Green hydrogen deal shows Selkirk ‘leading the way’ in transition away from carbon economy

Plans are being finalized in the city of Selkirk to bring a facility to town that will produce and distribute green hydrogen, but while city officials are touting the project as one that will be good for the economy and the environment, they say they also hope it gives Manitobans a better idea of what green hydrogen is, and why it’s important in the fight against climate change.

Selkirk, a city of about 10,000 residents located about 20 kilometres north of Winnipeg, has finalized a lease agreement with the Charbone Hydrogen Corporation that will see a facility built on city land to produce and distribute green hydrogen. It will be the first of its kind in Manitoba.

Green hydrogen is hydrogen produced by splitting water by electrolysis and energy created by the process is created while not emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

“It’s really like that science experiment kids do in high school where you take an electric current, you run it through water and it separates the oxygen and the hydrogen,” Selkirk CAO Duane Nicol said.

“And then you can take that hydrogen and use it for whatever purpose you have.”

And as cities look to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, one purpose that Nicol said the city of Winnipeg and other major centres are considering is using green hydrogen in the future to fuel public transit, because it could be a better option than switching entire fleets over to electric vehicles.

“A great example of its use is in public transit,” Nicol said. “We see a move over to electric buses, but the challenge with electric buses and in Winnipeg in particular, is that you are using so much power just to heat the cabin of the bus, so the range the buses can travel can be short before they have to recharge.”

Nicol added green hydrogen can also be used to heat homes and large buildings, and with a facility that will produce it coming to the province and not far from Winnipeg, he believes it will be an incentive for local companies, governments and organizations to consider it more seriously as a fuel source option.

“You see people and see governments talking about getting off fossil fuels, and that will now be a greater possibility here in Manitoba, because we will have that production capacity locally,” he said.

“So what we want to see is that it escalates that transition over to a carbon-free society, which is the ultimate goal.”

Curtis Hull has spent years focused on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in this province and across the globe as the project director at Winnipeg-based Climate Change Connection.

Hull said although he does not see green hydrogen as something that should move society away from seeking more electric options for fuel, there are areas where the product can be highly valuable.

“Electricity is a huge part of making that transition away from fossil fuels, and that won’t change,” Hull said.

“But I think green hydrogen has a role to play. We want to see more passenger vehicles on the road that are electric, but it could be a good option and have benefits for large operations like public transit.

“Green hydrogen will have a part to play in that energy transition that we are trying to achieve.”

He also applauded Selkirk for the work they have done to bring the facility to southern Manitoba.

“This is very significant, because it shows a government leading the way, and that is something that can be modelled and something other municipalities can learn from, because it is governments that need to be showing the way and showing the direction on this, and that is what we are seeing here.”

Charbone said they are now in the process of environmental assessment with the province, and plan to begin construction of the multi-phase project in Selkirk soon, with an expectation to begin operations in the facility by the fall of 2023.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun