Photo by John Schreiber.

A key Los Angeles City Council committee Thursday advanced a motion introduced by the committee’s chair Councilman Mitch O’Farrell and Los Angeles City Council President Nury Martinez to have the city submit a proposal to the U.S. Department of Energy to have the Los Angeles area be considered for a regional “Green Hydrogen Hub” to power hard-to-electrify industries with renewable energy.

The motion comes after the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, passed last year, included $8 billion for several regional Hydrogen Hubs across the U.S. that will be overseen by the U.S. Department of Energy.

“The DOE is looking for diverse regional Hydrogen Hubs that focus on different types of hydrogen production, end uses, job creations and innovations,” the motion stated. “Based on the existing infrastructure, our vast renewable energy portfolio, our skilled labor force, our renowned university system, essential transportation corridors, the largest municipally owned utility in the nation and the busiest container port in North America, the greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area is well-suited to be a leader in this effort.”

While the federal government is seeking Hydrogen Hubs, Los Angeles is working to transition to a 100% renewable energy grid by 2035. The motion notes that hydrogen energy could also further the Port of Los Angeles’ goals of using 100% zero-emission technology in its operations.

“Green hydrogen distribution in and around the port complex could accelerate industry adoption of clean equipment and limit air pollution emissions,” the motion said.

The City Council’s Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice and River Committee spoke to representatives from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the Port of Los Angeles, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the University of California about the potential hub and how it fits in the city’s goal to get to 100% renewable energy.

“We know from the LA100 study how important that last mile is in terms of ensuring that we have reliable and resilient power. Green hydrogen can play a really significant role with that,” said DWP Director of Resource Planning, Development and Programs Jason Rondou.

Rondou added that he believes Los Angeles is well positioned to seek federal funds for a hydrogen hub, noting the city includes the Port of Los Angeles and Los Angeles International Airport.

“We fit a lot of what the DOE is looking for. One of the hubs has to be based on renewable energy, and that is our focus, 100% green hydrogen only. That’s all we’re looking to do,” added Paul Habib, DWP’s executive assistant to the general manager.

However, environmental protection activists with Food & Water Watch Los Angeles announced their opposition to the motion shortly after it was introduced in March, calling hydrogen “a smokescreen for fossil fuel development in the guise of clean energy.”

The group worries that hydrogen creates opportunities for fossil fuels and fossil fuel infrastructure, and that hydrogen produced by electrolysis is extremely water-intensive. The process requires 9 kilograms of water for every 1 kilogram of hydrogen produced, and the Los Angeles area is in the midst of a mega-drought that a recent UCLA study found to be the worst in 1,200 years.

Following the committee’s vote to advance the motion, Food & Water Watch Senior L.A. Organizer Jasmin Vargas said:

“The City Council is rushing through this proposal under the guise of clean energy despite significant impacts it will have on disadvantaged communities. Most notably, this proposal will likely exacerbate the water crisis facing Southern California, where officials are already asking residents to ration water, as well as the potential to stall plans to shut down L.A.’s existing fleet of power plants.”

“We already have proven energy solutions like solar, wind and battery storage to get L.A. to 100-percent clean energy by 2035. We can’t poison our communities and give up our scarce water resources for a scheme that could keep L.A. stuck on fossil fuels for decades to come,” she added.

While the council members’ motion calls for its potential hub to produce “green hydrogen,” which is created using electrolysis of water, another type of hydrogen, called “blue hydrogen,” is produced through natural gas in a process that emits methane and carbon dioxide.

While green hydrogen does produce NOx if used in a combustion process, it only emits water if consumed in a fuel cell.

O’Farrell’s office said that it worked with several environmental and environmental justice organizations on the motion, including the Sierra Club, Communities for a Better Environment and Pacoima Beautiful.

“Green hydrogen could play a critical role to help cut pollution from hard-to-electrify industries like long-haul trucking, shipping and aviation. However, the promise of hydrogen to address our climate needs will only be possible if it is 100% green — coming from electrolysis using renewable energy — and not blended with fossil gas or biofuels,” Monica Embrey, senior associate director of energy campaigns for the Sierra Club, told City News Service in March.

“Unfortunately, hydrogen has been heavily green-washed by the gas industry as an excuse to extend fossil fuels and to subsidize polluting biofuels. There are a lot of ways to produce and use hydrogen that pollute heavily and keep us stuck on fossil fuels, so we’re paying close attention to this application. We look forward to being a part of the dialogue with other stakeholders, including the LADWP, environmental justice organizations and labor partners.”

The motion aims to address concerns about the water-intensive process by exploring the use of advanced treated water, some of which is currently being dumped in the ocean, from the Bureau of Sanitation’s Advanced Water Purification Facility at the Terminal Island Water Reclamation Plant to supply water for the projects if the city’s application is successful.

The motion also aimed to address concerns of community members by including a clause to have the city work with researchers, including at the University of California, to evaluate the use of green hydrogen to ensure that a potential green hydrogen hub in Los Angeles doesn’t have adverse impacts on the environment or frontline communities. Another measure to address concerns is having the Bureau of Sanitation, the DWP and the Port of Los Angeles report on monitoring nitrogen oxide and other emissions if the application is successful.

The motion would also have the DWP and the Port of Los Angeles collaborate with the Climate Emergency Mobilization Office as an effort to avoid impact on frontline communities if a federal grant application is successful.

The motion will next be considered by the full City Council.

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