Hydrogen Hubs face scrutiny at Senate Dems hearing

By: - December 4, 2023 6:15 pm
Shell Inaugurates Green-Tech Hydrogen Production Plant

WESSELING, GERMANY – JULY 02: A general view during the inauguration of a green-tech “REFHYNE” hydrogen production plant at the Shell Energy and Chemicals Park Rheinland on July 02, 2021 in Wesseling, Germany. The REFHYNE plant is to produce sustainable fuel for aircraft. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Testifiers at an informational hearing on Monday pointed to application delays, costs, and efficacy as reasons to be cautious of the growing interest in hydrogen hubs as a method of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

The hearing, held by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, was designed to give lawmakers more information on hydrogen hubs and their ability to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the Commonwealth while also supporting sustainable economic growth. 

Some testifiers offered their support for the budding interest in hydrogen hubs, while others urged lawmakers to pursue other avenues of limiting greenhouse gas emissions. 

‘So many ways hydrogen can go wrong’: Hub announcements viewed with caution

Nick Cohen, CEO of Philadelphia-based Doral Renewables, a renewable energy developer building one of the largest solar projects in the country, said that while Pennsylvania has enormous potential to be a leader in renewable energy, “projects are very badly delayed.”

“We have 800 megawatts of renewable energy projects in Pennsylvania, and none of them are under construction,” Cohen said, pointing to delays with electric grid approvals and local zoning restrictions that keep renewable energy projects from getting off the ground. 

Cohen and Doral Renewables had direct experience with these hurdles while trying to launch a planned wind farm project in Schuylkill County last year. 

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Responding to a question from state Sen. Katie Muth (D-Montgomery) about whether the Commonwealth could reach climate goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2025 and 80% by 2050 from 2005 levels, Cohen said that backlogs for renewable energy projects in Pennsylvania have reached a “bottleneck” that makes reaching the goals more difficult. 

“The answer is no, not in the short term, not by the end of the decade, there’s no way because when you look at all the projects that are stuck on the sideline right now, even if they were issued their interconnection agreement tomorrow or by the end of this year, they’re not going to be built until the end of the decade,” Cohen said. 

To combat the backlogs and advance the commonwealth’s climate goals, Cohen recommended that policymakers in Pennsylvania push efforts to advance “green” hydrogen, or hydrogen produced by water, that has lower greenhouse gas emissions than other forms of hydrogen.

“Green hydrogen offers an opportunity for renewable energy to potentially skip the grid backlogs and other barriers that are otherwise slowing progress,” Cohen said. “Green hydrogen, made from renewable energy has an easily traceable, zero-carbon intensity validation. Nothing is easier to attribute to the environmental benefit. The public is more likely to embrace this kind of hydrogen source.”

Other testifiers called on policymakers in Harrisburg to pursue “cheaper, more effective decarbonization models,” pointing to hydrogen hubs’ high operating costs in comparison to their limited potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

“That is why hydrogen’s potential as a decarbonization technology is limited to a few niche industrial applications and why it has never been and will not ever be cost-competitive for mass consumption applications such as power generation, home heating, and light transportation, including cars and light trucks,” Sean O’Leary, a senior researcher at the Ohio River Valley Institute, said. 

O’Leary also cautioned lawmakers in Harrisburg from throwing state funds behind yet-to-be-realized projects, such as the MACH2 and ARCH2 Hydrogen Hubs announced by federal officials in October. 

Biden touts ‘transformational’ hydrogen hub economy in Philadelphia visit

“… Neither recently announced DOE [Department of Energy]  allocations for ARCH2 and MACH2 nor enhanced IRA tax credits make the realization of the hubs or their individual projects a ‘done deal.’ Therefore, policymakers should carefully consider the allocation of additional state funds to projects, which may fail to attract sufficient private investment.”

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Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller was the associate editor at the Capital-Star.