September 28th, 2021

Hydrogen Hub: Election ploy or business as usual?

By COLLIN GALLANT on August 19, 2021.

A pair of candidates for mayor of Medicine Hat question the timing of the city's economic announcements made this week. The current mayor says city business and the campaign leading to October are completely separate.--NEWS FILE PHOTO

Two mayoral candidates are questioning the timing of major economic announcements just two months before Hatters go to the polls, with one calling a plan to create a local hydrogen strategy, “chasing rainbows,” while the other says it has potential but is still just an idea.

“It’s being used to drum up some publicity ahead of the election,” said Alan Rose, who announced his candidacy in January, and was highly critical of city business endeavours for years prior as the head of the Medicine Hat Ratepayers Association.

“We’re fooling people. It’s a pipe dream.”

Mayor Ted Clugston said the accusation is unfounded and that work to spearhead a “Hydrogen Hub” study with other governments, industry partners and agencies to develop local production of the clean-burning fuel has been underway since the beginning of the year.

A mid-year report is common practice, he said.

“This was planned well before it was announced,” he said. “I’ve always said, even at the beginning of COVID, the business of the city will continue, and it’s not just us. Companies are approaching us.”

On Monday, administrators with Invest Medicine Hat also told council about developing a carbon capture partnership to reduce emission costs for its power plant and, potentially, bring in new companies.

Candidate Linnsie Clark launched her campaign in July with criticism of the process used to seek a private-sector operator for Invest Medicine Hat, scheduled to conclude Aug. 16 before it was cancelled.

She also announced a main campaign plank is for the city to decide on an “Industrial Cluster” strategy, like the one proposed for hydrogen, and build around it.

“I’m very happy that they’re looking in to it, but there’s a lot of confusion among residents that this already happened,” Clark told the News on Tuesday. “At this point it’s an idea – it might be a very good idea – but we have to find out if it is a viable idea. We need to see that analysis.”

What the city has done is form a task force to study the potential to create a “Hydrogen Hub” here, similar to partnerships in place in the heavy industrial area surrounding Edmonton.

That area, known as the Industrial Heartland, has government grant funding, major industrial operations on side and an existing – albeit small – hydrogen production and shipping network already in place.

Rose says the technical aspects of widespread use to the fuel are still uncertain, and that Medicine Hat is disadvantaged compared to other locations.

“We’re landlocked,” he said. “There’s a reason Edmonton works, because the target is obviously the oilsands. There’s a reason why LNG (liquefied natural gas) plants are on the West Coast – because they’re for export.”

Invest officials say they can help entice companies to locate here and the city can tap into large grants made available from Ottawa via a national hydrogen strategy, and from the province, which aims to develop petrochemical clusters to diversify its economy.

Clugston says the city can’t stand still, especially when large grants are involved, and officials are dealing with companies which require confidentiality.

“We may have to move quickly,” he said, citing the 2017 election when the city was in final discussions with Aurora Cannabis about locating here, but he didn’t use the information on the campaign trail.

“I had to sit on stage and get berated about why we weren’t going after a THC (marijuana) grower.”

Invest officials stated in the update that work on the hydrogen strategy began in December 2020, and also provided positive analysis of the Aurora deal.

They stated the $6-million subsidy by the city had become “controversial,” but would break even by 2025 on tax revenue even if it remained unfinished.

Council members lauded the report.

Clark said much of the report reads like a strategy document that should have come out at the beginning of a council term, not with two months to go.

“If it’s such a good report, that makes the decision to take (Invest) out of city hall even more baffling,” she said.

Rose said money set aside for Waterfront District real estate development and business enticements would be better spent on improving public amenities, and companies and investment would follow.

“I’m not against the city doing some things, but I’m against chasing rainbows,” he said.

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