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Critics say Austin Energy’s proposal to pivot towards hydrogen might do extra hurt than good

Thursday, February 1, 2024 by Kali Bramble

As Austin Energy drafted an replace in its Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan, trade watchdogs are doing their homework, investigating a controversial proposal to construct a new fuel plant designed to burn carbon-neutral inexperienced hydrogen.

Among these asking questions is the town’s Electric Utility Commission, which hosted a panel of specialists final week to judge the proposed funding. The roundtable of researchers, environmentalists and coverage specialists introduced varied points to the ground, highlighting inexperienced hydrogen’s technological constraints whereas recognizing its evolving position within the pivot from fossil fuels.

Since saying its aim of carbon neutrality by 2035, Austin Energy has embraced assets corresponding to wind and photo voltaic to make up extra of its power combine, whereas additionally increasing infrastructure to satisfy demand. in electrical autos. While its efforts have a measurable impression on greenhouse fuel emissions, leaders proceed to search for artistic options to satisfy the rising strain of rising environmental requirements, inhabitants progress and more and more unhealthy climate developments.

One such answer might be inexperienced hydrogen, a hypothetically clear gasoline obtained by a course of referred to as electrolysis, which runs electrical energy by water to separate its molecules into hydrogen and oxygen fuel. New federal incentives will quickly sweeten the deal, with the US Department of Energy not too long ago saying plans to launch a tax credit score of as much as $3 per kilo produced.

In response to those potential kickbacks, Austin Energy is proposing its personal hydrogen-capable mixed cycle energy plant, a “bridge answer” designed to burn pure fuel and inexperienced hydrogen earlier than switching to fully clear hydrogen someday within the subsequent decade. But with new know-how, environmentalists doubt this promise, expressed issues that prohibitive prices, dangerous merchandise and logistical challenges all make for a questionable funding.

One such problem is the nice want for water in electrolysis. Clean Energy Group challenge supervisor Abbe Ramanan estimates that Austin Energy’s proposed plant would require almost 1,127,699 gallons of water per daya quantity that’s notably alarming as the town enters its second 12 months of Stage 2 drought.

Another challenge is transmission, for the reason that smaller dimension of hydrogen fuel makes it unsuitable for touring by present pipelines. Between the projected value of infrastructure, tools and required assets, Ramanan says the proposed plant can be orders of magnitude costlier than renewable power sources corresponding to wind and photo voltaic.

Finally, critics are involved about air pollutant merchandise corresponding to nitrous oxide, particularly in Austin’s flirtation. failed nationwide ambient air high quality requirements.

“That’s why the Clean Energy Group initially obtained concerned in hydrogen combustion within the first place, as a result of research have proven that hydrogen produces virtually six instances extra nitrogen oxide than methane when burned,” Ramanan stated. . “An enormous a part of our mission helps communities which were affected for many years by these pollution close to pure fuel crops, so any time somebody proposes to exchange a supply of (nitrogen oxide) emission to a different, that worries us.”

While the panelists acknowledged that inexperienced hydrogen might be useful in very particular use circumstances, many argued that the dimensions of Austin Energy’s proposal was unwise.

“At the Sierra Club, we expect that hydrogen can play a task within the decarbonization efforts of our economic system, particularly in sectors like aviation and delivery the place electrification will not be presently an choice, however the satan is within the particulars ,” stated the local weather director. coverage and advocacy Patrick Drupp. “We really feel that baseload energy will not be actually a superb use for inexperienced hydrogen.”

Commissioners will plan and return with a proper suggestion on Austin Energy’s proposal subsequent month. In the meantime, these curious can watch the total dialogue right here.

The photograph is made obtainable by a Creative Commons license.

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