Opinion

California can — and should — lead the world on clean hydrogen

The Energy Observer, the first round-the-world hydrogen-powered sea vessel, arrived in Long Beach on Earth Day, April 22. (Photo: Ringo Chiu, via Shutterstock)

In the May Revision to his state budget proposal, Gov. Gavin Newsom added $110 million to support clean hydrogen production, recognizing the need for more clean hydrogen in the U.S. and the opportunity for California to dominate its development on a national and global scale.

With sustainability and renewable energy becoming more crucial with each day, it makes sense to ask: Why isn’t the U.S. on the list of 30 countries advancing low-carbon economies by leveraging clean hydrogen projects?

We already have much of the infrastructure needed to support the move to a clean hydrogen-fueled economy.

Fortunately, that may change with a new administration in Washington. President Biden’s infrastructure-focused American Jobs Plan, which is going through Congress now, includes investments in new hydrogen demonstration projects.

California, as the world’s 5th largest economy and a global leader in setting bold clean energy and climate goals, is poised to lead the U.S. in the development and use of clean hydrogen as well as the sustainable, high-quality jobs that come with it.

Clean hydrogen is a zero-emission fuel source that can be produced from a variety of energy resources, including natural gas and biomass as well as renewables like solar and wind. It has many potential uses, from fueling our cars to heating our homes and powering our businesses, ports and ferries–all with clean, reliable energy. 

We already have much of the infrastructure needed to support the move to a clean hydrogen-fueled economy. That’s one of the reasons presidential climate envoy John Kerry has called hydrogen a “jump ball” in the global clean energy race with “huge opportunities” for the U.S. 

By using or retrofitting existing infrastructure – from natural gas pipelines that cross our state to the gas stations which dot every highway and interstate – we can produce, transport and utilize clean hydrogen in our energy system. And, in doing so, create skilled, high-paid jobs.

As state leaders work over the coming weeks to finalize the budget, it is imperative this funding commitment remain in place – or even increase.

Consider Australia, where the federal government has committed over $146 million to new hydrogen projects. Their clean hydrogen industry is expected to create about 7,600 jobs annually and generate billions of dollars each year in GDP by 2050.

In addition to boosting jobs and the economy, clean hydrogen will play an essential role in achieving California’s goal of reducing economy-wide emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. 

More urgently, though, it can help put the state on pace to meet its ambitious 2035 zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) goal, which will be key to achieving climate targets set forth in the Paris accords. 

A recent report from the California Center for Jobs & Economy estimates that ZEVs currently represent about 6.5 percent of total vehicle sales, putting the state on course to reach only half of its goal by 2035. To have any chance of reaching this goal, we’re going to need even more clean vehicles and fuel source options like hydrogen.

Acknowledging the importance of new and clean charging and fueling stations to support the state’s 2035 goal, Governor Newsom included a $1.5 billion investment in ZEV infrastructure and incentives as part of his 2021-2022 budget proposal. 

As state leaders work over the coming weeks to finalize the budget, it is imperative this funding commitment remain in place – or even increase – to accelerate the construction and maintenance of new clean hydrogen fueling stations across the state. 

We are also looking at opportunities at the local and state level to get more clean hydrogen fueling stations into our communities, because tangible change has the most impact at the local level. We are committed to working together with elected officials, businesses, community groups and other organizations to fast-track widespread use of all clean energy sources, including hydrogen.  

The opportunity to lead is right in front of us. By advancing clean hydrogen as a policy and infrastructure priority here in California, we can decarbonize our economy, create good-paying jobs and show the nation and the world the path forward to a cleaner energy future.

Editor’s Note: 
Maria S. Salinas is the president and CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

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