The hydrogen train is gaining steam, with the Governor tightening the screws. Today we outline a strategy that could possibly derail the train, plus brief comments on strategy for future sessions.
First, a heads-up about reaching out to your legislators this weekend. Many committee meetings began at 9 am today, and the Friday evening session wasn’t recessed until 6 am, an 11-hour session after a full day of committee hearings. When communicating with legislators, please acknowledge and appreciate their service.
2023 and Beyond: We Need a Better Strategy for Transformative Change
Let’s face it, this past week was tough on the spirits. Yes, we got some good amendments into HB6 Clean Future Act, but with the need for so many more changes, likely to be ignored, that was small comfort. And especially given the tabling of HJR2 Green Amendment, the failure of HM 20 Public Power memorial to get a single hearing, and another failed effort to derail the Hydrogen Hub. It is becoming clear that when it comes to achieving incremental change, legislators can be moved during a session, especially with a little constituent coaxing beforehand, but for big-idea bills that have the potential for being transformative, no amount of calls, emails, or public comment is enough to sway an ever-skeptical, always reluctant legislature. It happens every year: Public Bank, Public Power, Green Amendment, all casualties of legislative fear of the uncertain, fear of the bold. Even legislation to reduce usurious loan rates has taken a decade to achieve and we still aren’t to the finish line with that. This session, a few moments have stuck in my brain that suggest proactive strategies that may make it possible to pass transformative legislation.
Take a Long View: Big Change Takes Time
I recall a conversation I had with Sen. Peter Wirth a few years ago about how it can take 2, 3, or more sessions for complex bills to pass. He said: Pay attention to how you lost in one session, learn from it, and try again. In a climate crisis era where every year lost is another degree of Celsius, that is not an easy thing to hear. But while inconvenient, it certainly seems to be true. Look at the 20+ years it has taken Mary Feldblum to get even just a study and design process funded for the Health Security Act. A big idea, even with tons of research behind it, still takes time in NM. The activist strategies below could possibly short-cut the time needed.
Constituent Meetings with Legislators in the Summer
I was struck by a comment from Rep. Javier Martínez in a committee hearing on Public Banking. To paraphrase: I support this bill primarily because I met with a group of constituents who laid out what Public Banking is and what it can do for NM, and I got excited. In those meetings, well-informed constituents were able to lay out the issue, answer questions, and address concerns without the pressure of time. Those meetings helped Rep. Martínez get comfortable with a big idea. For big bills we want to support in 2023 and beyond, we need to have those kinds of conversations in districts throughout the state in August, September, and October, not in December or January, and certainly not in committee hearings in one-minute doses of public comment. These kinds of early conversations are best held among constituents and their legislator(s), perhaps supported by experts on the issue.
After this Session, Retake would like to recruit advocates willing to take on the role of Legislator Ambassadors who could initiate dialog with their legislator in the summer. These kinds of conversations wouldn’t be about specific bills, as none would even be in draft form. They would be on concepts like public power, public banking, Green Amendment, and more.
The Importance of Leadership Input and Support
All you have to do is examine the difference between 2021 and 2022 in relation to small loan rates to see how much better things go when leadership is on board. Speaker Egolf was not opposed to the 36% rate cap in 2021, but he certainly didn’t pull out all the stops as he has in 2022. In a text conversation with Rep. McQueen a couple days ago, I told him that given our experience of the Speaker being out in front on HB 132 (36% rate cap), if I were introducing a big-idea bill or one with serious business opposition, my first step would be to get a meeting with the Speaker to share the idea and get his input about where the opposition would come from and best strategies for overcoming opposition. McQueen shot back a one-word response: Exactly. Depending upon the idea, I’d likely also have to listen to his view on why it was a bad idea or an impossible one. But hearing that perspective is also valuable, as he would not be the only legislator to share that view. Best case scenario, he becomes an ally for the idea, soon to be a bill. Worst case scenario, he opposes the bill but remembers that he was consulted.
For Legislators, It’s About Jobs & Revenue, not the Planet
We are a poor state with an unhealthy reliance on gas and oil revenue. So in this session, every discussion of the Hydrogen Hub includes a constant focus on jobs and revenue or private investment and federal grants. In conversation with Mariel Nanasi this afternoon, she noted that next year, the effort to achieve public power had to focus on revenue and jobs. I’d add that it would be good to have conversations about public power early and often with Democratic legislative leadership, including Speaker Egolf, Sen. Wirth, and Rep. Patty Lundstrom, the unofficial governor of rural NM.
Yes public power would accelerate our move toward achieving our climate goals, but that argument alone won’t generate broad support. The hundreds of permanent rural jobs and hundreds of millions, possibly billions, of dollars in sustainable revenue will get even the most skeptical Dem. to pay attention and listen.
In mid-March, Retake will host a Zoom study session on the legislative process, changes needed, and the kinds of advocate strategies that might generate more wins. Stay tune for that. But that is March. Now, we have until Thursday noon, and we have an out of control Hydrogen Hub train we must derail.
A Very Bad Idea that We MUST Stop
Last Wednesday, it was becoming clear that the Hydrogen Hub Express was gathering steam. Retake reached out to our allies at Renewable Taos and together we developed an idea for a summary of Hydrogen Hub opposition points that would use government reports and independent studies to debunk all the misinformation being used to catapult the hub forward. We worked all day Thursday and a chunk of Friday to craft the 2-page summary below. We want to thank Retake Board member Saraswati Khalsa and Renewable Taos Board Members Dan Pritchard and Jay Levine for researching and compiling the bulk of this summary.
But a good summary is only as good as the messenger delivering it, and so Retake would like to borrow from some of our long-term strategies to share the summary below. Ideally, we can stop this train with enough “No” votes on the House floor. But if that doesn’t work, we may have more success with first Senate committee, Senate Conservation, with five solid Dems. comprising the majority on that Committee (Senators Stefanics, Sedillo-Lopez, Pope, Soules, and Hamblen, who have all expressed opposition to the Hub.)
But this is no time to take things for granted: the Governor is tightening the screws, and with the GOP greedy for rural jobs, we can’t lose a single vote.
House & Senate Ambassadors Needed
Ideally we’d have weeks to initiate Ambassador-Legislator dialog, but for the House floor vote, we likely have a day or two at most. Thursday looms, so it will be scheduled for a floor hearing Monday or Tuesday. Our strategy is two-fold:
- Constituent-Legislator dialog. We are hoping to identify Ambassadors for as many House and Senate Dems as possible. Ambassadors should have a pre-existing relationship with a legislator, ideally having their cell phone or home phone number. Ambassadors would call or text their Rep., tell them that they strongly oppose the Hydrogen Hub, share a summary of the scientific and economic reasons you oppose the bill (below), and ask for the opportunity to discuss it. With the summary in hand for both the Ambassador and the legislator, the goal would be to have a conversation that would walk the legislator through it point by point. The goal of the conversation is to convince legislators to oppose the Hub and to identify some legislators who were possibly already opposed and who are willing to share the summary below with colleagues and discuss it with them, effectively becoming Ambassadors themselves.
- Shot-gun dissemination. Above is a highly targeted, personal effort, with little time to implement, so we want everyone to share this summary with their legislator, whether they have a close relationship or not. We ask that you send an email with the summary attached and call your legislator, most likely at the Roundhouse #, unless you have a better #. And in that call indicate that you sent an email with “a Hydrogen Hub summary based on government reports, independent research and the experience of dozens of failed hydrogen production programs.”
Below we have copied in the summary so that everyone can easily review it. You can also review the summary page on our website at this link.
A great deal is at stake. As the summary below illustrates, there is virtually no possibility that the Hub will achieve any of its goals, but it will waste a huge amount of private and/or public money.
If, after reviewing the rest of this post, you are willing to reach out personally to your legislator, please write to RetakeResponse@gmail.com and let us know which legislator you will be contacting.
WHY HB 228 HYDROGEN HUB DEVELOPMENT CAN’T SUCCEED
**A downloadable PDF of this info is available at the bottom of the page.**
Summary: HB 228 would provide economic and administrative incentives for the development of hydrogen hubs. The bill establishes criteria and conditions under which a “clean hydrogen electric generation facility” may operate and defines what such a facility is. It outlines how a board would be formed to oversee hydrogen development and facilitate the creation of public-private partnerships for hydrogen production facilities. It authorizes $125M in funding to support hydrogen hub development.
Why is Hydrogen Hub Development Bad for NM? Our opposition to hydrogen hub development results from a careful review of government reports and independent research summarized below. It simply won’t work––hub jobs will soon be lost and investments will become stranded assets. This is a well-intentioned mistake. There are better ways to generate sustainable rural jobs and revenue. Please read and share with legislators.
Hydrogen is not the answer. It will lead to economic losses and increased emissions.
Carbon capture technology has repeatedly failed to achieve results, causing billions of dollars in public and private losses. Hydrogen Hub viability depends on something that simply doesn’t work: Carbon Capture & Storage.
Of $2.66 billion spent by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) since 2010 to develop advanced fossil energy technologies, nearly half was dedicated to nine carbon capture and storage(CCS) demonstration projects. Only three major projects remained active at the end of FY17 and cost the DOE a combined $615 million.
- Petra Nova Carbon Capture Project, USA: Received $190 million in public funding and cost over $1 billion. Captured less than 2 million tons of CO2 annually. It was shuttered in 2021 for financial reasons. The CCS technology at Petra Nova required so much energy that NRG built a separate gas plant—the emissions of which were not offset by the Petra Nova technology—just to power the scrubber. NRG, the plant’s major investor, said CCS couldn’t compete because of its reliance on volatile O&G markets. The government lost all its investment, as did other investors.
- Mississippi Power’s Kemper Project, USA: The project was supposed to cost $2.4 billion but the cost ballooned by 212.5 percent to $7.5 billion, $270 million of which came from the DOE, without ever actually coming online. Mississippi Power’s ratepayers and taxpayers were stuck with the bill.
- Many other CCS projects were abandoned for financial reasons, despite large amounts of public funding, among them the Antelope Valley Project, USA, ($400 million in public funding), the Sweeny Gasification Project, USA, ($3 million in public funding) and numerous international projects.
Tim Baxter, a senior researcher with the Australian Climate Council, reported that he was not aware of a single large carbon capture and storage project linked to fossil fuels in the world that had delivered on time, on budget, and captured the agreed amount of carbon.
Hydrogen has no environmental benefits.
Hydrogen production increases climate-warming emissions.
- 98% of hydrogen is developed using fossil fuels (coal and natural gas).
- Burning hydrogen derived from natural gas (methane) for electricity is worse than just burning the natural gas directly. There are by-product poison gasses.
Hydrogen is not economical. There is no cost benefit to hydrogen as fuel.
- Hydrogen-based electricity generation is more costly than solar + wind + battery storage.
- Fuel cells will remain more expensive than simpler battery systems.
- Hydrogen has value today mainly in ammonia fertilizer production and oil refining.
- The electric transportation industry based on batteries is already dominant.
- With state, federal, and private investments, a robust network of EV charging stations is being developed to support trucking and private vehicles. Virtually no such investment has been made in hydrogen fueling stations. See graphic at right.
Hydrogen production and distribution is technically complex, leading to cost overruns and failed projects (as noted above).
- Hydrogen is the smallest atom, highly reactive and difficult to contain. It embrittles pipelines, making it difficult to transport. Truck-stop refueling is a problem. Hence the far greater investment in e-charging nationwide.
NEW MEXICO HAS CLEAN, ACHIEVABLE ALTERNATIVES
A 2022 report estimating the potential benefits of public ownership of New Mexico’s power production and transmission infrastructure concluded that development of 16,700 to 23,500 MW of renewable energy above current production plans, with investment in transmission, could generate energy export revenue in excess of $1 Billion annually, and annual wheeling revenue from transmission would exceed $100 million, while generating a minimum of 550 permanent jobs. The report is based on an analysis of growing renewable energy demand in the western United States and a RETA study identifying solar and wind production and transmission growth capacity in New Mexico.
Investing in solar and wind makes more economic sense. Consider the proposed conversion of the Escalante plant to hydrogen. The plan: Invest $450M to convert from coal-fired, connect to a methane pipeline, convert to hydrogen through new chemical processing, capture the carbon and other waste gas, dispose of the carbon. Create 110 jobs. Total power output, just 160MW due to losses (estimate). BETTER ALTERNATIVE: Invest just $350M. Install a 250MW solar array plus utility-scale battery storage to provide electricity with NO methane source or carbon emissions. Create 110 jobs AND use the excess $100M to develop more clean jobs.
Please vote “NO” on HB 228.
 Adapted from https://350newmexico.org/350nm-presentations/ Blue Hydrogen Presentation by T. Solomon, 2022
The rest is up to you. So much at stake, so little time.
In Solidarity & Hope,
Paul & Roxanne