How to Shut Down a Dirty Blue Hydrogen Project

Published Feb 10, 2023
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Climate and Energy

Federal funding is spurring countless plans for dirty hydrogen facilities. Here’s how one organizer stopped a project in her community.
Federal funding is spurring countless plans for dirty hydrogen facilities. Here’s how one organizer stopped a project in her community.
Late last year, an agenda item for an upcoming board of supervisors meeting caught the eye of Food & Water Watch organizer Ginny Marcille-Kerlsake. On December 21, the board would vote on a curious amendment to a zoning ordinance. After years of organizing in her town of West Whiteland, Pennsylvania, Ginny knew to ask questions. But she didn’t expect to expose massive plans for polluting blue hydrogen facilities, right in her community.  The plans Ginny uncovered are part of the larger hydrogen hype that’s currently taking the country by storm. With billions in federal funding available, dirty energy corporations are rushing to cash in on new projects. But by raising public opposition, Ginny’s community stopped plans before they even got off the ground. 

A Data Center Acts as a Trojan Horse for Hydrogen

The zoning amendment Ginny found was filed by a local developer. If passed, it would allow the developer to build a data center on his land in West Whiteland, as well as power generation. With some digging, Ginny found that the developer had already secured zoning permission from neighboring East Whiteland Township. The data center could be anywhere from , straddling the border of East and West Whiteland. It could be up to , towering over the town, almost twice as tall as the next-highest building.  Critically, the data center would border Exton Park, blocking beloved views and adding noise and perhaps air pollution — especially if the data center were paired with a power plant, as the developer applied for.

At the board of supervisors meeting, Ginny started asking questions. Why was the application for the data center and power generation? Why did it include gas and steam-powered hydrogen?

That evening, the developer invited her to see the site and chat about her concerns. But when Ginny took him up on his offer, the developer made it clear that the data center wasn’t the only thing on his mind. Front and center: .

Hydrogen Plans Are Growing, Backed by Federal Funds

The buzz around so-called hydrogen power has grown over the past few years. Its proponents argue that it’s the fuel of the future, thanks to “zero-carbon” claims.

But with a closer look, the hype around hydrogen rings hollow. Considering the vast amounts of energy that hydrogen production requires, it’s more an energy user than energy source. Moreover, from its climate impact, to the hazards of transporting it, to its wildly unsustainable water needs, hydrogen is more problem than solution.

This is especially true for so-called blue hydrogen. “Blue hydrogen” refers to hydrogen derived from natural gas. It comes by its “zero-carbon” claims through carbon capture and storage technology, which aims to pull climate pollution from fracked gas operations and store it deep underground. 

But after years of massive government subsidies, blue hydrogen has only ever amounted to an expensive failure. What’s more, research shows that than burning coal. Ultimately, it’s just a lifeline to the fossil fuel industry, entrenching its polluting operations.

Despite hydrogen’s problems, the Biden administration has earmarked $8 billion to develop hydrogen infrastructure across the country. As a result, states and cities nationwide have applied for funds, and businesses are scheming to get their hands on some of that cash.

Ginny happened across one such scheme.

How This Organizer Shut Down Hydrogen in Her Community

Ginny left her meeting with the developer and immediately went to work. The board of supervisors agreed to consider the developer’s application at a public hearing on January 25. That gave just a few short weeks to get the word out.  With Food & Water Watch volunteer Libby Madarasz, Ginny started a Facebook group to raise awareness. They also handed out informational flyers at a trailhead in Exton Park, the cherished, sprawling green space that would border the proposed data center. The community had fended off efforts to develop Exton Park in the past. Ginny knew they wouldn’t stand for another threat to it. The organizers went door to door, chatting with neighbors about the proposal and gathering signatures for a petition to bring to the January 25 meeting. They connected with local groups, from birding clubs to a church congregation. They also spoke with reporters at local papers who were writing about the developer’s plans.  In the end, they drummed up enough hubbub that the developer balked. At the last minute, he withdrew his application.  Ginny suspects that the attention on the project became too much. Many companies that build polluting infrastructure want their plans to advance out of the public eye. They want to build so quietly and so quickly, residents have no chance to stop it.  By gathering loud public opposition, Ginny and her neighbors disrupted any hope of that.

Our Fight Against Hydrogen and For Real Clean Energy Continues

After this experience, Ginny knows her community is ready for whatever may come next. If the developer tries to return with a new plan, they have the organized opposition to fight it.  At the same time, they’re staying vigilant for similar projects, as the region could become prime real estate for hydrogen. This past year, southeastern Pennsylvania partnered with New Jersey and Delaware to . If they receive it, there will be plenty more plans coming down the line.

Moreover, the nearby Mariner East Pipeline adds to the area’s appeal for blue hydrogen. This pipeline is made of high-grade steel that could withstand high-pressure CO2 — a requirement for potential carbon capture and transport plans.

Communities across the country will soon face fights like Ginny’s. With $8 billion on the line, companies are clambering to get their hands on it. And many will double down on polluting industries like fracked gas to do so.

Right now, lawmakers are throwing money at dirty energy companies to expand wasteful, unsustainable hydrogen. Instead, they should be stopping all support for fossil fuels, while investing in energy efficiency and electrification with renewables. There’s no sense in a large-scale hydrogen buildout when we have these cheaper and more planet-friendly options.

Closer to home, we can keep an eye out for advancing hydrogen projects. With local organizing, we can stop them in their tracks, paving the way for the real energy transition we need.

Your friends and family need to know: hydrogen could be heading for your community. But we can stop it!

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