The Department of Energy announced a $1.2 billion investment in California for clean hydrogen projects. This funding is part of the national “Clean Hydrogen Centers” program, which aims to decarbonize various industries, including power plants, public transportation, heavy-duty trucks, and port operations. The Biden administration sees hydrogen as a key element in achieving clean energy goals.
California’s proposal for clean hydrogen projects was presented by a public-private partnership led by the state called ARCHES. While the details of the proposal have not been made public, ARCHES claims to have identified several “ready-made” projects across the state that focus on decarbonizing heavy-duty vehicles, power plants, and ports. The group estimates that these projects will create 200,000 new jobs, of which 90,000 will be permanent positions, and generate $2.95 billion in annual health cost savings.
In addition to California, six other regions of the United States, including the Pacific Northwest, Appalachia, Midwest, Gulf Coast, Heartland, and Mid-Atlantic, have been selected as “hubs” for hydrogen development. The Department of Energy’s funding will be distributed in phases, beginning with planning, analysis, and stakeholder engagement.
Hydrogen as an energy source remains controversial due to the methods of its production. While it has the potential to be a climate solution, its impact on carbon emissions depends on the source used to produce it. Most hydrogen in the United States is currently produced using natural gas, a fossil fuel, rather than renewable sources such as wind and solar. However, ARCHES is committed to producing hydrogen from renewable energy and biomass.
Despite this commitment, there are concerns among climate advocates and California experts about ARCHES’ lack of transparency and community engagement. The group reportedly requires confidentiality agreements, which have been heavily criticized by environmental justice groups. These groups, such as the California Environmental Justice Alliance, are calling for the elimination of confidentiality agreements, meaningful engagement with affected communities, and representation of frontline communities on the ARCHES board of directors.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has been a supporter of hydrogen projects in California and plans to establish a hydrogen task force to speed up project approval. In addition, the Office of Economic and Business Development is tasked with developing a hydrogen market development strategy.
Overall, the Department of Energy’s investment in clean hydrogen projects in California marks the start of a multi-year process. Aimed at decarbonizing various sectors of the economy, these projects have the potential to create jobs, reduce emissions, and contribute to the state’s clean energy goals.