January 21, 2023 - Two bills that could pave the way to a future hydrogen hub project in West Virginia passed the House of Delegates on Thursday, but not before some Republican delegates questioned the bill’s connection to the Inflation Reduction Act and clean energy projects.
The House passed Senate Bill 161 in a 95-5 vote and passed SB 162 in an 87-12 vote. Both bills were passed by the state Senate last Thursday, but will need to return to the Senate to approve changes made earlier this week by the House Judiciary Committee.
Delegate Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier, said he would reluctantly support two bills that could allow for a potential
blue hydrogen project in the state.
photo by: Photo courtesy of WV Legislative Photography
SB 161 would allow the Division of Natural Resources within the Department of Commerce to sell, lease, or dispose of property under its control, though legislative approval would need to be sought if the property is in a state park or state forest. An amendment to the bill approved Thursday would require the land in question to be deemed obsolete or unused by DNR.
SB 162 would allow the DNR to lease state-owned pore spaces beneath state forests, wildlife management areas and other lands under DNR’s jurisdiction for use in carbon sequestration projects, whereby carbon dioxide emissions are pumped underground. The bill only prohibits DNR from leasing pore spaces beneath state parks.
“I think that the purpose of the legislation is to untie the hands of the state to be able to utilize its land for the people of West Virginia,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Moore Capito, R-Kanawha.
The bills are aimed at attracting companies wishing to construct carbon capture and sequestration projects in connection to the state’s efforts to attract a regional hydrogen hub. Hydrogen is a clean fuel that can be used to decarbonize manufacturing processes, such as steel and metals production, and heavy transportation. Hydrogen can also be used as a long-term fuel cell to store energy for future use.
State and federal officials have spent the last year trying to attract one of eight regional hydrogen hubs through the U.S. Department of Energy. The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, passed by Congress in 2021, includes $8 billion in funding for the Regional Hydrogen Hub program and requires at least one hub to be placed in the Appalachian region.
House Minority Whip Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, credited Democrats in Washington D.C. for West Virginia's chance at building a hydrogen hub in the state.
photo by: Photo courtesy of WV Legislative Photography
A coalition of public agencies and private companies have joined to create the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub, or ARCH2. The goal is to build a blue hydrogen production facility, which would use the state’s abundant supplies of natural gas. Instead of greenhouse emissions from the process being emitted into the atmosphere, emissions would be collected through carbon capture and sequestration.
On Tuesday, U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., announced that the DOE Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations encouraged ARCH2 to submit a full application, with neighboring states Kentucky, Ohio, and Maryland endorsing the ARCH2 project.
“West Virginia and Appalachia have a long history of powering our great nation, and I am pleased the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub’s tireless efforts have been rewarded by the Department of Energy,” Manchin said in a statement.
“West Virginia has long been an innovative leader in our nation’s energy sector,” Capito said. “This announcement is another step in the right direction, and I look forward to future collaboration regarding this initiative.”
“We want a Hydrogen Hub to be part of West Virginia’s future so that we can continue to be an energy powerhouse for America,” said Gov. Jim Justice. “Our location makes West Virginia uniquely situated to work together with our surrounding states to further strengthen our application, and prove that a regional approach is best.”
The $737 billion Inflation Reduction Act, passed by Congress at the end of summer, also expanded the 45Q tax credits for carbon capture and sequestration projects. Changes made to the 45Q tax credit include the dollar amount per ton for storage in saline geologic formations, utilization by industrial and power projects.
Both Manchin and Sen. Capito negotiated the details of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act with President Joe Biden, while Manchin helped negotiate the details of the Inflation Reduction Act with Democratic congressional leaders and the White House.
“I just want to give credit where credit is due,” said House Minority Whip Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio. “I know in a few weeks we’ll have a big announcement, maybe have a lot of pictures taken, and cut some ribbons if there is a big job announcement that jobs are coming to West Virginia. We did our part here today, but I really want to thank those who are truly responsible: Democrats in Washington, D.C., in particular Joe Manchin.”
But the bills’ connections to Biden, Manchin and the clean energy agenda concerned at least some lawmakers Thursday.
“We know the emphasis that’s been placed on decarbonization from the Biden administration and other interested parties around the United States and around the world,” said Delegate Henry Dillon, R-Wayne. “This is just one more step in that direction. This is taking us down that green new energy trail. We have to decide as a House if we’re going to go down that trail all the way.”
“I want to proceed with caution on this bill,” said Delegate Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier. “I urge passage of this bill because it could, in fact, create jobs. And we do need employers in West Virginia, but I hope I will not regret voting for Joe Biden’s green new deal just-renamed policy that is floating down here to our state.”