Building Stronger Community Engagement in Hydrogen Hubs

The report cover for the EFI Foundation report,

Building Stronger Community Engagement in Hydrogen Hubs (February 2024) is a factbook reporting the results of a survey of nearly 5,000 respondents from disadvantaged, tribal, labor, and environmental justice communities on their attitudes toward hydrogen hubs and community engagement. It contributes to ongoing efforts by communities, hydrogen hub developers, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to align on community engagement approaches and best practices for DOE’s $7 billion Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs (H2Hubs) program. The factbook gives insight into communities’ preferred modes of engagement with hydrogen developers, their attitudes toward hydrogen hubs, and their perceptions of DOE’s community engagement processes.

The survey was conducted from May through October 2023. The team collected responses only from individuals who self-identified as a member of one of the communities mentioned in DOE’s guidance for Community Benefits Plans: local frontline residents and disadvantaged communities that live near a proposed project and its infrastructure (“DACs”); tribal communities that may have historical or sacred ties to a proposed project site; labor groups that could receive jobs; and environmental justice groups that advocate for the safety and health of communities and the natural environment (“EJ”). Respondents represented a wide distribution of urban and rural areas across each state and were reasonably representative of U.S. demographics.

The EFI Foundation is continuing to collect data to provide a comprehensive perspective for driving open and honest engagements among all stakeholders. Drawing on the initial community survey and case study analysis, the factbook offers recommendations that can inform how H2Hub developers, DOE, and groups representing community members can better achieve the goals of the Community Benefits Plans. The following are the five key takeaways of the survey:

  1. Community members overwhelmingly support hydrogen’s potential to create new jobs and solve climate change. Survey respondents who opposed hydrogen suggested that more information and more environmental protections could encourage them to support broader development. DAC and labor respondents are more unsure of their position on hydrogen and its risks and benefits than tribal and EJ respondents.
  2. Community members prefer to engage with hub developers through citizen panels and public hearings. As of February 2024, all of the seven hubs have stated their plan to implement some form of citizen panels, such as community advisory boards, as a primary form of community engagement. Only one hub has publicly committed to public hearings as part of its engagement plans.
  3. Familiarity with hydrogen and Community Benefits Plans increases community members’ confidence that they will see benefits when hub developers follow DOE’s guidance. DAC respondents have less faith in the steps and methods of DOE’s Community Benefits Plans (and are less familiar with hydrogen and Community Benefits Plans) than labor, tribal, and EJ respondents.
  4. Binding agreements—contracts between a community and a developer that guarantee specific community benefits in return for local support of a proposed project—are one of the methods that community members prefer. However, case studies show that developers have had to be compelled to pursue them. Less than half of H2Hub selectees have publicly committed to binding agreements, likely because of the phased approach to funding.
  5. Trust and information sharing are major hurdles to effective collaboration of the hydrogen industry with communities as they develop hydrogen hubs. In an evolving industry such as hydrogen, it is easy for a lack of education or misunderstanding to create defensive engagements.

The factbook’s survey brings new voices into conversations around the steps and methods for “good” community engagement. The EFI Foundation aims to add more insights on what is needed and how it can be accomplished by conducting interviews with participants about binding agreements and using case studies to better understand the benefits and hurdles.

The level of community priority in the H2Hubs process is groundbreaking and exciting for the future of energy development. This factbook offers a look into respondents’ preferences and priorities. To ensure collaboration is done right, these community voices must be heard.

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