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Economy

The Clean Hydrogen Rules Will Be Delayed Until at Least October

The Biden administration will miss a deadline in the Inflation Reduction Act, as it tries to regulate one of the climate law’s most generous —and contentious — tax credits.

Janet Yellen and hydrogen infrastructure.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

The Biden administration is planning to publish rules governing one of the most generous subsidies in its new climate law — a tax credit for clean hydrogen — no earlier than October, missing a key deadline inscribed in the law, according to a source familiar with the process.

The rules revolve around one of the most contentious questions that has emerged after the law’s passage: How do you know that your electricity is clean? The debate has divided climate activists, hydrogen companies, renewable developers, and nuclear-power plant owners.

The ultimate answer could — by one estimate — determine the flow of more than $100 billion in federal subsidies over the next two decades.

The new rules could come as late as December, the source said, missing the deadline by as much as four months. The climate law required the Treasury Department publish guidance about the hydrogen tax credit within one year of its passage. Because the law was signed on August 16, 2022, that deadline will arrive next week.

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  • Hydrogen is key to the Biden administration’s climate strategy. The colorless, odorless gas has the potential to replace fossil fuels in industries that are otherwise difficult to make climate-friendly, including steelmaking, shipping, aviation, and fertilizer production. While hydrogen does not emit any carbon when burned, today most hydrogen is made from natural gas in a carbon-intensive process.

    The new tax credit is designed to make cleaner production methods more competitive, and it offers the largest reward — $3 per kilogram of hydrogen — to companies that can make hydrogen without emitting almost any greenhouse gases at all.

    The issue before the Treasury Department is how companies should calculate their greenhouse gas emissions when trying to qualify for this credit. But there’s no universally accepted way to do this accounting. That is an especially big problem for a method of producing hydrogen called electrolysis, which uses electricity to split water into its constituent hydrogen and oxygen atoms. The process is incredibly energy-intensive, but it can be emissions-free, as long as the electricity comes from a carbon-free source.

    A major debate has erupted among energy companies, environmental groups, and academics over what should qualify as carbon-free electricity. Earlier this year, researchers from Princeton University’s ZERO Lab warned that the Treasury Department’s decision could risk a major increase in emissions, underwritten by billions of public dollars, if not crafted carefully. Most — but not all — of the nascent clean hydrogen industry has pushed back on their analysis, warning that onerous rules would “devastate the economics” of clean hydrogen.

    As we’ve previously reported, the complicated tax credit could transform the nuclear power sector and America’s energy economy writ large. It could also drive the formation of a booming domestic clean-hydrogen industry — but only if the Biden administration gets it right.

    Read more about the hydrogen rules:

    The Green Hydrogen Debate Is Much Bigger Than Hydrogen

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    Emily Pontecorvo profile image

    Emily Pontecorvo

    Emily is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Previously she was a staff writer at the nonprofit climate journalism outlet Grist, where she covered all aspects of decarbonization, from clean energy to electrified buildings to carbon dioxide removal.

    Robinson Meyer profile image

    Robinson Meyer

    Robinson is the founding executive editor of Heatmap. He was previously a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covered climate change, energy, and technology.

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