On Aug. 25, New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced that Rhode Island and Maine had joined Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey in advancing a hydrogen hub in the region. The coalition is set to collaborate on a proposal and apply for federal funding provided by the U.S. Department of Energy as a result of last year's Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
At this stage of the process, Rhode Island’s participation in the coalition is not binding, Robert Beadle, chief public affairs officer at the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources, wrote in an email to The Herald. Beadle highlighted the benefits of developing clean hydrogen energy in the state, such as meeting Rhode Island’s Act on Climate goals, expanding innovative decarbonization technologies and providing green jobs.
"The clean hydrogen hub is a way of connecting different production and consumption projects across the entire region (instead of) focusing all the activity in one area," Beadle wrote. To achieve this goal, the proposal will include partnerships with the private sector, nonprofit organizations and universities.
Rhode Island Energy is one of those partners in the state. Lee Gresham, head of gas transformation regulatory strategy at Rhode Island Energy, spoke to The Herald about why the company decided to join the project.
Rhode Island Energy, he explained, believes in clean hydrogen as a solution to decarbonize the gas sector and meet energy goals. The holistic energy ecosystem promoted by the project will use the strengths of each state to foster economic resiliency and create new jobs, Gresham said.
Kurt Teichert, senior lecturer in environment and society, explained that hydrogen fuel cells — which convert hydrogen gas into electricity through combustion — “are beneficial in that they can provide electricity when it is needed.”
Teichert added that hydrogen fuel cells “rely less on storage than renewable systems, and emit only water vapor," he wrote in an email to The Herald. While he believes that renewable energy sources are critical in the process of decarbonizing economies, he also highlighted how important it is that fuel production and distribution infrastructure follow the green transition.
“Both the regional supply of hydrogen, and the technology such as fuel cells, need to grow together,” he wrote. Teichert also referenced the development of offshore wind farms in the northeast, which means the hub is “more likely to be ‘greener’ than other regions that will likely rely more heavily on fossil/carbon capture technologies.”
Gresham, who also mentioned the role of offshore wind, explained that Rhode Island would be able to contribute to the transportation sector by developing transportation adaptations and infrastructure necessary to support hydrogen. This process, Gresham added, would involve workforce training and creating guidelines and frameworks to ensure safety during hydrogen transportation that would be shared throughout the regional coalition.
The project is still in its early stages. According to the timeline available in the DOE's Notice of Intent, the award and implementation of the funding will take place in many phases. After the DOE announces preliminary awarding of funds, the states will have to submit a concept paper, which will receive feedback from the department. Following the submission of a final proposal by March next year, the DOE’s final binding decisions will be made, Gresham said.