The Hydrogen Hub Development Act was tabled on Thursday by a 6-4 vote during its first committee hearing after about six hours of discussion.
The bill, which is backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, would create tax incentives for hydrogen projects in New Mexico as well as laying the groundwork for state-authorized hydrogen hubs.
About three quarters of the hundreds of members of the public who spoke at the committee meeting opposed the bill. Opponents called it a hand out to the oil and gas industry and described the bill as “greenwashing” and a “false solution.” They said the state should focus on renewable energy development and expansion. Many of them were concerned about the emissions related to hydrogen produced from fossil fuels as well as the use of water to produce hydrogen through electrolysis.
However, proponents said hydrogen is an important component of diversifying the economy and reducing emissions, especially in sectors that are hard to decarbonize through electrification. One example given during the meeting was airplanes. Current battery technology is too heavy to power an airplane.
Proponents who spoke during the public comment section included lobbyists from oil companies like Chevron and Exxon as well as officials from McKinley and Cibola counties, where a proposed conversion of a coal-fired power plant to hydrogen could help the economy that suffered a blow from the closure of the Escalante Generating Station.
Rep. Larry Scott, R-Hobbs, was one of the legislators who voted to table the legislation. During discussion, he expressed concerns about the cost to produce hydrogen and whether the industry would rely on continued subsidies.
Rep. Pameyla Herndon, D-Albuquerque, brought up the possibility that the bill might not pass during this session, but the governor could call a special session to get it passed before applications are due for the federal government’s hydrogen hubs project. A recent federal bipartisan infrastructure bill created the opportunity for states to apply for a hydrogen hub and four federal hydrogen hubs will be created. Herndon, who voted against tabling the bill, said this would allow community members who, during public comment, said they were not given enough opportunity to provide input, to weigh in.
The bill could also be brought back for debate during this session, as highlighted by Rep. Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, who was one of the members who voted in favor of tabling the legislation.