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Data: North America blue ammonia project status

Since ammonia as an energy commodity is still a new idea with a yet-to-be-created market, there’s a general sense of uncertainty looming over the industry.

As of April 2024, there are 42 blue ammonia projects in North America, including announced, greenfield, suspended, and projects that have reached a final investment decision (FID), according to data gathered by ReSource

The vast majority of them, 34, are located in the United States. Over 60% of them are in the Gulf Coast region. Thanks to their attractive energy infrastructure and ports, from where producers could easily export the product to eager markets like Europe, Japan and South Korea, Texas and Louisiana are emerging as the undisputed North American hubs for blue ammonia. 

Canada has eight blue ammonia projects, mostly concentrated in Alberta. 

As a region with a strong oil and gas industry and already a natural ammonia hub sitting on major ammonia trade routes, North America, and the US in particular, is well positioned to dominate a future global blue ammonia market, according to a source familiar with the industry.

Overall, 20 North American projects are at a greenfield status, understood as comprising any project that has developed past a feasibility study stage, while an additional 19 have been announced, one has been suspended, and two have achieved the FID milestone. 

OCI Global started building its blue ammonia project in Beaumont, Texas, in December 2022. The plant will receive the necessary low-carbon hydrogen supply from Linde, and, once it starts operations in 2025, it is expected to produce 1.1 million tonnes of blue ammonia per year, which, according to OCI, would make it the largest blue ammonia plant in the world.  

One year later, in November 2023, Air Products received final investment approval for its $7bn clean energy complex in Louisiana, which will produce both blue hydrogen and blue ammonia. 

Both companies have a robust network of existing relationships and infrastructure to rely on to offset the risks, which facilitates securing investments and offtake agreements, according to the source. 

Another major blue ammonia project, Nutrien’s Geismar Clean Ammonia facility, which had a planned $2bn of capex, was officially suspended in August 2023 because of market uncertainty and high capital costs. 

The project’s suspension could be a sign that some fertilizer producers are hesitant to invest in blue ammonia production if major energy players like ExxonMobil are also entering the space with their vast resources, according to another source familiar with the market. At the moment, around 70% of ammonia produced globally is used as a fertilizer, with the remainder used for industrial applications such as plastics, according to the International Energy Agency. 

Since ammonia as an energy commodity is still a new idea with a yet-to-be-created market, there’s a general sense of uncertainty looming over the industry. Project developers are waiting for off-takers to move forward, while the off-takers are waiting for the project developers to take the first steps, especially as government subsidies like the 45V tax credit are still being worked out, according to the first source. 

Of the nine main companies involved in blue ammonia projects in North America, however, the majority have been operating in the fertilizer industry for years. 

With five ongoing projects, CF Industries is the most active one. As CEO Tony Will said in a recent investor call, the company expects the largest source of clean ammonia demand to come from Japan, and it has arrangements in place to develop one of its blue ammonia projects with both JERA Co. and Mitsui. 

(ReSource initially recorded CF Industries’ arrangements with JERA Co. and Mitsui as two separate projects, but condensed them into one after executives said they would seek to align them under a single project during the investor call.) 

The prediction is in line with Japan’s active role in the development of many North American clean fuels projects – around 4% of all clean fuels projects in North America have one or more Japanese firms involved as co-developers, equity investors, or off-takers. Accordingly, JERA and Mitsubishi come right after CF Industries for blue ammonia activity, being involved in four projects each. 

Two things will play an important role in the future: what the carbon intensity reduction threshold is for a project to claim to produce blue ammonia, and how the nascent industry will adapt to the disarray in gas prices caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

The coming months will clarify which of the flurry of projects announced in the past couple of years are actually moving forward. 

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Co-developers signing on to Canadian wind-to-hydrogen project

A pair of renewables developers with a track record of completing large wind farms in North America are in late stage talks to join a massive Canadian wind-to-hydrogen project as co-developers.

Northland Power and Pattern Energy are interested in co-developing the Port au Port-Stephenville Wind Power and Hydrogen Generation Project, or Project Nujio’qonik, according to an environmental impact statement submitted by developer World Energy GH2.

“Discussions are at advanced stages with both companies,” the statement reads. “The Project would then benefit from their onshore wind development experience and local knowledge and relationships.”

In order to finance the project, financial advisor Green Giraffe plans to take a wide market approach using its project finance contacts as well as World Energy GH2’s relationship banks, which are mostly local Canadian banks, the document reads. The advisor plans to conduct the capital raise “in due time” and expects “strong interest” from lenders given the scarcity of green hydrogen projects in the market.

“Lenders will highly value the location (politically stable country with ambitious carbon-neutral targets), the experienced consortium, and the innovative aspect of the project that will be de-risked with adequate mitigations solutions,” according to the EIS.

The project involves 1 GW of wind power to produce hydrogen and ammonia on the Port au Port peninsula, Port of Stephenville, in Newfoundland and Labrador. Future expansions plan for up to 3 GW of energy from additional wind farms.

First production is planned for 2Q24 with full production reached by 3Q35.

In May SK ecoplant, the environment and energy arm of Korea’s SK Group, invested $50m in Project Nujio’qonik, acquiring a 20% stake in the first phase.

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LSB CEO Mark Behrman: new ammonia markets could reshape – and revalue – the company

We spoke to CEO Mark Behrman about his vision of the company’s future.

Oklahoma City-based ammonia producer LSB Industries wants to be a player in new markets for ammonia as they develop, and is nearing a deal to provide blue ammonia to an existing customer in its ammonium nitrate and nitric acid segment, CEO Mark Behrman said in an interview.

Though Behrman expects LSB’s sales mix to shift – and the company’s valuation to rise – as ammonia markets evolve, it is pursuing deals to furnish blue ammonia at a premium to customers in its ammonium nitrate and nitric acid segment, currently its largest portion of net sales.

LSB is developing a blue ammonia facility on the Houston Ship Channel with INPEX and Air Liquide, offtake contracts for which could push its earnings mix away from more volatile fertilizer markets and help revalue the company. It also has a partnership with Lapis Energy for the installation of a carbon capture unit at its ammonia production facility in El Dorado, Arkansas.

“Unlike a lot of our competitors, who are really known as fertilizer companies, half our business is non-fertilizer,” he said. “So we’re really familiar with the non-fertilizer markets and the pricing and contractual nature of those markets.”

The company is in talks with its mining and nitric acid customers – Covestro, Dow, BASF – about helping them lower their carbon footprint via blue ammonia so these customers can meet 2030 decarbonization goals, said Behrman, who hopes to announce a sizeable contract within the next several months, “obviously at some premium to the price that they’re paying today.”

As for what the blue premium will be, for some markets the formulation might come down to the required capital investments and the developer’s desired return.

“I want long-term cost plus offtake contracts so I could de-risk the volatility in any cost,” he said. 

By way of example, Behrman said, “If we’re selling to JERA, and we have a long-term contract, and it’s a cost plus, so natural gas and power plus, it might be at a healthy premium to the overall ammonia market, or it might be a discount to the overall market,” he said, “but basically we’ve built an annuity because we’ve got a long-term contract at cost plus, and lock in our return as long as we operate the plant well.”

‘Meaningful player’

Behrman, a former investment banker, recognizes that it’s a brave new world for ammonia – particularly clean ammonia – with demand expected to come from myriad new places like shipping and power production. “We want to be a meaningful player as the new demand develops for ammonia,” he said. 

But he believes the market will evolve more slowly than expected, noting that initial estimates even for Japanese offtake and use of ammonia have already been pushed back.

“I think in the earlier years, so call it ‘28, ‘29, even ‘30, you’re probably only going to have two or three offtakers out of Japan until the other ones come online.” Korea, on the other hand, might be faster due to its national incentive scheme, he said.

Meanwhile, in the last few months, LSB has had a lot of conversations with potential European offtakers as Europe’s carbon tax scheme and the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) take hold.

“Europe, while still significantly focused on green, has come to the realization that it’s an energy transition and not an energy revolution,” he said. “So I think that we’re looking at trying to secure some European offtake as well.”

Behrman believes that, over time, 400 million metric tons of new demand for ammonia could materialize – the current global market is around 175 million metric tons – but “it would take a lot of switching from hydrocarbons to ammonia, or to partial ammonia as a feedstock, and it’s going to take the marine industry to really ramp up.”

The principal gating factors, he said, are the infrastructure required to support the transition and parties coming together on price.

Mix shift

The Houston Ship Channel project could be a centerpiece in LSB’s efforts to expand into new markets and potentially transform the way the business is valued.

“As we think about where we’re going and our vision of really being a leader in the production of low-carbon products, I think you’ll start to see more of our production trend away from fertilizer and to existing markets that we’re in by broadening some of those markets, plus really focusing on taking advantage of some of these new markets,” he said.

One reason is for the stability of the contracts compared to fertilizer markets, he added, which feeds into the second reason: predictability of earnings could lead to higher multiples on LSB’s equity, akin to valuation multiples for Air Liquide, Linde, and Air Products. For reference, LSB’s equity trades in the mid to high single digits on an enterprise value to LTM EBITDA basis, while equities for the aforementioned companies trade in the mid to high teens.

On LSB’s most recent earnings call, Behrman detailed some of the expected economics from the Houston Ship Channel project as well as the in-development blue ammonia facility in El Dorado, Arkansas. He expects to add roughly $150m of EBITDA each year from the Houston Ship Channel project and $15m – $20m of EBITDA annually from the carbon capture installation in Arkansas.

Behrman clarified in the interview that the $150m figure assumes 100% ownership of the facility, and that LSB’s ultimate ownership would come in the 45% – 49% range.

LSB is expecting to finish the pre-FEED study for the project in July or August of this year, at which point they would elect to proceed with a FEED study that would finish around September, 2025.

The company will use a project finance model to fund the project, and recently ran a process to select a banker, the terms of which are still being negotiated. Behrman declined to name the advisor.

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Gas separations provider raises $11m seed round

An industrial separations technology company that purifies gases has raised an oversubscribed VC round in addition to funding from the DOE.

Osmoses, an industrial separations technology company that purifies gases, has raised an oversubscribed $11m seed round led by Energy Capital Ventures, according to a news release.

Additional participating investors include Engine Ventures, Fine Structure Ventures, New Climate Ventures, Collaborative Fund, Little Green Bamboo, BlindSpot Ventures and several prominent angel investors, including Martin Madaus, the former CEO of Millipore Corporation.

In addition to its venture capital funding, Osmoses recently received a $1.5m grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE), as well as additional grant support from ARPA-E and NSF, among other organizations.

Osmoses will use the funding to develop commercial scale membrane modules for field deployment and establish pilot partnerships.

“In the coming months, Osmoses will double its full-time employee headcount, increase its pilot programs with chemical and petrochemical companies, utilities, and alternative energy companies, and develop partnerships with engineering and manufacturing firms,” the release states.

Gas molecules like hydrogen, biomethane, and oxygen are essential ingredients for alternative, low-carbon energy production, the release states. Because these gases don’t naturally occur in a form pure enough for direct use, they must first be separated, but their size and volatility makes doing so energy-intense, and expensive.

Today’s industrial separation processes, including cryogenic processes, distillation, and solvent absorption, account for 15% of the world’s energy consumption, the release states. CO2 emissions from energy combustion and industrial processes accounted for 89% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions in 2022.

“Membrane technology, which operates as molecular filters to separate gas molecules from one another, has the potential to reduce energy consumption, but widespread implementation remains limited due to product loss and high operating costs,” the release states. Osmoses has developed a patented novel membrane technology that purifies gas molecules with unprecedented flux and selectivity, meaning lower capital requirements and operating costs for customers, with a significantly smaller physical footprint than today’s traditional separation processes – all while reducing industrial energy consumption by up to 90%.”

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Biomass-to-hydrogen developer in talks for development capital, series A

A California developer that uses woody biomass to make green hydrogen is in discussions to raise capital for project development and a series A funding round.

Yosemite Clean Energy, a California-based biomass-to-hydrogen start-up, is in discussions with potential investors to raise development capital for projects and a series A round.

The company is currently seeking around $20m of development capital that would help advance woody biomass-to-hydrogen projects to FID, CEO Tom Hobby said in an interview.

Hobby said he is also in discussions with strategic capital partners about a series A funding round. The company is not using an advisor for the capital raise, Hobby said, but is working with the law firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton.

The company has so far raised less than $2m at the corporate level from friends and family and an additional $5m – including grants – for projects, Hobby added. The development capital as well as the series A raise would be conducted at the project level.

Yosemite has signed a letter of intent and term sheet for offtake from its first project in Oroville, California, which will produce approximately 24,000 kg per day (2,760 MMBtu) of green hydrogen from woody biomass, and is set for FID later this year. Hobby declined to name the offtaker but described it as a “global trading house.”

Hobby, whose family has lived in the Sierra Nevada for generations, emphasizes the company’s role as a partner with local communities to help manage forest waste, which has served as fuel for explosive wildfires in recent years.

“It’s de-risking their communities from catastrophic wildfires,” he said.

Design incentives

Under the original design for the Oroville facility, the company had planned to produce 31,000 kg per day of RNG and 12,200 kg per day of green hydrogen. But due to incentives for green hydrogen in the Inflation Reduction Act, the company has pivoted to a hydrogen-only design, Hobby said.

The $3/kg incentive for green hydrogen in the IRA created “additional value for no real capital cost differential,” he said.

Yosemite’s second project is in Toulumne County, California and will follow a design substantially similar to the Oroville facility.

The company employs dual-bed gasification technology licensed from Austrian firm Repotec, while Primoris is doing detailed design and engineering.

The technology takes wood and creates a medium-strength BTU gas that can be used to make different products, Hobby said. “Once it’s in a gaseous form, we can use it for a lot of purposes: we can take it to make power, we can produce hydrogen, we can use the Fischer-Tropsch process to make second-generation biofuels like aviation fuel, and we have a patent that can do hydrogen and RNG.”

Project ownership

Meanwhile, Yosemite has hired a Texas-based firm to help raise capital for projects, which are estimated to cost $250m at the outset, but could decline once efficiencies are achieved, Hobby said.

The company’s project ownership model is unique in that it seeks to bring in local wood businesses – in logging, land clearing, and orchard removal – as providers of biomass and also equity investors in the projects.

“To have their investment and their wood at the same time is huge,” Hobby said.

In raising capital for the projects, in addition to equity and debt investors, Yosemite is evaluating a mix of sources in the tax-exempt bond market as well as lower-interest loans from within California and export finance solutions. The company recently received two $500,000 Forest Biomass to Carbon-Negative Biofuels grants from the California Department of Conservation.

Hobby would like to build 50 woody biomass plants in California, which would utilize approximately 5 million tons of the 35 million tons of waste woody biomass available annually in the state.

“Our goal is not to have to truck and ship wood more than 50 miles,” he said. “If you put circles around every place in California that’s a decent wood basket […] I think we could sign about 50 facilities across the state.”

The company is also planning to expand beyond California to other states with a low-carbon fuel standard, Hobby said.

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EnergyTag and the hourly matching ideal

The London-based non-profit EnergyTag has come to the forefront with its framework for global renewable energy hourly matching standards – what it views as a crucial substructure underpinning the future of green product commerce.

When Killian Daly was working for Air Liquide in Paris, sourcing renewable power for the industrial gas producer’s enormous energy needs, he noticed a mismatch in the way power is purchased and the way its green credentials are counted.

“When you buy power, you do hourly batching – you have to respect that electricity can’t just fly across the country,” he said. “And then you look at green power accounting and it’s detached, it’s completely different,” he said, referring to the practice of issuing renewable energy credits for grid power on an annual basis. This allows power consumers to claim they are using clean power produced any time of the year. 

“You can be 100% solar powered all night long, or 100% renewable using Texas wind, even if you’re located in the Northeast,” said Daly, a native of Ireland who is now based out of Brussels as EnergyTag’s executive director. “So for me it was inevitable that someone was going to sort of raise their hand and say, ‘What’s going on here?’”

EnergyTag, a London-based non-profit, was founded in 2020 to address this issue: to make electricity carbon accounting more granular and tied to the reality of the power system. While the organization does not issue or sell renewable energy credits – or even offer its own software – its set of voluntary standards known as Granular Certificates (GCs) have become a leading framework for more systematic carbon accounting across the globe.

The GC scheme has been employed by projects and system-level REC providers internationally, amounting to 5 million MWh of tracking, which, according to Energy Tag, shows that hourly tracking is already a technical reality. In the U.S., it is the basis of the Granular Certificate Trading Alliance, which is led by LevelTen Energy and includes major partners AES, Constellation, Google, and Microsoft. And it underpins systems employed by U.S.-based REC providers like M-RETS and others.

Global hourly matching case studies: EnergyTag

By most accounts, the small-budget outfit has achieved outsize success in its stance on a niche issue that has had a cross-cutting, global impact. Its advisory committee consists of multi-national representation from other non-profits, governmental agencies, and corporates that are aligned on the hourly matching problem. “It’s a global topic and I suppose it gives us a global voice,” said Daly, adding that Energy Tag’s independence allows it to be more to the point than other organizations.

Its chairman, Phil Moody, helped write the rules of energy tracking in Europe, “the only standardized system in the world for certificates,” according to Daly. “That’s a pretty unique set of skills that I suppose we bring to the table that is not really coming from another organization on this specific topic.” When it comes to policy, the organization has homed in on areas like green hydrogen, “where there’s a clear need for proper electricity accounting to avoid massive consequences and massive waste of taxpayer funding,” Daly said.

Time matching for renewable energy tied to green hydrogen production has become an existential issue for many proposed projects and their developers, particularly in the U.S. Under guidance issued by the IRS, project developers would be required to match renewable generation to green hydrogen production on an hourly basis starting in 2028, a requirement that has divided the green hydrogen sector into opposing camps and has been called, by those opposed to it, the death knell of the nascent industry.

More to do

The majority of U.S. renewable energy credit (REC) tracking systems can implement hourly matching akin to the standards put forth by EnergyTag in just a few years, according to a report from the Center for Resource Solutions issued last year. WREGIS, the system covering the western U.S., estimated it would take between three and five years but could cut it closer to three with state and federal support.

“A lot of the foundational aspects of how you set up a tracking system – they’re already there,” Daly said. EnergyTag’s granular certificate standards are focused on building systems as an extension of existing programs. “We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Daly said. “We’re taking standard definition television and making it HD.”

Although many of the U.S. registries are well on their way to being ready for hourly matching by 2028, Daly said there’s some work to be done in the phase-in period “to have a standardized approach across the REC registries, just so they can talk to each other, so that they can be audited.”

Even so, the implementation of a federal standard through 45V – even if it is an energy policy administered through tax authorities – is the only comprehensive federal policy that “can help move the environmental attribute markets to where they want to go,” M-RETS CEO Ben Gerber said during a panel discussion at Clean Power in Minneapolis on May 7.

Gerber said that some concessions might need to be made to appease industry concerns. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they moved the [hourly matching implementation] date back to 2030” from 2028, he said.

In an interview, Gerber added that he would like to see the establishment of a more robust market for trade in RECs, such as a platform advanced by Incubex, allowing developers to buy credits when they are short and sell when they are long.

EnergyTag itself also notes that the ideal of reaching 100% hourly matching might not be possible, at least not in the near term. “If you’re a hydrogen producer and you are hourly matching at a high level, but then you do not match hour by hour for 2% of your hours right now, under the current proposed rules it would look like you would then be bumped out of that top tier threshold” for tax credits, Alex Piper, EnergyTag’s head of U.S. policy, said.

This functional issue has been flagged by many in the pro-hourly matching camp, Piper said, “as a risk that is pretty existential and should be reevaluated by Treasury to determine if there are different flexibility mechanisms that can be included that would allow a project to miss a number of hours without being on that brink of in and out of the money, which could absolutely undermine the entire project.”

Devraj Banerjee of Ambient Fuels, a green hydrogen developer that has been vocal about the need to modify the proposed guidance, said that, while he agrees that a more granular matching scheme makes sense once renewable portfolios and banking systems are more advanced, allowing for flexibility now would help the industry get off the ground.

“What would be a significant fix in the [45V] policy would be allowing early mover projects to have either complete annual matching for the life of the tax credit, or barring that, some kind of pro rata share of annual matching in tandem with hourly matching to not only reduce overall economics but mitigate the need to over procure and provide the ability to be a bit more flexible with renewable generation to avoid falling out of 45V compliance if there’s performance issues, etc,” he said on the Clean Power green hydrogen panel earlier this month. “So some kind of annual carve out for early movers for the life of the tax credit would be a big change, and very helpful.”

In spite of the policy progress and advancements in hourly matching certification schemes, Daly said it’s still early days for accounting standards for global green commerce. “I fundamentally do believe what we’re seeing here on hydrogen in Europe and also now in the U.S. is only the beginning of a much broader discussion and framework around creating clean trade, marketplaces that are trading clean products, because that’s rule number one: is it clean, and that’s where we need to get into these details around accounting and three pillars,” he said.

“So I think it’s just a microcosm of actually a much broader set of discussions and actions over the coming years as we look to set up Transatlantic clean trade and in other parts of the world as well.”

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Exclusive: Green hydrogen developer planning capital raises for distributed portfolio

A developer of US green hydrogen projects will need to access the project equity, debt and tax equity markets in the near term for a pipeline of distributed assets nationwide.

NovoHydrogen, the Colorado-based renewable hydrogen developer, will be in the market for project financing for a portfolio of distributed green hydrogen projects in 2024, CEO Matt McMonagle said.

The company, which recently agreed to a $20m capital raise with Modern Energy, is aiming to attract additional private equity and infrastructure investors for the projects it is developing, the executive said.

“The opportunity is really there for attractive risk-adjusted returns at the project level based on how we’re structuring these projects with long-term contracted revenue,” he said.

The company plans to bring its first projects online in late 2024 or 2025.

“We don’t have the project financing set at the point that we can announce, but that’s something myself and my team have done in our careers,” McMonagle said, adding that he’s focused on bankability since founding the company. “We wanted to be as easy for the lenders to underwrite as possible.”

No financial advisors have been attached to the project financings, McMonagle said. A recently announced Series A, first reported by ReSource in February, gave the company exposure to investors that want to participate in project financings, he said.

“We’ll really be ramping that process up, likely after the new year,” McMonagle added, declining to say how much the company would need to raise in 2024.

NovoHydrogen doesn’t have a timeline on a Series B, he said.

Distributed pipeline

The company looks to do onsite projects adjacent to consumption, McMonagle said. The first projects that will go online will be 10 MW and smaller.

“Typically the permitting is straightforward in that we’re adding equipment to an already impacted industrial site,” McMonagle said. He declined to elaborate on where these projects are located or what customers they will serve.

The company also has off-site, or near-site projects, where production is decoupled from consumption. But the company still calls those distributed because they are being developed with a targeted customer in mind.

“We want to be as close as possible to that customer,” he said. Those off-site projects typically are larger and will begin coming online in 2026 and 2027.  

In Texas NovoHydrogen has two large-scale green hydrogen developments in production, co-located with greenfield renewables projects, McMonagle said. Partners, including EPC, are in place for those efforts. The company also has projects in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and along the west coast.

“Where can we add the most value and have the biggest competitive advantage?” McMonagle said of the company’s geographic strategy. “We have very specific go-to-markets in each of those regions which we feel play to our strengths.”

NovoHydrogen is a member of the Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub and is involved with the Appalachian Regional Clean Hydrogen Hub (ARCH2), though not in line to receive DOE funding through that hub.

Post-IRA, green hydrogen projects will look much like renewables deals from the equity, tax equity and debt perspectives, he said.

“We’re structuring and setting up our projects to take advantage of that existing infrastructure and knowledge base of how to finance deals,” he said. New options on transferability will enable additional financing options as well.

No flipping

NovoHydrogen does not plan to flip projects before COD, McMonagle said.

“We are planning to deploy hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in capex for these projects, and we’ll certainly need to partner with folks to deploy that capital,” McMonagle said. “But we will remain in deals with our customers because that relationship is really the fundamental value that we bring in our business.”

Hydrogen projects are different from renewables in that the customers need greater assurances of resiliency, security of supply and performance, than in a space like solar, he said.

Flipping projects before COD would be inconsistent with the trust required to attract offtakers.

“We don’t believe doing a flip reflects that level of importance and support and, frankly, incentive, behavioral incentive, that we have to show to our customers,” he said.

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