A pioneering project to produce hydrogen to generate green and clean electricity is coming to DeBary.
Duke Energy is planning to build a hydrogen-production and storage facility on land it owns on the west side of the city, adjacent to the utility’s massive solar farm. The facility, which Duke says is to be the first of its kind for the company, will separate hydrogen from reclaimed water and store the gas on the site.
“The project before you is to provide this hydrogen-production facility to commingle natural gas with hydrogen and generate electricity. The reason that the project is being undertaken is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions,” Richard Zwolak, a consultant working with Duke Energy, told the DeBary City Council June 21.
With a unanimous vote, the council approved on first reading an ordinance amending the company’s industrial planned-unit development (IPUD) to permit the project. The second and final reading of the amendment will be at the City Council’s July 19 meeting.
The hydrogen facility comes amid the push toward reducing carbon emissions, notably carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. To accomplish such reductions, the Inflation Reduction Act passed by the Congress and signed by President Biden last year, grants incentives and tax credits to utilities investing in such “green,” or environmentally friendly, projects.
Duke puts the cost of the hydrogen-production and storage facility at $100 million, and the IRA provides a 30-percent tax credit for the capital investment in such a project.
“The federal government put incentives into this to get utilities to move there,” Mayor Karen Chasez said. “Yes, they’re going to benefit, and there’s big money.”
When will it be constructed?
“It will start early next year, as far as installing the equipment,” lead engineer for the project, Kristen Cooper, told The Beacon.
The facility is supposed to be completed by the end of 2024.
When finished and operating, the hydrogen complex will complement Duke’s small power plant close by. Some of the hydrogen will be blended with natural gas to power gas turbines, while other produced hydrogen will be placed in containers for storage.
For several years, Duke Energy has had on the site a “peaking” electric-power plant, which is used to produce electricity during periods of peak or highly increased demand, such as extra-hot days in the summer and unseasonably cold weather in the winter. The peaking plant sits on 1,121 acres Duke acquired when it replaced Progress Energy as the electricity supplier for customers in the latter’s franchise area in West Volusia.
The Progress Energy IPUD, located north of Highbanks Road and west of Dutchmans Bend, was established in 1999. The property includes 4 45 acres packed with 300,000 solar photovoltaic panels capable of producing almost 75 megawatts of electricity daily. Of that electrical output, approximately 2 million watts will be used to power the hydrogen-production facility. The hydrogen facility will be built on 1.77 acres next to the solar farm, according to information Duke has filed with DeBary officials.
“I am very happy to see this will be reclaimed use,” Chasez said. “I’m glad we’re going to reclaimed [water], because I don’t want to see water pulled from the aquifer.”
Chasez added she is “a little bit concerned about hydrogen.”
“It is a gas that needs to be very carefully handled,” she said.
Others sounded cautions about the project.
Joseph Del Rocco said he lives nearby.
“It starts out small. How big does this get?” he asked the City Council.
“This is for the production of hydrogen fuel. It’s not for this peaker plant, anymore,” Del Rocco said, adding the project “is going to grow very quickly.”
“Is it commensurate to the risk we’re going to take?” he asked.
Council Member Patricia Stevenson followed up on the concerns.
“We do have several neighborhoods right around the solar-panels site,” she said.
“And the possibility of leaks or fires and explosive risk and safety protocol — and things like that, but as far as the closeness to the residential zones, is there any risk to them if there’s a fire or explosion?” Stevenson asked.
“I don’t think there would be, even in a catastrophic event,” Zwolak replied. “It would be much like propane tanks that are for sale in retail establishments, like gas stations. It’s very different fuel types. … This would be a gas and would be more of a quicker flash than long-standing burning.”
DeBary/Orange City Fire Chief Ronnie Long confirmed he has talked with Duke Energy’s representatives regarding the hydrogen facility. Long expressed confidence in the safety planning for extracting and storing hydrogen.
“Our fire marshal has been contacted,” he said. “There has been a lot of overengineering.”