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Hydrogen hub plan divides stakeholders in New Mexico

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

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration is expected to introduce a bill in the next legislative session that would offer tax incentives to develop infrastructure and the supply chain for what it describes as a hydrogen economy to low carbon emission.

The Democratic governor and her allies tout the proposed hydrogen concentrator bill as reducing the state’s economic dependence on the fossil fuel industry while helping New Mexico create jobs and reduce greenhouse gases that warm the climate.


But a fossil fuel would remain in the mix.

The plan calls for separating hydrogen from natural gas while capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground, producing what’s called “blue hydrogen.” It would have a wide range of uses, from powering power plants to transporting fuel to heating homes.

The natural gas component has drawn strong opposition from environmental groups and distrust from some Democratic state lawmakers who believe blue hydrogen benefits industry more than the climate.

Critics refer to a recent peer-reviewed study that found blue hydrogen has a 20% larger carbon footprint than burning natural gas or coal for heat.

“Pursuing blue hydrogen is not a climate solution at all,” said Tom Solomon, retired electrical engineer and coordinator of 350 New Mexico, a climate advocacy group.

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

Green hydrogen, which consumes huge amounts of water, could be used at some point for, for example, transatlantic flights and trucking across the country when recharging electric batteries would be difficult, he said. he declares.

Right now, the most urgent priority is to reduce fossil fuel emissions as quickly as possible to avert a climate catastrophe, and hydrogen is diverting attention from that lawsuit, Solomon added.

Yet the governor vigorously defends his administration’s current blue hydrogen plan.

“Hydrogen for an energy state is more jobs, and we want that in all settings,” Lujan Grisham said in a podcast earlier this year. “The second vision we have here is that hydrogen in the energy environment gives us a clean energy platform, continues to meet our renewable energy and decarbonization goals.”

THE INDUSTRY WOULD BE ADVANTAGEOUS

The bill coincides with the recently passed federal infrastructure package, which spends $ 8 billion to build four hydrogen hubs across the country, preferably in the oil-rich states.

New Mexico is just behind Texas in fossil fuel production, which makes it eligible for federal money.

Maddy Hayden, the governor’s spokesperson, wrote in an email that producers would be rewarded with more generous tax breaks for the manufacture of low-carbon hydrogen.

The tax incentives would encourage companies to build the infrastructure necessary to produce and deliver hydrogen as well as to install refueling stations.

A spokesperson for an oil and gas trade group said the industry supports state and federal efforts to produce hydrogen.

“The industry is committed to working with all policy makers to expand the commercial applications of our oil and gas resources, including hydrogen produced from natural gas,” wrote Robert McEntyre, spokesperson for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, in an email. “Because of our energy leadership and our vast oil and natural gas resources, these are the kinds of ideas New Mexico should tap into.”

However, the policies must be “technologically neutral”, which means that they do not prescribe a particular method such as the use of renewable energies, added McEntyre.

The proposed legislation will allow New Mexico to capitalize on a global trend, helping industries that lack an alternative energy source to decarbonize, the state Department of Environment spokesperson said. , Matt Maez.

“The hydrogen economy is growing around the world 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 tackling climate change – otherwise we would not be suing this legislation. “

The Lujan Grisham administration has imposed tighter regulations and increased enforcement in sectors that emit the most greenhouse gases, including oil and gas, Maez wrote, adding that this will reduce emissions. of carbon during the construction of the hydrogen hub.

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

Those in the fossil fuel industry fear a drop in demand for their products, so they have 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.

NO PERFECT COLOR

The manufacture of hydrogen is at the heart of the discontent of environmentalists.

About 98% of the hydrogen is now “gray”. It is derived from the breakdown of methane into hydrogen and carbon monoxide by intense heat, pressure and steam. But unlike the blue version, which comes from the same method, the pollutants are released into the atmosphere.

Blue hydrogen is significantly cleaner than gray. However, it has a significant carbon footprint throughout its supply chain due to the leakage of methane during drilling, processing and delivery, as well as the natural gas required for the raw material and to fuel much of equipment, according to a study published in Energy Science & Engineering.

It is also unclear to what extent current technology captures carbon emissions when manufacturing blue hydrogen, Solomon said. Another concern is that when hydrogen is burned, it produces nitrogen 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 oil and gas infrastructure – would hamper the state’s efforts to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 .

“There are no zero emissions from fossil hydrogen gas,” he told the Interim Legislative Economic Development and Policy Committee. “It’s just a reality.”

The state must focus on reducing demand for fossil fuels, not stimulating it by chasing federal money for hydrogen projects that offer no long-term benefits to New Mexicans, Schlenker said. Goodrich.

After his presentation, several lawmakers expressed concerns about how quickly the push to make New Mexico a hydrogen hub was unfolding and the fact that blue hydrogen would require hydraulic fracturing.

Senator Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, worried about the severity of the impact of fracking on frontline communities, including neighborhoods and minority tribes.

Hamblen, who is president and chief executive officer of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce, said blue hydrogen and what it does as an extractive industry is cause for concern.

“I just appreciate and applaud the governor for trying to get more money in New Mexico because we’re consistently low on the list of things,” she said. However, she added: “I think based on the conversation we had in the committee, some might be concerned that this is not the best way to try to get these resources to the state.”

Solomon said Hamblen was among 17 Democratic lawmakers he gave a slide show on blue hydrogen to, so they would be better informed when they approach the bill. He saw no point in asking Republicans to see him because they will support a bill that benefits the industry, he said.

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

Klein said his company, which works with utilities to generate and sell electricity in the West, is venturing more into hydrogen as an energy source.

Green hydrogen requires twice as much water to make as blue hydrogen, he said. But with blue hydrogen, questions arise as to the cleanliness of its production.

It’s important to rely on data to determine the best hydrogen rather than depending on color coding, Klein said.

“You want to mitigate the effects of climate change,” he said. “What gets you there faster, what gets you there cheaper?” And if you look at blue hydrogen … are the problems now identified in it so glaring and irreparable that you are removing the technology altogether? “

Solomon said that rather than worrying about how to capture carbon emissions from blue hydrogen during production, don’t worry 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, given the large amount of water it would demand in an arid region, he said.

“New Mexico, with its ongoing drought and water issues, is probably not the right place to produce green hydrogen,” Solomon said. “States with better freshwater supplies would make more sense to do this.”

© 2022 The Santa Fe New Mexican, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.