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West Virginia Steps Toward Hydrogen Hub Despite Criticism

Gov. Jim Justice and a majority of the state’s congressional leaders have submitted a proposal to participate in the federal competition for the development of a hydrogen hub. The gas is considered a key in combating climate change.

(TNS) — West Virginia leaders have made a key step toward making the state the potential site of a regional hub for massive federal investments to support the White House's plan to decarbonize the industrial sector.

Critics of the plan want them to take a step back and consider alternatives, arguing that the plan to cut emissions from carbon-intensive goods like cement and steel would waste taxpayer subsidies by backing uneconomic technologies and fail to adequately cut carbon emissions.

A coalition formed by a majority of West Virginia's congressional leaders and Gov. Jim Justice submitted a formal proposal to participate in the U.S. Department of Energy's competition for a hydrogen hub funded by the agency.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted in November and supported by Sen. Joe Manchin, D- W.Va., Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R- W.Va., and Rep. David McKinley, R- W.Va., allots $8 billion for regional hydrogen hubs to expand 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 viewed as key in the energy transition away from fossil fuels that drive climate change.

The $8 billion is to fund at least four industrial hydrogen hubs in different regions of the country that use varied feedstocks, with a requirement that at least one hub uses fossil fuels to produce hydrogen while others use renewable energy and nuclear energy, respectively.

Two of them must be in regions "with the greatest natural gas resources" to the maximum extent possible.

The West Virginia Hydrogen Hub Coalition consisting of Manchin, Capito, McKinley and Justice sent a proposal to participate in the hub competition to the Energy Department Monday. They contend that West Virginia would be a suitable nexus for hydrogen development.

Rep. Alex Mooney, R- W.Va., and Rep. Carol Miller, R- W.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, geologic potential to store carbon dioxide in deep rock formations that would be captured during hydrogen production and deep fossil fuel legacy to make the case that the Mountain State should be a hub site.

"There is significant overlap between necessary skills to support a hydrogen industry and the skills West Virginia's workers already possess thanks to decades of working in the fossil fuel economy," the coalition said in its proposal to participate.

Selection of hubs is due in May 2023.

A group of seven national gas, plastics and steel producers has formed in hopes that it will comprise the industrial hydrogen hub in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

EQT Corp., Equinor, GE Gas Power, Marathon Petroleum, Mitsubishi Power, Shell Polymers and U.S. Steel announced their intention last month to collaborate on a Northern Appalachian regional hub that would use carbon capture technology to produce, transport and use low-carbon hydrogen.

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

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

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

The submission to the Energy Department says the tri-state region's Marcellus and Utica shales are "very adequate" for developing a "blue hydrogen" hub.

Blue hydrogen is derived mainly from breaking 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," especially because of leaked methane.

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

The study found the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen is more than 20 percent larger than burning natural gas or coal for heat and about 60 percent larger than burning diesel oil for heat.

"[T]he use of blue hydrogen appears difficult to justify on climate grounds," the study concluded.

Critics say use of blue hydrogen risks committing society to fossil fuel reliance and long-term greenhouse gas emissions.

The submission from the Northern Appalachian Industrial and Ohio Clean Hydrogen Hub alliances notes the region's long manufacturing history and natural resources. It also cites committed partnerships from AFL-CIO state federations and the United Steelworkers union, existing pipeline infrastructure and gas-fired plants for possible use.

The submission referenced Appalachian Regional Commission research finding that coal production plummeted 65 percent in Appalachia from 2005 to 2020, with coal industry employment in that period declining 54 percent.

The alliance members argued that a "robust transition" to hydrogen could help preserve and create good-paying jobs for those affected by the energy transition.

Carbon capture, use 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 retrofitting commercial power plants to mitigate coal and gas asset emissions, is unproven at commercial scale.

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

"I don't see that you can decarbonize these hard-to-abate sectors like steel or transportation, heavy trucking, shipping, without some sort of zero-carbon fuels," Place said. "Hydrogen is a very good candidate for that."

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

Sean O'Leary, a senior researcher for the institute, cited a White House Council on Environmental Quality estimate that it would cost from $170 billion to $230 billion to build an interstate carbon dioxide pipeline network. That estimate doesn't include the additional investments plant owners would have to make in carbon capture technology.

O'Leary argued that a clean energy transition favoring energy efficiency and onsite electricity generation would reduce utility costs and expand disposable income while supporting job growth.

The Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog agency, published an audit report in December noting that Energy Department investments in 11 carbon capture and storage demonstration projects totaling $1.1 billion since 2009 had resulted in only three operational facilities.

Manchin has suggested preparing existing natural gas pipelines to transport hydrogen, arguing that the unfinished Mountain Valley Pipeline, slated to run from Northwestern West Virginia to Southern Virginia, should be considered a vehicle for doing so.

"It's a total no-brainer to me," Manchin said during a Senate committee hearing earlier this month.

The Department of Energy has emphasized overcoming technical concerns with pipeline transport of hydrogen, including the potential for hydrogen to embrittle steel and welds used to fabricate the pipelines, and hydrogen leaks.

Nancy Bouldin, a Monroe County resident and Indian Creek Watershed Association volunteer, said the Mountain Valley Pipeline is a poor candidate for transporting anything, given its construction across West Virginia's mountainous terrain.

Bouldin pointed to a 2016 report on geologic 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 a 'no-brainer,' it feels like no brains have really looked closely at it," Bouldin said in an email.

(c)2022 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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