The Los Angeles City Council recently voted to allow the Department of Water and Power to convert Scattergood Power Plant near Playa del Rey to burn a blend of hydrogen gas and natural gas, something environmental groups say would create air pollution. (Facewizard/Wikimedia Commons)

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By Suzanne Potter

March 28, 2023 

Environmental groups are seeking greater input as California puts the finishing touches on its application to become a hub for hydrogen fuel production. This is billed as a big step toward a zero-carbon emission future. The project is being managed by a public-private partnership called the Alliance for Renewable Clean Hydrogen Energy Systems, known as ARCHES.

Monica Embrey, energy director for the California Sierra Club, called this a good opportunity to advance climate progress but only if certain guardrails are put in place.

“If they use existing pipelines, they would have to really upgrade them quite a lot. And we want to make sure that those have safety mechanisms in place so that communities get to say whether or not a pipeline near them actually gets used for hydrogen. We want leakage monitoring, we want really strict standards,” she said.

Hydrogen is extremely explosive and is a major greenhouse-gas pollutant if it leaks or is burned and will not be used for homes or commercial buildings, but instead will be targeted to medium and heavy-duty vehicles, ports and power plants, which are especially difficult to decarbonize, ARCHES said.

In addition, ARCHES said hydrogen will be produced using renewable power and will not be blended with natural gas within pipelines.

SoCal Gas and Chevron have been consulting on the application. The ARCHES website calls for meaningful engagement with community groups and environmental justice advocates.

Bahram Fazeli, director of research and policy with the nonprofit Communities for a Better Environment, said the planning process has been vague to date.

“They have done a very poor job of prioritizing environmental justice or public health in their process. They’re not open to California’s open-meeting laws and public participation. They only have one environmental-justice representative on the 11-member board, ” Fazeli said.

The application to the Department of Energy is due April 7th. New hydrogen hubs could bring more than a$1-billion in federal investment to California, supporters said.