Despite facing legislative challenges in advancing hydrogen energy, the New Mexico Environment Department remains steadfast in its commitment to explore the potential of this controversial fuel source.
Deputy Secretary Sydney Lienemann’s recent presentation to the Legislative Finance Committee highlighted the promise of hydrogen for New Mexico, particularly in regions like San Juan County, where the decline in traditional fossil fuel extraction has led to job losses and economic strain.
The allure of hydrogen lies in its status as a clean fuel with zero emissions. However, its production and usage come with complexities and controversies, mainly surrounding the source of hydrogen and its potential impact on the environment.
One of the primary sources of contention is hydrogen derived from fossil fuel methane, such as natural gas. Proposed projects, like the one at Navajo Agricultural Products Industry (NAPI), aim to capture carbon from methane molecules and use the hydrogen to power farm equipment, providing a cleaner alternative to diesel-powered machinery. However, critics of carbon capture argue that it is expensive, unproven, and poses the risk of carbon leakage into the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change concerns.
On the other hand, some hydrogen projects are exploring water electrolysis, a less controversial method that produces hydrogen using water. However, critics question the use of precious water supplies for hydrogen production.
Despite the controversies, hydrogen offers opportunities to decarbonize sectors that are otherwise challenging to transition. For instance, Universal Hydrogen, a company based in Albuquerque, is pioneering hydrogen fuel cell planes that could revolutionize aviation, an industry traditionally difficult to decarbonize.
Moreover, New Mexico’s collaboration with other western states under the Western Interstates Hydrogen Hub (WISHH) aims to secure federal funding for hydrogen projects, positioning San Juan County as an energy hub for the western United States.
San Juan County is emerging as a focal point for hydrogen endeavors, with three of the five New Mexico hydrogen projects slated for the region. By investing in the hydrogen industry, the county hopes to fill the void left by the loss of middle-class union jobs as coal-fired power plants close.
Among the key players in the region are Libertad Power and AVANGRID. Libertad Power plans to establish an electrolysis-based hydrogen facility, while AVANGRID is exploring the use of ammonia to create power, fertilizer, and meet other industrial needs in the area.
As New Mexico forges ahead with its hydrogen ambitions, striking a balance between harnessing the fuel’s potential and addressing environmental and economic concerns is paramount. The state’s pursuit of hydrogen energy presents an opportunity to diversify its energy portfolio, stimulate economic growth, and contribute to the broader energy transition. However, careful consideration, research, and collaboration will be necessary to ensure the responsible implementation of hydrogen technologies, ultimately making a positive impact on New Mexico’s future energy landscape.