Gov. Hochul celebrates clean hydrogen (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)
Too often, conversations about how to address climate change have a glaring blind spot. Supporters and opponents frequently debate the merits of various clean energy solutions and argue over where to locate wind turbines and solar fields. But one key piece of the clean energy puzzle remains conspicuously absent: the people who will build and operate clean energy facilities.
We are encouraged to see that Governor Hochul is addressing the often-overlooked issue of the clean energy workforce head on in her 2023 agenda. Her promise to establish a new "Office of a Just Transition” to ensure energy workers are not left behind is a welcome acknowledgement that building green infrastructure is going to require a massive mobilization of highly-skilled labor.
New York must continue to activate all available resources and tools to meet ambitious climate goals to maintain reliability and stimulate job growth.
The state Climate Action Council’s non-binding Scoping Plan respects this challenge by including a framework to implement access to alternative fuels such as clean hydrogen. The good news is a hydrogen blend used for power generation at a New York Power Authority plant on Long Island demonstrated decreased carbon emissions by 14% and continued reliability of thermal plant operations.
These cutting-edge research results will only get better over time and provide new data to inform New York’s comprehensive decarbonization strategy.
Clean hydrogen creates good-paying and family-sustaining jobs while lowering emissions and advancing New York’s clean energy goals. A versatile and safe fuel, hydrogen is an abundant domestic resource that supports the large-scale integration of renewables into the energy system.
According to the International Energy Agency, hydrogen can reduce carbon emissions in industry and transport by 60 gigatons, and help to store and transport renewable energy. It can also reliably deliver clean commercial and residential heat solutions and provide vital, on-demand, carbon-free fuel for power generation. Investments in hydrogen hub programs by the federal government acknowledge the anticipated role that clean hydrogen will play in decarbonizing energy footprints.
Critically, replacing existing power plants that run on fossil fuels with those that run on clean hydrogen allows us to rapidly reduce emissions without displacing workers or jeopardizing reliability. For decades, power generating facilities have supported municipalities and school districts anchored by a strong union workforce.
At a power plant, the turbine, generators, and site equipment operate the same way whether the unit is fueled with natural gas or hydrogen. Converting a fossil fuel power plant to clean hydrogen requires no more training than the adoption of any other new piece of equipment.
We can see the benefits for workers by looking at the Port Jefferson Power Plant on Long Island, which employs roughly 75 local men and women. Many of the workers at the plant have been there for three decades, establishing themselves as experts in the field. Converting the plant to clean hydrogen instead of shuttering it ensures this generation of skilled workers, some just years away from retirement, can keep their jobs and play a pivotal role in achieving New York’s greenhouse gas reduction targets.
In addition to plant conversions, energy companies also need to provide access to training and upskilling programs to prepare workers for new opportunities in the green economy. National Grid has been positioning workers to build offshore wind and solar as more renewable projects come online. The education sessions are weeks long, conducted during work hours, and paid in full by the company. At the end, employees are ready for clean energy jobs that provide the same pay and benefits they were receiving working on fossil fuel projects.
New York’s commitment to a just transition must protect the workers who have labored for years to keep our lights on and homes warm. Their know-how will allow us to accomplish a smooth transition to 100% reliable, renewable energy sources that are affordable for ratepayers.
Clean hydrogen is one of the keys to a just transition that meets state climate goals while preserving good jobs and system reliability. We look forward to working with state leaders and climate stakeholders to ensure it remains a pillar of New York’s clean energy future.
Will Hazelip is President of National Grid Ventures, Northeast. John Murphy is New York State Representative, United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada.