Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico is joining with three other western states – Colorado, Utah and Wyoming – to team up on a regional plan for a hydrogen energy hub that could compete for a slice of $8 billion in federal infrastructure funds.
The regional partnership comes after several proposals to create a state-level hydrogen framework stalled during New Mexico’s 30-day legislative session.
The bills were backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration and would have established a framework for public-private partnerships to develop hydrogen projects in designated hubs, where producers that abided by carbon emission limits could qualify for government grants, loans and tax breaks.
But the bills encountered opposition from environmental organizations and other advocacy groups, who said promoting hydrogen development would perpetuate natural gas production in New Mexico at a time when the state needs to replace fossil fuels with renewable resources like solar and wind generation.
That’s because today’s hydrogen production is based on pulling hydrogen molecules from methane contained in natural gas, with substantial carbon dioxide emitted in the process.
Producers expect to trap those emissions with carbon capture and sequestration – a technology that environmentalists say is yet to be proven effective in commercial-scale projects.
However, Lujan Grisham said Thursday the multistate collaboration could create jobs and foster innovation to make hydrogen production much cleaner, helping the state meet its climate change goals.
“Make no mistake, New Mexico and our partner states will succeed in developing the nation’s most productive clean hydrogen hub,” the Democratic governor said in a statement announcing the partnership.
The multistate agreement entered into by the governors of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming binds the four states together under what they called a “Western Inter-States Hydrogen Hub.”
The memorandum of understanding signed by the four governors pledges the states will work together to submit a formal bid this year for funding to be released by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Under the agreement, the four states agreed they will not submit other proposals – including standalone state plans – and will work together on issues including workforce development, pipeline safety and potential water and air impacts.
The $8 billion in federal funding is included in President Joe Biden’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure investment plan, which was approved last fall, and is expected to be split among at least four different “hydrogen hub” demonstration projects around the country.
Since no hydrogen-related legislation was approved during this year’s legislative session, rather than set state-level carbon emission limits, New Mexico and the other regional states would instead abide by new federal emissions standards.
But a Lujan Grisham spokeswoman said Thursday the failure of this year’s bills at the Roundhouse does not prohibit New Mexico from moving forward with hydrogen energy infrastructure.
“As we’ve stated in the past, a clean hydrogen economy is here to stay in New Mexico, regardless of whether or not legislation is in place,” said Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett.
She also said New Mexico has many resources that could make hydrogen a good fit, including ample natural gas supplies, favorable geology for carbon storage, existing pipelines and railways and an established energy-based workforce.
Meanwhile, Noah Long of the Natural Resources Defense Council said Thursday he was hopeful the legislative debates on hydrogen during this year’s session would help shape the state’s approach to the industry going forward.
Specifically, he said there are still concerns about the use of natural gas to pull hydrogen molecules out of methane.
But he said advances in hydrogen production technology could eventually prove useful as a tool to eliminate emissions from hard-to-decarbonize sectors of the economy.
“If it’s a clean energy solution only on paper, that doesn’t do anybody any good,” Long told the Journal.
Meanwhile, some backers claimed during this year’s session that hydrogen energy could be an economic boon, particularly in the northwest New Mexico region that has seen a population decline and job losses over the last decade.
“I support hydrogen. I’ll keep working on it until I drop over,” Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, D-Gallup, told reporters just days before the session ended Feb. 17.
Journal staff writer Kevin Robinson-Avila contributed to this report.