“We went all in.”
That was how Gov. Josh Shapiro described Pennsylvania’s push to secure two regional clean hydrogen hub projects at a Tuesday press conference in Philadelphia. “I want you to know that Pennsylvania workers, Pennsylvania businesses, and Pennsylvania’s grit and ingenuity were on display during this really intense competition to land these hydrogen hubs.”
Not mentioned? The Biden administration is putting up the at least $1.675 billion in taxpayer dollars for the projects. Also excluded from Tuesday’s announcement was a yearly $50 million tax credit signed into law by then-Gov. Tom Wolf last year. A press release did say the Biden administration is investing $750 million to build the MACH2 hydrogen hub in Philadelphia.
The two hubs are the Mid-Atlantic Clean Hydrogen Hub (MACH2), which will be centered in greater Philadelphia, and the ARCH2 Hydrogen Hub based in West Virginia, “which will create 21,000 jobs for the Appalachian region, including in Southwestern Pennsylvania,” according to Shapiro’s office.
Shapiro sees the projects as essential for the future.
“This investment is a game changer for our Commonwealth and the energy economy. With this new hydrogen hub, we have the chance to prove ourselves again as the center of the clean energy universe – and with Philly labor at the helm here, I know that we are going make big waves in the energy sector for decades to come.”
Unions are expected to be a major part of construction. The White House has prioritized labor union-green energy team-ups in its Bidenomics pitch for 2024.
“We’re going to train the next generation of construction workers, infrastructure workers,” said Ryan Boyer, Business Manager of the Philadelphia Building & Construction Trades Council, “I cannot thank the president of the United States and the Department of Energy for believing that we have the best building trades in the world.”
It is a major score for Boyer, who vowed that the BTCT would have a “major seat at the table” regarding regional infrastructure projects. It is also an opportunity to help repair the reputation of Philadelphia’s BCTC after the conviction of former boss John Doughtery, who was found guilty of conspiracy charges in 2021.
Also on board for the project is Steamfitters Local 420 Business Manager Jim Snell. He had previously criticized the “Build Back Better” initiative. But he was all smiles, describing the hydrogen hubs as proof that it’s who you know in getting deals done.
“This wasn’t just me; I was smart enough to call the right people,” Snell said. “This was government, and building trades, and business, and academia working together like I’d never (seen) before.”
The energy company behind the Philadelphia area hydrogen hub hopes to see more development in the future.
“We are excited to work with the City of Philadelphia to develop this hydrogen hub, which will help to jump-start the production and use of more clean-burning hydrogen throughout the U.S. We must do everything we can to combat climate change and lower greenhouse gas emissions through the use of more low carbon fuels such as hydrogen,” Caitlin Tessin, vice president of strategy and market innovation at Enbridge told DVJournal.
There are still skeptics across the political spectrum, albeit for different reasons.
The free-market Commonwealth Foundation is more focused on Pennsylvania’s overall regulatory environment than the economic impact of one large, taxpayer-subsidized project.
“If the governor truly is ‘competitive as hell,’ he must apply the lesson of regulatory relief for I-95 construction to all forms of permitting and red tape,” said Elizabeth Stelle, Commonwealth Foundation’s director of policy analysis. “As the 12th most regulated state in the nation, Pennsylvania’s future as an energy leader remains in question. The same red tape that’s hamstringing reliable, safe, and affordable energy production threatens to hamstring hydrogen hubs.”
Environmental groups, including PennFuture, wonder if hydrogen hubs are worth the time and money.
“Hydrogen certainly has opportunities for certain niche areas, steel manufacturers, cement manufacturers, and maybe long-distance transportation,” said Rob Altenburg, Senior Director for Energy and Climate with PennFuture. “But we look at it as sort of an 80-20 rule where of the things we need to do to decarbonize 80 percent is the easy stuff.
“If we’re going to eventually get to a point where we use clean hydrogen…we need extra renewable energy over and above what it takes to power the grid,” Altenburg added.
Around 41,000 jobs are expected to be created by the hub projects. No word on when construction will begin.