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West Virginia Hydrogen Hub Reports Federal Encouragement

An Appalachian regional coalition formed to pursue billions of dollars in federal funding to develop a hydrogen-based energy and economic hub says it has cleared a significant hurdle toward making the hub a reality.

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(TNS) — An Appalachian regional coalition formed to pursue billions of dollars in federal funding to develop a hydrogen-based energy and economic development hub says it has cleared a significant hurdle toward making the hub a reality.

The coalition of dozens of entities across Appalachia says the U.S. Department of Energy has encouraged it to submit a full application — a blessing that it bestowed to fewer than half of interested entities.

The Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub, which calls itself ARCH2, is pursuing support for hydrogen hubs provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted in 2021. The Department of Energy opened a $7 billion funding opportunity in September to create hydrogen hubs nationwide.

Hydrogen, which is light and has the highest energy per mass of any fuel, is viewed as key in the energy transition away from fossil fuels that drive climate change.

The goal of the program is to spread energy investments and jobs, and West Virginia leaders say an industrial hub in Appalachia would benefit the entire region.

Critics say ARCH2's hub plans could lock the region into climate and environment-damaging fossil fuel infrastructure and increase energy prices.

The $7 billion federal hydrogen hub program is to support six to 10 hubs across the nation, according to the Department of Energy.

The Department of Energy says it encouraged 33 entities submitting concept papers to submit a full application and discouraged 46 entities from doing so. The agency said it won't share the names of applicants that received encouragement or discouragement messages on their concept papers, so prospective hub funding applicants have been announcing what evaluations they received.

ARCH2 declined to share its concept paper.

West Virginia state officials partnered with the nation's largest natural gas producer, an Ohio science and technology development nonprofit, an Illinois energy research firm and a Bridgeport energy technology consulting firm to create the regional hydrogen hub last year.

The state, EQT Corp., Battelle, GTI Energy and Allegheny Science & Technology teamed up to establish the hub, regional business and political leaders announced in September.

"There is no doubt that the projects delivered under ARCH2 will create many new jobs across the employment spectrum," Allegheny Science & Technology public relations director Stephanie Pethtel asserted in an email.

Pethtel said interest in ARCH2 is "very high," adding the coalition is engaging 150 entities across private and public sectors, educational institutions and community groups throughout the region interested in participating.

GTI Energy marketing communications director Diane Miller said that vast energy resources across Appalachia to enable what she called clean hydrogen production through diverse feedstocks within a single hub while taking advantage of gas production and existing pipeline transportation networks.

Miller argued that Northern Appalachia would be a geographically sensible choice for a hydrogen hub due to its close proximity to major end-use markets in the Midwest, Northeast, Southeast and Mid-Atlantic.

Two hubs must be in regions "with the greatest natural gas resources" to the maximum extent possible, per the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Miller noted Northern Appalachia's prominent role in the nation's natural gas production. West Virginia is the nation's fourth-largest producer of marketed natural gas.

Full applications are due April 7. Applicants must include a plan describing how they will engage with community and labor groups, invest in America's workforce and support the Biden administration's environmental justice initiative requiring that 40% of benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities.

Sean O'Leary, senior researcher for the Ohio River Valley Institute, a pro-clean energy nonprofit think tank, contends that a hydrogen hub encouraging increased regional natural gas production would elevate health risks. Utility-scale power generation isn't an effective foundation for economic development and job creation, O'Leary argued.

A 2021 Ohio River Valley Institute report found that a rise in natural gas production from 2008 to 2019 did little to lift up the economies in 22 gas drilling-heavy counties in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

"[A]s West Virginia has already experienced, increases in natural gas production do not create jobs," O'Leary said in an email.

© 2023 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.