WV Executives, Fossil Fuel Firms Seek Federal Hydrogen Hub Opportunity Opponents Say Isn’t Profitable | Energy and Environment

West Virginia leaders have taken a key step to make the state a potential site of a regional hub for massive federal investments to support the White House plan to decarbonize the industrial sector.

Critics of the plan want them to step back and consider alternatives, arguing that the plan to cut emissions from carbon-intensive products like cement and steel would waste taxpayer subsidies by supporting unprofitable technologies and would not reduce carbon emissions enough.

A coalition formed by a majority of West Virginia congressional leaders and Governor Jim Justice has submitted a formal proposal to enter the U.S. Department of Energy’s competition for an agency-funded hydrogen hub.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law in November and supported by Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., and Rep. David McKinley, RW.Va. , allocates $8 billion to regional hydrogen hubs to develop the industrial use of hydrogen.

Hydrogen, which is light and has the highest energy per mass of any fuel, according to the Department of Energy, is seen as key to the energy transition away from fossil fuels that drive climate change.

The $8 billion is to fund at least four industrial hydrogen centers in different parts of the country that use a variety of feedstocks, with the requirement that at least one center use fossil fuels to produce hydrogen while other Others use renewable energies and nuclear energy respectively.

Two of them must be located in the regions “with the greatest natural gas resources” as far as possible.

The West Virginia Hydrogen Hub Coalition made up of Manchin, Capito, McKinley and Justice sent a hub competition entry proposal to the Department of Energy on Monday. They argue that West Virginia would be a suitable nexus for hydrogen development.

Rep. Alex Mooney, RW.Va., and Rep. Carol Miller, RW.Va., voted against the federal infrastructure law and are not part of the coalition.

The coalition pointed to the state’s more than 4,000 miles of pipelines, the geological potential for storing carbon dioxide in deep rock formations that would be captured during hydrogen production, and the deep legacy of fossil fuels for argue that the Mountain State should be a hub site.

“There is a significant overlap between the skills needed to sustain a hydrogen industry and the skills that workers in West Virginia already have from decades of working in the fossil fuel economy,” the coalition said in a statement. his proposal to participate.

The selection of hubs is scheduled for May 2023.

A group of seven national gas, plastics and steel producers have formed in hopes that they will be the industrial hub for hydrogen in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

EQT Corp., Equinor, GE Gas Power, Marathon Petroleum, Mitsubishi Power, Shell Polymers and US Steel last month announced plans to collaborate on a regional hub in northern Appalachia that would use carbon capture technology to produce, transport and use low-carbon hydrogen. .

The Northern Appalachian Industrial Alliance recently submitted to the Department of Energy a strategy for implementing a regional hydrogen hub.

The response to the agency’s request for information on hydrogen hubs was a joint submission between the Northern Appalachian Industrial Alliance and another Ohio-centric alliance with which it agreed to collaborate to create a regional plan for transition to hydrogen.

Members of the Ohio Clean Hydrogen Hub Alliance include Dominion Gas, Babcock & Wilcox, Encino Energy, Stark Area Regional Transit Authority, and Battelle Memorial Institute.

The Department of Energy submission says the tri-state area’s Marcellus and Utica shales are “very suitable” for developing a “blue hydrogen” hub.

Blue hydrogen comes mainly from the breakdown of methane into hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

Researchers from Cornell and Stanford universities found in a study published last year that greenhouse gas emissions from the production of blue hydrogen are “quite high”, in part due to methane leaks.

Methane has a 100-year global warming potential 28 to 36 times that of carbon dioxide, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

The study found that the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than burning natural gas or coal for heating and about 60% greater than burning diesel for heating. heating.

“[T]The use of blue hydrogen seems difficult to justify for climatic reasons,” the study concludes.

Critics say the use of blue hydrogen risks plunging society into fossil fuel addiction and long-term greenhouse gas emissions.

The Northern Appalachian Industrial Alliance and Ohio Clean Hydrogen Hub submission highlights the region’s long manufacturing history and natural resources. He also cites committed partnerships of AFL-CIO state federations and the United Steelworkers union, existing pipeline infrastructure and gas-fired power plants for possible use.

The submission referenced research by the Appalachian Regional Commission that found that coal production fell 65% in Appalachia from 2005 to 2020, with employment in the coal industry over that period declining. by 54%.

Members of the alliance have argued that a “robust transition” to hydrogen could help preserve and create well-paying jobs for those affected by the energy transition.

Carbon capture, utilization and sequestration is an umbrella term for technology that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and uses it to create products or store it permanently underground. Such technology, which proponents envision as the retrofitting of commercial power plants to mitigate emissions from coal and gas assets, has not been proven at commercial scale.

The Clean Air Task Force, a global nonprofit that promotes low-carbon energy technologies, supported the creation of the regional hydrogen hub program through last year’s federal infrastructure law. Its national energy and climate policy director, Andrew Place, sees hydrogen as the region’s “new steel” that could generate enough economic growth to support jobs in other sectors.

“I don’t see if you can decarbonize these hard-to-cut sectors like steel or transportation, heavy trucking, shipping, without some kind of carbon-free fuel,” Place said. “Hydrogen is a very good candidate for this.”

The Ohio River Valley Institute, a pro-clean energy think tank based in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, released an analysis last week saying hydrogen hub projects would raise utility rates, create few new jobs and fall behind in reducing emissions while blocking cheaper climate responses. .

Sean O’Leary, principal investigator at the institute, cited an estimate from the White House Council on Environmental Quality that it would cost between $170 billion and $230 billion to build an interstate carbon dioxide pipeline network. of carbon. This estimate does not include additional investments that plant owners would need to make in carbon capture technology.

O’Leary argued that a clean energy transition promoting energy efficiency and on-site power generation would reduce utility costs and increase disposable income while supporting job growth.

The Government Accountability Office, a federal oversight agency, released an audit report in December noting that the Department of Energy’s investments in 11 carbon capture and storage demonstration projects totaling $1.1 billion since 2009 had resulted in only three operational installations.

Manchin suggested preparing existing natural gas pipelines to transport hydrogen, arguing that the unfinished Mountain Valley pipeline, which is expected to stretch from northwest West Virginia to southern Virginia, should be considered a way to do it.

“It’s a no-brainer for me,” Manchin said during a Senate committee hearing earlier this month.

The Department of Energy has focused on addressing the technical issues associated with transporting hydrogen by pipeline, including the risk that hydrogen will embrittle the steel and welds used to make the pipelines, as well as the hydrogen leaks.

Monroe County resident and Indian Creek Watershed Association volunteer Nancy Bouldin said the Mountain Valley pipeline was a poor candidate for transporting anything given its construction in the mountainous terrain of West Virginia. .

Bouldin pointed to a 2016 report on the geological hazards of the Mountain Valley Pipeline project by a retired Radford University geology professor that warned of slope instability, accelerated erosion and groundwater contamination.

“When Manchin says this is all ‘no-brainer’, it feels like no brain has really looked it over,” Bouldin said in an email.