal represents Kern's second publicly announced plan to develop green hydrogen, so named because the fuel would be produced using only renewable energy. A $55-70 million project disclosed in November 2021 would turn 15 megawatts of wind power from the Tehachapi area into hydrogen for fueling heavy-duty trucks and forklifts.

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In California's leading energy-producing region, hydrogen has gained attention as a possible alternative to not only diesel but also electric batteries, which are heavier and take longer to reenergize. Hydrogen requires water to produce, which is one potential drawback locally, and as a transportation fuel would likely compete against renewable natural gas from dairies, landfills and agricultural waste.

Chief Commercial Officer Jason Baran at Fusion Fuel said in today's release that Kern is the "ideal project to anchor our North American strategy" because of the county's advantageous solar irradiance, state tax incentives and proximity to potential customers — in this case, tractor-trailers whose emissions have historically contributed to the region's poor air quality.

Fusion's co-head, Zachary Steele, added that the company's development plans in North America accelerated dramatically with the passage this year of the federal Inflation Reduction Act, whose "production and investment tax credits promise to significantly improve the already attractive economics of our solar-to-hydrogen solution in many markets across the U.S."

Fusion Fuel is known for creating a modular system for making hydrogen from solar energy using a miniaturized electrolysis machine that relies on what's called polymer electrolyte membrane technology.

Its partner, Electus Energy, builds infrastructure for making and distributing hydrogen for commercial and municipal transportation fleets.

Kansas-based construction engineering company Black & Veatch has been tapped to perform the project's concept study. Bakersfield's Cornerstone Engineering Inc. and New York-based Headwaters Solutions were also named in today's release as being part of the project.

Lorelei Oviatt, who would almost certainly have a central role in guiding the project through approval as director of the Kern County Planning and Natural Resources Department, declined to comment on the joint proposal.