Federal hydrogen strategy checks off Alberta boxes, but funding still in question

By Catherine Griwkowsky December 17, 2020

Ottawa unveiled its hydrogen strategy on Wednesday in a rare announcement that had the governments of B.C., Alberta, Quebec and Canada all in agreement.

Federal ministers defended “blue” hydrogen made from fossil fuel sources in regions like Alberta, noting its low emissions output.

The first five years of the strategy involves the creation of a regulatory framework and the establishment of hydrogen hubs, of which Alberta’s Industrial Heartland east of Edmonton could be the largest in North America.

By 2050, Ottawa wants Canada to be among the top three hydrogen producers internationally. Domestically, up to 30 percent of the country’s energy could be derived from hydrogen — a cleaner source of fuel that can be used to heat homes and power buildings and vehicles — aiding the feds in their net-zero emissions strategy.

Yesterday’s strategy includes building new pipelines, as well as expanding carbon capture, storage and utilization technologies.

Alberta Industrial Heartland chair and Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw said the energy industry is ready to take on hydrogen development.

“Hydrogen is the smallest molecule, but it is Canada’s largest common denominator,” she said.

Not blue over green
When asked by reporters whether support for “blue” hydrogen constituted a subsidy to the fossil fuel industry, federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan said there’s room for both blue and green hydrogen.

“I’m not going to choose amongst my children,” he said.

“Blue” hydrogen is made from fossil fuels and reduces its carbon footprint through carbon capture and sequestration techniques, such as those used at Shell’s Quest project located in the Scotford Refinery. “Green” hydrogen is made through electrolysis with water and is renewable energy.

Canada’s Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson also defended different hydrogen types in different regions, saying it wasn’t the source of hydrogen that was important, but how the fuel gets Canada to its net-zero goal by 2050.

“We’re all about lowering emissions,” he said.

So far, the only money attached to the announcement comes in the form of $1.5 billion in funding for clean fuel initiatives, including hydrogen and biofuels.

Alberta backs the plan
Energy Minister Sonya Savage said she supports Ottawa’s work.

“The federal strategy — which Alberta contributed to — supports the work we are doing to build a provincial hydrogen road map and provide significant environmental and economic benefits to Alberta, Canada and across the world,” she said in a statement (the UCP released its own natural gas strategy, which includes plastics recycling growth plans, in October).

Savage said Alberta is already one of the world’s biggest hydrogen producers and has the “tools and experience to produce clean hydrogen right now, and for decades to come.”