February 12, 2022

Controversial hydrogen hub bill heads to House floor

The seal of the state of New Mexico in the House

A controversial bill that would help make New Mexico a center of hydrogen production as an energy source is on its way to the House floor for consideration.

Members of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee voted 7-3 to approve House Bill 228, which would create a framework for a hydrogen industry and allow businesses and organizations to apply for public and private money to develop hydrogen production projects.

“We’re trying to take advantage of a new industry, try to grow economics-based jobs,” said Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-Gallup, who co-sponsored the bill. “We’ve got a perfect location.”

She cited the recently abandoned Escalante Power Plant in Prewitt, which would likely become the first hydrogen facility in the state if the bill becomes law.

Supporters say the initiative would create jobs, invigorate the state economy and help move the state toward a fossil fuel-free future.

Critics, including environmental groups and some progressive Democrats, counter it relies on a fossil fuel — natural gas — and would lead to more greenhouse gas emissions amid a global climate crisis.

Lundstrom said during Friday’s committee discussion the Escalante project could employ up to 500 construction jobs and 60 to 100 permanent positions.

Lawmakers who opposed the bill, such as Rep. Natalie Figueroa, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, did not contest that point.

But Figueroa opposed the $125 million for the initiative included in the state budget. She said it’s too much, too fast.

“I’m a little concerned about putting that much taxpayer money down on something that is still very new,” she said. “The payoff is huge. But that’s because the risk can be huge.”

Dow, like Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, wanted provisions put in the bill to prioritize New Mexicans for hydrogen jobs. Dow also warned of lawsuits from environmental groups that might want to stop the initiative if the bill becomes law.

Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said the nation is headed toward a hydrogen future, and lawmakers need to consider it as a way to help “one of the poorest regions” of the state.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, has voiced support for turning New Mexico into a hydrogen hub with the help of federal funds included in the massive federal infrastructure bill approved by Congress and signed into law last year by President Joe Biden.

HB 228 is intended to gradually reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions in the production of so-called clean or blue hydrogen over time, which is produced by separating hydrogen from natural gas. The bill calls for the level of allowable emissions to start with 1.5 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilogram of hydrogen produced.

By 2035, the bill requires that ratio to drop to 1 kilogram of carbon dioxide per kilogram of hydrogen produced and, by 2045, zero carbon dioxide per kilogram of hydrogen.

If the House of Representatives votes to approve the bill, it would likely move to the Senate Conservation Committee before heading to the Senate floor for a final vote. There are only six days left in this year’s legislative session.

On Tuesday, members of the conservation committee quickly voted to table a bill proposed by Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, that was designed allow New Mexico to receive federal funds for hydrogen.

Muñoz said after the hearing he thought hydrogen was “dead” this session.