Yesterday the Law Amendments Committee passed Bill 207, Electricity Act amendments. The amendments are to support plans by Tim Houston’s Progressive Conservative government for a new “hydrogen innovation program” as it leaps aboard the hydrogen bandwagon.

Perhaps the committee members weren’t listening very closely to what Brenna Walsh, energy coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre, had to say in her presentation to the committee.

Or perhaps they were listening because they’ve been caught up in what one leading analyst says looks like a hydrogen “economic bubble,” which the Halifax Examiner reported on earlier this week when it looked at how the provincial government is amending its laws and going all-in on “green hydrogen.”

Except that it looks as if Tim Houston’s government may be getting confused about what constitutes “green” hydrogen and what doesn’t, as Walsh, who has a PhD in physical chemistry, suggested in her presentation to Law Amendments.

We’ll get to that. First, a few basics of hydrogen “colours.”

The ‘colours’ of hydrogen are climate-coded

As the Examiner reported in its two-part series (here and here) on the EverWind Fuels’ “green hydrogen and ammonia” project proposed for Point Tupper, hydrogen — which is an energy carrier produced from other energy sources — is assigned colours based on how carbon-intensive its production is and how these relate to climate protection.

For hydrogen to be truly “green” it has to be produced using 100% renewable energy.

“Grey hydrogen” is the opposite of green hydrogen: it’s produced using natural gas or coal, with carbon dioxide released directly into the atmosphere.

“Blue hydrogen” is produced using natural gas, but carbon emissions are meant to be stored or processed using carbon capture and storage technologies. However, blue hydrogen may not be an improvement over grey hydrogen because of methane leaks.

So, the way that hydrogen is produced gives it its so-called colour (in fact, hydrogen is a colourless gas) and its colour makes all the difference in the world about whether it has a role to play in tackling the climate crisis by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or if it is just another climate problem.

This is what Walsh tried very hard to make clear yesterday as she lay out her concerns about the amendments to the 2004 Electricity Act.

Brenna Walsh, energy coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre. Photo: Contributed

It’s worth quoting Walsh’s presentation extensively, since her well-researched arguments appear to have met closed ears and minds in yesterday’s Law Amendments Committee meeting. Said Walsh:

The Electricity Act amendment refers to hydrogen 25 times. However, the word “green” is listed in this amendment a single time, within the word “greenhouse gases” in the amendment to Chapter 25, Section 4FA(4)e. However, in both the press release published accompanying Bill 206 and Bill 206 upon first reading on Oct. 17, 2022, “green hydrogen” is mentioned seven times, and in the introduction of the bill by Minister Ruston during its second reading on Oct. 18, 2022 four times, in both cases, in more than half the instances hydrogen is mentioned.

Though it is encouraging to see the intentions of this government to consider green hydrogen production, we are concerned that this amendment, as written, would open a pathway for other “flavours” [colours] of hydrogen production.

Opening up potential for development of grey hydrogen — that which is produced by burning natural gas — or blue hydrogen — produced the same way but with the promise of CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions being abated with expensive and unproven carbon capture and storage technologies — is counter to meeting the province’s emission reduction goals, stated within the Environmental Goals and Climate Change Reduction Act of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 53% below 2005 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

We would urge the government to reconsider the framing of hydrogen within this amendment, and restrict the definition of a hydrogen facility, currently defined within the amendment as “a facility that produces or processes hydrogen,” which could be included within the list of wholesale consumers to only those producing green hydrogen from renewable resources. We propose the definition of a hydrogen facility to be modified to mean “a facility that produces green hydrogen, or processes hydrogen, which was produced using renewable technology.”

Recall that just this week, a Nova Scotia Natural Resources and Renewables spokesperson told the Halifax Examiner that to their knowledge there are four hydrogen developers now interested in hydrogen export projects in Nova Scotia — Bear Head Energy, Fortescue Metals Group, Northland Power, and Everwind Fuels— while two are interested in domestic production and use — Eastward Energy and Port Hawkesbury Paper.

If indeed all the hydrogen is to be “green,” where is all the renewable energy to come from to produce it? And is it even reasonable that precious renewable energy in the province should be used to produce “green hydrogen” for export when it is needed domestically to lower carbon emissions and combat the climate crisis?

This brings us to another key question that Walsh raised at the Law Amendments Committee: Who is going to be answering these questions and regulating hydrogen production and the new hydrogen innovation program in the province?

Turns out, it may just be the premier and his ministers.

This is what Walsh said about this worrisome concentration of power in just a few hands:

The amendment states that the Governor in Council, which from our understanding indicates the Premier and his Cabinet, “may make regulations respecting any aspect of the hydrogen innovation program…” and includes a long list, A-L of 12 areas where the premier and his council will make decisions on the structure, eligibility requirements of a hydrogen facility connecting to the grid, performance standards, evaluation of carbon intensity of hydrogen facility, whether the hydrogen produced or processed be used within the province and other parameters in the application process, which we expect would include provisions around siting of a hydrogen facility.

She added:

… we are deeply troubled by the amount of power this will give a small amount of decision makers in terms of developing how hydrogen will be produced and used in our province. Nowhere in this amendment is there inclusion or consideration of important actors, such as Indigenous Land and Rights Holders, local communities in which hydrogen production and processing facilities will be built, or experts who could provide advice on appropriate land use and impacts of a hydrogen facility on sensitive ecosystems or species. As presented, the Government in Council will have sweeping authority to establish regulations which will shape this emerging industry in the province of Nova Scotia, with no input from the public or other stakeholders which will be essential to develop a just, and effective strategy for production and use of hydrogen within the province.

In conclusion, Walsh said:

… our concerns with the Electricity Act amendment are centered around two critical aspects. One, the fact that this amendment leaves open the possibility for development of carbon intensive grey hydrogen, as well as blue hydrogen — whose claims of low carbon intensity at scale are unproven — instead of limiting inclusion as wholesale customers to facilities that produce and process green hydrogen. Second, a seemingly closed-door process to develop regulations around the hydrogen industry in Nova Scotia.

Tynette Deveaux, Sierra Club Canada. Photo: Screenshot from Law Amendments Meeting.

The Law Amendments Committee also heard comments from Tynette Deveaux, representing the Sierra Club of Canada, who was equally critical of the government’s going all in on “green hydrogen.”

This is some of what Deveaux told the committee:

[Natural Resources and Renewables] Minister Tory Rushton says that the amendments to the Electricity Act, the Underground Hydrocarbon Storage Act, the Pipeline Act and the Gas Distribution Act are intended to pave the way for green hydrogen. He and his colleagues say that Nova Scotia is well positioned to become a world leader in green hydrogen production and export.

Unfortunately, it’s clear to me from reading comments made in the House on Tuesday, that Mr. Rushton and his colleagues actually know very little about green hydrogen.

The information they shared to date is what you’d expect to find in a prospect sheet written by the hydrogen start-up companies looking for investors.

Deveaux pointed out that hydrogen is extremely inefficient for heat, and suggested that if the purpose really is to somehow help people in Germany and other European countries make it through the cold winter, Nova Scotia could do more by building a heat pump factory than by building giant offshore wind farms to power plants — which will take years — to produce hydrogen for export.

With files from Jennifer Henderson.

Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website: www.joanbaxter.ca;...

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