The Palmetto Insider

The blog of the South Carolina Policy Council

S.C. Media Glossing Over Hydrogen Realities

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Much of the South Carolina media seems reluctant to pull back the curtain on the realities associated with government-funded hydrogen transportation research.

The Obama administration has expressed grave doubts about the viability of hydrogen transportation, but that hasn’t kept the South Carolina media from hyping the concept like it’s a no-brainer solution to our nation’s energy concerns.

Take a story that appeared in The Charleston Post and Courier this past weekend. The piece provided a decidedly uncritical look at the tens of millions in tax dollars that have been invested in hydrogen research in South Carolina, even though there’s been little return on that investment.

Highlights from the story:

State taxpayers have chipped in $12.3 million to hydrogen fuel cell efforts, while federal, municipal and private sources have invested an additional $115 million in South Carolina, said Shannon Baxter-Clemmons, executive director of the S.C. Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance.

A shining new building complex in Columbia and a billboard touting hydrogen’s potential greet motorists in the capital city.

The hydrogen group also has developed some political muscle.

When the Obama administration proposed cutting millions of dollars in federal hydrogen research to focus more on electric cars, the state’s congressional delegation and Columbia officials successfully lobbied to restore the money.

State lawmakers, such as House Speaker Bobby Harrell of Charleston, are big hydrogen supporters. But Gov. Mark Sanford generally has opposed state funding for hydrogen research.

Baxter-Clemmons said the state’s work on hydrogen would complement a wind power push. That’s because wind power could be a clean way to produce hydrogen and because hydrogen fuel cells would be a good way of storing energy when the wind isn’t blowing.

Now for some facts The Post and Courier left out:

  • The S.C. Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance has yet to provide the Policy Council with a breakdown of precisely what money came from what sources. That’s important because it is unclear how much private investment has gone into hydrogen research in South Carolina. All told, more than $130 million has been invested in hydrogen research, according to the alliance, but it’s not clear what taxpayers have gotten in return.
  • The “shining new building complex in Columbia” the story mentioned is believed to refer to the University of South Carolina’s Innovista research campus (The Post and Courier reporter who wrote the story was unavailable to clarify). Innovista sits largely vacant and uncompleted despite the infusion of more than $100 million in tax dollars because the university doesn’t have the money to finish the project and can’t entice private companies to sign on.
  • In May, the Obama administration proposed cutting approximately $100 million in federal hydrogen research to focus more on electric cars because the infrastructure – fueling stations and hydrogen production and transport systems – is too costly and would take up to 20 years to develop. While the state’s congressional delegation and Columbia officials successfully lobbied to restore the money, it should say something about the viability of hydrogen transportation research that the Obama administration, which hasn’t been reluctant to spend money on much of anything, wanted to cut funding for this particular program.
  • State lawmakers such as House Speaker Bobby Harrell of Charleston are indeed big hydrogen supporters, but their supporting data doesn’t always hold up under scrutiny. For example, earlier this year, Harrell released a statement that said hydrogen had proven to be a great investment for South Carolina. Among the facts he touted was this: “The public/private investment in hydrogen has created 229 jobs in South Carolina. With 65 percent of those jobs being created in the past five years, this is proving to be a growing industry.” But in reality that works out to fewer than 30 hydrogen-related jobs a year on average over the past half decade. Further, it’s unclear what kind of jobs Harrell was referring to. If the tens of millions in tax dollars that have gone toward hydrogen research have been used by state agencies and publicly funded universities to hire lobbyists and consultants, that’s hardly the type of economic development that has long-term economic benefits for the state. Innovista, for example, hasn’t created a single private sector job.
  • The idea that hydrogen and wind power could work in tandem sounds nice in theory, but it’s much harder to pull off in reality. According to The Chicago Tribune, wind currently produces only about 1 percent of the United States’ electricity today, so it would take an immense uptick in development to make any sort of significant impact in terms of helping meet our nation’s energy needs. In addition, offshore wind turbines, which are the focus of S.C. research, aren’t cheap. Their foundations are much more costly than those built on land and must be designed to handle both wind forces and wave forces. In addition, there’s a need for undersea cabling, integration, etc. There are also issues related to the environment, shipping, fishing, coastal scenery and even seabed ownership to be considered.

But beyond those issues, wind’s unreliablity makes it a poor source of electricity.

According to a report issued by the North Carolina-based John Locke Foundation last year, “Wind power does not provide baseload electricity generation, which is the regular and consistent electricity needed to meet constant demand.

“Since wind is intermittent and variable, wind power also does not provide a dispatchable source of electricity to meet peak demand — it is not a source that can be called upon to meet excess demand for electricity. These weaknesses make other sources of electricity, such as coal, nuclear, and gas, far more valuable in meeting the demand for electricity.”


Written by Cotton Boll Conspiracy

August 26, 2009 at 3:55 pm

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