Massachusetts utilities’ plans to blend low-carbon hydrogen into natural gas distribution networks to feed houses and other buildings have prompted a nationwide discussion over “green” hydrogen’s reliance on renewables and its impact on the electric grid.
New England, which relies on natural gas, might learn from the Bay State.
Gas Transition Allies, an environmental nonprofit alliance, released a paper criticizing Massachusetts utility plans this month, sparking the dispute. The groups say making green hydrogen from renewable electricity and water is energy-intensive and would take clean electricity off the grid.
Analysts expect renewable hydrogen to be the main source of low-carbon fuel in the future. The Gas Transition Allies think that offshore wind turbines in Massachusetts would be better utilised to generate power.
Hydrogen should be considered as Massachusetts strives toward net-zero emissions by 2050, say utilities. National Grid spokesman Christine Milligan said hydrogen will become “far more economical and more abundant in coming decades,” providing a sustainable energy choice for those unable to move from gas to electric heat pumps.
New federal incentives will keep hydrogen in the gas alternative debate. The bipartisan infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act provided billions of dollars in direct grants and tax credits for low-carbon hydrogen generation, including green and “blue” hydrogen, which combines gas production with carbon capture and storage.
The Northeast Clean Hydrogen Hub, a seven-state alliance seeking billions in federal funds for low-carbon hydrogen production and consumption, may supply Massachusetts hydrogen, according to National Grid (Energywire, Aug. 26, 2022).
As it drafts instructions for “clean” hydrogen producers seeking the industry’s first tax credits, the Treasury Department is considering a variety of constraints. The Inflation Reduction Act’s tax credits could affect the fuel’s grid contributions and emissions.
Many green hydrogen producers believe they should be eligible for tax credits even if they utilize grid electricity if they finance new renewable plants to offset emissions. Grid modelers and environmental groups have cautioned that the technique may increase green hydrogen lifetime emissions.
They want Treasury restrictions: They suggest green hydrogen producers should match their hourly power consumption to the hourly generation characteristics of new renewable installations. They claim that would boost zero-emission hydrogen projects.
Nevertheless, renewable trade groups and hydrogen entrepreneurs say the hourly constraint would raise hydrogen prices and deter production.
National gas industry trade groups have developed “net-zero” road plans that envisage widespread use of hydrogen blends in buildings. Massachusetts to California utilities have adopted those programs with modifications.
Together with utilities, Congress has advocated hydrogen for building energy. Hydrogen hubs, including one to demonstrate home and commercial heating, received $8 billion in the 2021 infrastructure law.
Gas Transition Allies is the latest environmental group to urge lawmakers to ban gas companies from utilizing hydrogen for heat. Hydrogen may be riskier to carry, especially in distribution lines that connect to residential and commercial structures, according to pipeline safety watchdogs.
Hydrogen use in buildings has been resisted by the Biden administration. In 2021, President Joseph Biden ordered agencies to replace natural gas equipment with electric heat pumps (Energywire, Dec. 13, 2021). DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy tweeted on February 24 that none of its road maps consider home heating a “viable use” for hydrogen. In the fall, DOE will fund hydrogen hubs.
DOE spokesmen told E&E News that industries using extremely high-temperature heat may need hydrogen to reduce pollution. They said hydrogen building heat is “still being assessed.”
While utility regulators explore how Massachusetts’ gas infrastructure might reach net-zero emissions by 2050, gas companies and utilities have included hydrogen as a transition fuel in their road maps.
Natural gas and other fossil fuels power most of New England’s structures. According to state data, half of Massachusetts homes heat with natural gas and a quarter use fuel oil or kerosene.
The first East Coast gas restriction for new buildings occurred in Brookline, a Boston suburb. When it was eventually ruled unconstitutional, it inspired the Massachusetts legislature to develop a new statewide demonstration program allowing 10 cities to ban.