Climate Corner: Transition to cleaner energy offers opportunities
Feb 3, 2024 News and Sentinel
Hydrogen, the simplest and most abundant element on earth, could be a key piece in the puzzle of energy solutions needed to avoid the most extreme impacts from climate change. There are multiple ways to produce hydrogen power, including nuclear, fossil fuels and renewable energy sources. Hydrogen is lightweight and could help us de-carbonize industries that emit high levels of greenhouse gases, such as freight hauling and cement manufacturing. In some countries like China, Japan and Germany, there are a significant number of hydrogen fueling stations for vehicles.
In October, the Biden-Harris administration announced the seven regional hydrogen “hubs” selected to receive $7 billion in federal funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. “Hubs” refers to the network of infrastructure needed to produce and connect the many different facilities involved in getting hydrogen fuel to consumers. Currently, most of the hydrogen in the United States is produced using fracked gas that is captured during underground drilling. Methane (CH4), a potent greenhouse gas, is a key component of fracked gas, which can be reformed to produce hydrogen energy.
In 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy created the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations (OCED). This office was established to help scale up projects using emerging technology that could help equitably transition the U.S. to a low-carbon economy. Late last year, OCED announced their pledge of up to $925 million dollars to support private investment in the proposed Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub (ARCH2). Most of the 15 facilities proposed to be part of ARCH2 are located in West Virginia, with connections to facilities in parts of eastern Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania. ARCH2 is the only proposed hydrogen hub that would produce hydrogen energy solely from fracked gas.
When we consider the future of our economies and communities, we must think holistically. We have an incredible opportunity to invest in overall well being as we make decisions about how we will respond to the urgent need to de-carbonize. Well being is multi-faceted and includes access to good paying jobs, affordable housing, healthcare, and opportunities for recreation and a healthy environment, among other factors.
Each town that is proposed to host ARCH2 infrastructure has unique characteristics including history, geography and culture. These locations also have past experiences with industry that have left significant harms unresolved. Some of the communities impacted by ARCH2 projects lie in cancer clusters caused by chemical plants and coal burning power plants already located nearby. Nothing in ARCH2 plans detail how these harms will be minimized before additional fossil-fuel structure is permitted. We know that fracking causes greenhouse gas pollution. It also creates health harms to communities located near drilling pads and adjacent to waste disposal facilities.
OCED has committed to environmental justice and a robust community engagement process, ensuring that these unprecedented federal investments are for the benefit of everyone. Toward this goal, OCED has said a Community Advisory Committee will be established to guide the development of Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs). CBAs are legally binding agreements that provide communities with a tool for holding industry accountable. Benefits can include a commitment to providing job training and prioritizing local workers in employment contracts. Benefits Agreements can also detail how decisions that impact the community will be made, such as provisions for how a Community Advisory Committee operates, what decision making power it has and who is selected to participate. While this foresight from OCED can be applauded, it must be equitably implemented.
Hydrogen energy has the potential to help reach the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C but working to simply stop the worst case scenarios is not enough. OCED has the opportunity to step forward as a leader in the energy transition by leaning into the wealth of strength and skills that exists in all of our communities. To achieve long term well being, and meet federally mandated environmental justice priorities, we must be intentional and hold our leaders accountable to a truly just transition utilizing less harmful energy sources.
Heather Sprouse is the Ohio River Coordinator with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. She supports communities engaging with the environmental permitting process and advocating for their clean water priorities. She can be reached at email@example.com.