Dustyn Thompson is the director of the Delaware chapter of the Sierra Club.
The climate crisis is here. This year alone, Delaware has seen flooded streets, smoke from the Canadian wildfires and record temperatures, and has been threatened by multiple tornadoes and other natural disasters. Data released earlier this year by the First Street Foundation and Moody’s Analytics found that Delaware is the fifth-most at-risk state for climate catastrophe in the entire country.
We’ve known for decades that the climate crisis is primarily caused by emissions from coal, oil, methane gas and combustion vehicles. We’ve also known that the solution to this problem is quickly reducing emissions and transitioning our state to 100% clean, renewable energy and electrifying vehicles and buildings. Even as we know action is needed, lobbyists supporting fracked gas are trying to get a blank check to continue polluting, paid directly from your bank account.
Over the past few months, there have been public presentations on so-called “low-carbon fuels” and other “renewable fuels,” and how they will enable fracked-gas companies to “go green.” In reality, this exorbitantly expensive proposal, being floated in multiple states, including Delaware, would allow the fracked-gas utilities to invest ratepayer money in highly controversial and very risky infrastructure for expensive alternative fuels — all while giving gas companies a massive return on that investment and putting residents and the climate at risk. Some of these projects cost upwards of $30 million each and would be added to your monthly gas bill!
Hydrogen has been at the focus of these bills and is touted as a versatile, clean source of energy. Hydrogen may have an important role in some applications, such as heavy industry, but without stringent requirements for its production and usage, it can actually increase dangerous carbon and methane emissions, and keep us dependent on publicly subsidized dirty gas. There are different ways to produce hydrogen, but currently, around 99% of hydrogen is made from methane gas. The oil and gas industry have continuously touted “clean” hydrogen as a way to keep their businesses alive.
The only type of hydrogen production that is clean is “green” hydrogen, which is created by a process that is powered by renewable energy and separates water into oxygen and hydrogen. However, this process takes a lot of energy and is best used in hard-to-electrify sectors where alternatives do not exist, like aviation or heavy industry. Using limited supplies of green hydrogen in places that can be cheaply electrified — like heating or light-duty vehicles — is inefficient and wasteful, and can be dangerous to consumers and the planet.
A recent study published in Nature, a premier scientific journal, has shown that hydrogen itself also contributes to climate change by causing methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases, to remain in the atmosphere far longer than usual. Hydrogen leaks would contribute to the devastating climate impacts we are experiencing across the globe. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has also shown that, if hydrogen is injected into the current natural gas pipeline system, we could expect to double the current rate of leaks because fracked-gas pipelines are not designed to carry large volumes of hydrogen gas. In our homes, it could be even worse.
For homes and buildings, electrification is a better option; it is already available, more efficient and more cost-effective, and provides cleaner indoor air. That is truer now than ever with massive rebates from President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and new programs at the state level to help support electrification, like the energy audits and rebates already offered by Energize Delaware.
The fact of the matter is that gas companies are willing to say anything to keep their polluting industry afloat, even pushing ratepayer-subsidized hydrogen over cheaper and more efficient alternatives.
So, what can we do about it? First and foremost, Delaware has now been awarded millions of dollars in federal funding for a regional hydrogen hub. We need to make sure that legislators understand the risks of hydrogen to ensure that only truly green projects are allowed to operate in Delaware and that historically impacted communities be at the center of all permitting decisions.
Our legislators must hear from us and know that this proposal to pump hydrogen and other so-called “low-carbon fuels” into our homes is not sustainable, affordable or even necessary. Instead, we must focus on actual solutions to help Delawareans save money on energy bills and tackle the climate crisis.
This means moving off of fossil fuels for transportation, energy and in our homes, and building a clean-energy economy. Delaware can do this, but only if we stand firm against false solutions and invest in our future.
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