One of the most contentious bills in this year’s legislative session is dead. House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, on Monday announced he was moving House Bill 228 — aimed to help New Mexico become a hub of clean hydrogen energy — to the “Speaker’s Table,” where it will remain on hold until the session ends. Camile Ward, spokeswoman for House Democrats, wrote in an email “the bill will not be considered further this session.” The bill’s chances of making it through the session at this point were slim, as the session concludes at noon Thursday. Even if the House had approved the legislation and sent it to the Senate, it had to pass through at least one committee hearing before getting a vote in the full chamber.
Egolf permanently tabled a previous incarnation of the legislation, House Bill 227, last week.
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.
Supporters of hydrogen power say it can create good-paying jobs while also providing zero-emission energy, but some environmental advocacy groups are concerned about a proposal to create a hydrogen hub in New Mexico. These advocates say the use of fossil fuels to create hydrogen could lead to further emissions from natural gas extraction and could distract from the need to transition to renewable energy sources. About 30 groups sent a letter to New Mexico leaders expressing those concerns. “New Mexico must prioritize comprehensive, durable, and enforceable climate legislation to light the pathway to a thriving, resilient New Mexico that benefits all of New Mexico’s workers and families,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center, in a statement. “We don’t need a distraction that involves risky bets of taxpayer resources that serves to further entrench the power of fossil fuel corporations.”
The letter starts by highlighting natural disasters that are worsening as a result of climate change such as heat waves, wildfire and flooding.
When Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc. announced the closure of the Escalante Power Plant in 2020, McKinley and Cibola counties braced for the economic impacts of losing a major employer. But a possible new owner is hoping to breathe life back into the closed coal-fired generating station through a first-of-its-kind makeover. This will not only restore the jobs to the area, but add additional jobs. Newpoint Gas LLC partnered with Brooks Energy Company to form Escalante H2 Power. The partners are working to transform Escalante into a hydrogen facility rather than coal-fired generation.