DOUGLAS — Nordex USA is hoping to break ground on a privately-funded $2.2 billion clean hydrogen extraction/fuel plant located in Niobrara and Converse counties by late 2025 or early 2026, according to Aspen Consulting President Mike Noonan.
Nordex USA, based in Chicago, is Noonan’s client. The Nordex parent company, based in Germany, has been manufacturing wind turbines globally for several decades. Noonan has had several meetings with Niobrara County commissioners and other entities in that county, as well as Converse and Niobrara landowners who are located in what the Wyoming State Engineers Office (SEO) calls the Green Zone.
The area Nordex is looking at is between Lusk and Douglas, overlapping the two counties fairly equally, Noonan said.
“Niobrara has extreme wind. Water is more abundant in Converse County in the green area; that’s what we’re studying now,” he said.
At this time, Noonan said, he and his clients are in “our early siting element. This is new technology and we’re very early in our study stage. The project is estimated at $2.2 billion. It depends on what comes into play during construction, whether we have to build a water pipeline. The client’s initial investment is north of $2 billion.”
In addition to the Niobrara County Commission, Noonan said he has had several meetings with other stakeholders. Some of those meetings have been attended by Niobrara residents and landowners, with the most recent one about three weeks ago in Lusk.
At that meeting, landowners vehemently voiced their concerns about the volume of water the plant will use to extract the hydrogen – approximately 700 gallons per minute – and how the extraction and use of so much water will affect their own wells and watering their livestock.
It’s a legitimate concern, as water is literally life in the Cowboy State.
North Platte River Coordinator Michelle Gess at the State Engineer’s Office said her office has a strong concern for the community’s issues. She’s been working on the project with Noonan and Nordex for a couple of months.
“We are working with them on the project to make sure they are following our rules and regulations. We’ve had internal meetings to go over what’s required. I think they’re really trying to get the community involved in the process.
“They have not come to us yet with any applications. We’re waiting until we receive the applications and not speculate on how things could be done,” she said.
Gess also said land in the Green Zone in Converse and Niobrara counties is not connected to the Platte River drainage so “they can drill anywhere in the green areas.”
The plant would sit on 80,000-100,000 acres, Noonan said, predominantly within agricultural lands.
The company “would not be locating the plant next to a community, such as Douglas, Lance Creek, Shawnee or Lusk. If you are going to build an energy project, it is not compatible with communities (for safety reasons),” he said. “It is a gigawatt-sized wind ranch with about 200 wind turbines. The hydrogen processing plant will take up about 60 acres. The wind ranch will be the power plant; it goes to the processing plant. Then water – the biggest part of this is where we will get the water . . . then a water pipeline and storage facility for the water at the plant for on-demand water,” he explained.
The proposed project will be a one gigawatt (or 1,000 megawatts) wind ranch - power plant.
Project details provided stated wind energy will be supplemented with solar. The clean hydrogen extracted may then be combined with either nitrogen to make ammonia or with carbon dioxide to make synthetic fuel using well-established chemical processes, he said.
“We’re looking at building the biggest one in the state. We’re looking at sites in other states, but Wyoming is pushing faster, farther because Wyoming’s government and the Wyoming Energy Authority (WEA) are really wanting to get on hydrogen. WEA has three pilot programs. It makes us think we want to spend more time here.
“Wyoming is an energy state and an energy leader. None of us know in 10 years what the prime energy will be, but they recognize (hydrogen extraction) is worth exploring. The mantra isn’t to say no – it’s to explore, study and drive everything,” he stated.
To say water is a big deal in Wyoming is an understatement. For many of the state’s 575,000 residents, water is everything. Where the water for the hydrogen extraction plant will come from may be the most important question right now.
The Lusk Herald reported Dec. 8 that residents at one meeting pointed out the source of the aquifers is largely unknown and overusing them can cause problems, especially when combined with drought.
Noonan told the paper that “eight to 12 industrial wells will be needed to supply 700 gallons a minute at all times” and that “they will not use landowners’ ag wells and will make their own industrial wells.”
Noonan said Nordex is taking people’s comments seriously.
In fact, following the meeting earlier this month with Niobrara residents, he said he sent the clients an email written with huge red letters – WATER IS A PROBLEM.
“Water is one of our major considerations. The water solution won’t be easy. It has to happen with a lot of approvals at the local level and at the state level. It is not new to me that water would be an issue. It is serious. We’re looking at multiple options, for example, there are several power plants getting decommissioned in Wyoming soon. We’re studying the ability to go in and either buy or lease industrial class water from PacifiCorp and use it for the hydrogen project,” Noonan admitted.
Noonan confirmed the Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant outside of Glenrock (scheduled to be decommissioned in 2027) is one of those.
He said Nordex would get the water from DJ to the proposed plant site with a pipeline.
The company is also studying the possibility of floating water down from DJ on the North Platte River, but it’s not sure that would work.
“PacifiCorp would have to agree to sell or lease their water, but PacifiCorp is submitting applications for pump storage for potential projects of their own. Then, there’s another option – leasing water from ranchers/landowners who are already selling it to oil companies.
“(Water) is consumptive use – if you don’t use it, you lose it. Currently, there are ranchers selling water to oil and gas companies already, wondering who they can sell their water to in three years when the (oil companies) are gone? They say they’re selling way more than what they need,” Noonan said.
It’s going to take time to figure out, he said.
“Timing is important. With water laws and water rights, there’s still a lot that needs to happen. So far, we feel like there are a lot of options to pursue. We have no intent to dry up Niobrara. The water from Lance Creek west to the Douglas highway, the corridor there is in the green area for drilling zones. That’s where the ranchers are selling water to the oil companies. We are doing our studies; we’ll do more studies. We haven’t submitted any applications yet.”
Noonan said he has “less than 10 landowners/ranchers we’re dealing with in a significant way, located in Converse and Niobrara counties.”
“They are really interested. We don’t have any contracts yet. The best part of this is the cattle will be able to graze right up to the base of the (wind) turbines. Farmers can farm right up to the base of the turbines. The current ag uses wouldn’t change. It would be an enhancement to those ranchers to have the extra income,” he said.
Noonan said admittedly, there are layers upon layers of siting criteria to examine first. “We have to look at major roads to (the project), rail and other transportation, pipeline for the plant, not locating it near a community. Our program is all volunteer. If we don’t have willing landowners, we don’t have a project.”
Hydrogen is a clean, hot burning fuel, 18 times more combustible than gasoline and the by-product it leaves behind is oxygen.
Noonan said safety measures will be in place at the plant as they would be in any fuel facility. In addition, the company is researching how it would transport the hydrogen, once it’s been extracted and turned into fuel.
“I’m curious to see what it’s going to look like. The Nordex Wyoming program is for domestic consumption, which means we will build it, then we have to ship it via trans-load, with trucks and rail, so we’re looking at rail infrastructure. We can mix it with natural gas and ship it with a pipeline. Not every pipeline can have hydrogen or ammonia in it. We’ll see where the technology is in a year or two. It depends on where it is going. There may be a hub in Utah that takes it to the West Coast. We have options,” he said.
The company estimates to employ between 590-850, with numbers highest during construction, and 30-50 on the wind ranch, Noonan said. The construction phase could employ 500-700 people over three years.
“The processing plant component could employ 60-100 full-time staff. Those of us on the front end are being mindful of the infrastructure that will require. We’re looking at Douglas, Lusk, Casper, Cheyenne. It’s a lot of jobs. That all gets rolled into the ISC (Industrial Siting Council) application. We have to show a really credible plan for housing, transportation and so much more.
“If the local sand and gravel specs out, there is a good opportunity that Nordex would build on-site and that would be another 150 jobs,” he said.
Noonan said he is hoping to have substantial landowner lease agreements in place by April 1. Those agreements will then trigger all of the field studies, exploratory well programs, environmental science studies and monitoring, which would have to be done to meet regulatory requirements.
“It will take two to three years for the studies. We hope to be shovel ready by the end of 2025, but it could go into 2026. (Wyoming) Game and Fish may want a large game migration study through the eastern part of the state. It could go to three years. Until we have more of a footprint on the landowners who want to sign up and participate, there are (unknown) variables,” he said.
At the meeting in Lusk earlier this month, Noonan said he was working with Converse County commissioners, too, but Commission Chairman Jim Willox said there was an informal meeting with Noonan several months ago and an email exchange or two since then.
“It is a stretch to say he is working with Converse County. We haven’t sat down for a formal presentation with him or anything along those lines. We are aware of the Nordex green hydrogen facility, but to say we’re working together is a bit much. No permits have been issued. They have to go through permitting with ISC and several others.
“Nothing has been filed with us,” Willox said.
However, Willox expects to meet with Noonan soon, he said, maybe even this month, if they can get their schedules to coincide.
“We met with Jim and his group, and folks from The Enterprise, informally. We got good questions from their group. They’re quite astute. I enjoyed that meeting. It’s more informal, for now,” Noonan said more recently.
More formal public meetings are in store as the project moves forward, Noonan said. He’s also hoping to have open house style meetings in the future.
“Right now we have nothing that shows us to put on the brakes. Everything shows us to keep researching and keep studying. I feel my client wants a win-win for everyone. I think there can be some positives, but only time will prove this.
“Nordex is working worldwide on hydrogen . . . hydrogen projects of this scale as what (we’re looking at) don’t exist yet. We’ll know in the next year if there are any fatal flaws in the Wyoming program. Wind is there.
“The biggest (issue) will be the water. If it is too expensive or if the water isn’t reliable, they are not going to invest $2 billion. It’s going to be an interesting year,” he said.