Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Proposed hydrogen hub causes controversy in New Mexico | Local news

A proposal to increase New Mexico’s hydrogen production in the hopes of uniting environmentalists and the fossil fuel industry behind a supposedly cleaner source of energy instead divides them further in the fight against climate change.

The government of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to present a bill in the upcoming legislature that will provide tax incentives to develop the infrastructure and supply chain for a low-carbon hydrogen economy she describes.

The Democratic governor and her allies are touting the proposed Hydrogen Hub Act as reducing the state’s economic dependence on the fossil fuel industry while helping New Mexico create jobs and reduce global warming greenhouse gases.

But a fossil fuel would stay in the mix.

The plan envisages separating hydrogen from natural gas, capturing the carbon dioxide and storing it underground, creating what is known as “blue hydrogen”. It would have a wide range of applications, from driving electric power plants to refueling vehicles and heating houses.

The natural gas component has generated fierce opposition from environmental groups and caution from some state democratic lawmakers who believe that blue hydrogen is better for industry than the climate.

Critics point to a recent peer-reviewed study that found that blue hydrogen has a 20 percent greater carbon footprint than burning natural gas or coal to generate heat.

“Going for blue hydrogen at all is not a climate change solution,” said Tom Solomon, a retired electrical engineer and co-coordinator of 350 New Mexico, an environmental group.

It is different from green hydrogen, which is separated from water by electrolysis using renewable energy to power the process, Solomon said.

Green hydrogen, which uses huge amounts of water, could at some point be used for transatlantic flights and overland transportation, for example, if electric batteries were difficult to recharge, he said.

Right now, the top priority is to cut fossil fuel emissions as quickly as possible to avert a climate catastrophe, and hydrogen detracts from that pursuit, Solomon added.

Nevertheless, the governor is vigorously committed to her government’s current blue hydrogen plan.

“Hydrogen for an energy state means more jobs, and we want that in every context,” Lujan Grisham said in a podcast earlier this year. “The second vision we have here is that hydrogen in the energy environment will provide us with a clean energy platform and continue to meet our goals for renewable energy and decarbonization.”

The industry would benefit

The bill coincides with the recently passed federal infrastructure package, which is allocating $ 8 billion to create four hydrogen hubs across the country, preferably in the oil-richest states.

New Mexico ranks second after Texas in fossil fuel production, which qualifies it for federal money.

Maddy Hayden, the governor’s spokeswoman, wrote in an email that producers would be rewarded with more generous tax breaks for producing lower carbon hydrogen.

The tax incentives would encourage companies to set up the infrastructure required for the production and delivery of hydrogen and to install filling stations.

A spokesman for the oil and gas trading group said the industry supports state and federal efforts to produce hydrogen.

“The industry is committed to working with all policymakers to expand the commercial uses of our oil and natural gas resources, including natural gas-made hydrogen,” wrote Robert McEntyre, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, in an e- Mail. “Because of our energy leadership and enormous oil and natural gas reserves, these are the ideas New Mexico should embrace.”

However, the guidelines must be “technology neutral,” which means they don’t prescribe a specific method, such as using renewable energy, added McEntyre.

The proposed bill will allow New Mexico to capitalize on a global trend and help decarbonize industries lacking an alternative source of energy, said State Department of Environment spokesman Matt Maez.

“The hydrogen economy is growing worldwide and right here in New Mexico,” Maez wrote in an email. “The production, distribution and use of low-carbon hydrogen will accelerate our progress in combating climate change – otherwise we would not pursue this legislation.”

Lujan Grisham’s government has tightened regulations and enforced rules in sectors that emit the most greenhouse gases, including oil and gas, Maez wrote, adding that it will curb CO2 emissions from building the hydrogen hub .

Solomon, the climate activist, said it was no surprise industry backed the bill, which would subsidize operators through tax breaks while maintaining the flow of natural gas to produce blue hydrogen.

Those in the fossil fuel industry fear falling demand for their products, so they started promoting hydrogen as an alternative, Solomon said, calling it a bogus green solution.

“The purpose of it [hydrogen] is to provide a way to sell more natural gas and delay the transition to clean energy, “he said.

Not a perfect color

How hydrogen is made is at the core of environmentalist discontent.

About 98 percent of the hydrogen is now “gray”. It arises from the splitting of methane into hydrogen and carbon monoxide through intense heat, pressure and steam. But unlike the blue version, which comes from the same method, the pollutants are spewed into the atmosphere.

Blue hydrogen is significantly cleaner than gray. According to one in Energy Science & Mechanical Engineering.

It’s also unclear how well the current technology captures the carbon emissions involved in making blue hydrogen, Solomon said. Another problem is that burning hydrogen produces nitric oxide, an element in the formation of toxic ground-level ozone.

Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, told lawmakers in November that blue hydrogen – or any expansion of the oil and gas infrastructure – will hinder the state’s efforts to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“There are no zero emissions of fossil gas hydrogen,” he told the provisional committee on economic development and policy. “It’s just a reality.”

The state must work to lower fossil fuel demand, not by chasing federal funding for hydrogen projects that do not offer a long-term benefit to New Mexicans, Schlenker-Goodrich said.

Following his presentation, several lawmakers raised concerns about how fast the push to make New Mexico a hydrogen hub was progressing and that blue hydrogen would require fracking.

Senator Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, was concerned about how much fracking would affect frontline communities, including neighborhoods and minority tribes.

Hamblen, president and CEO of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, said there were concerns about blue hydrogen and its role as an extractive industry.

“I just appreciate and applaud the governor for trying to bring more money to New Mexico because we are consistently at the bottom of the list,” she said. However, she added, “I think based on the discussions we have had in committee, there may be concerns that this may not be the best way to get these resources to the state.”

Solomon said Hamblen was among 17 Democratic lawmakers to whom he presented a slideshow about blue hydrogen so they would be better informed if they passed the law. He said there was no point in asking Republicans to look at them because they would support a bill that would benefit the industry, he said.

Dan Klein, managing partner of Libertad Power in Santa Fe, said that both blue and green hydrogen have their flaws and tradeoffs.

Klein said his company, which works with utility companies to generate and sell electricity in the west, is more daring hydrogen as a source of energy.

Green hydrogen takes twice as much water as blue hydrogen to make, he said. But when it comes to blue hydrogen, the question arises as to how cleanly it can be produced.

It’s important to rely on data to determine the best hydrogen, rather than relying on a color code, Klein said.

“You want to mitigate the effects of climate change,” he said. “What brings you faster, what brings you cheaper?

Solomon said instead of worrying about how to capture the carbon emissions from blue hydrogen during production, don’t worry about it at all – and leave the natural gas in the ground.

As for green hydrogen, the state should instead focus on developing solar and wind power as it would need a large amount of water in an arid region, he said.

“New Mexico, with its ongoing drought and water problems, is probably not the place to go to produce green hydrogen,” said Solomon. “States with better fresh water supplies would make more sense.”

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