Officials Continue Playing Hydrogen Shell Game

March 8, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveFor more than half a year The Nerve has sought to verify claims by legislative leaders and the South Carolina Hydrogen Fuel Cell Alliance regarding job creation and investment related to the state’s massive outlay in hydrogen technology.

For more than half a year The Nerve has been stymied.

Last June, House Speaker Bobby Harrell issued a press release touting that taxpayer-funded investment in hydrogen– more than $40 million in the Midlands alone – had netted the state 229 jobs.

The statement added that 65 percent of those jobs had been created in the past five years. That works out to fewer than 30 a year, as an analysis by the South Carolina Policy Council demonstrated.

Requests to Harrell’s office for a detailed listing of the 229 jobs, including a breakdown by position, location and average salary, went unanswered. So then The Nerve turned to the source of the information to determine how much of the hyped hydrogen job development was real and how much was simply smoke and mirrors.

In a quest to get verification for the information provided to the Speaker’s Office, the email requests for information were sent to the S.C. Hydrogen Fuel Cell Alliance last July. The Alliance did not respond, so a S.C. Freedom of Information Act request was sent to the Alliance in August. Among information sought:

  • A breakdown of all jobs created by hydrogen research in South Carolina over the past 15 years, including specific job titles, average salaries and job locations;
  • A breakdown of all public dollars (federal, state, county, local) spent on hydrogen research in South Carolina over past 15 years; and
  • A breakdown of all private investment in hydrogen research in South Carolina over the past 15 years by source, amount and date of investment.

An email from Shannon Baxter-Clemmons, executive director of the Alliance, demonstrated that the organization was the source for Harrell’s information. Highlights from Baxter-Clemmons’ email to Alliance members, obtained by The Nerve, included the following:

“The Speaker’s office asked for some numbers on the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Cluster – jobs and investment – over the past five years. All of the SCHFCA Board organizations, plus some others, were contacted for those numbers. Here is what I sent them:

“Number of jobs in the SC Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Cluster: 229 total. Number of jobs created in the last five years: 148 (the cluster grew by 65% in terms of jobs in the last five years).

“Number of dollars SC has invested in Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Cluster over the past five years: $12,292,911 (appropriations and COEE). Number of dollars invested in SC through non-state resources (industry, federal, local) over the past five years: over $114,376,792 (some items are not included for proprietary reasons – that’s why I said ‘over.’ (This is a conservative estimate).”

According to its web site, the Alliance is supported by 13 core institutions and organizations: the University of South Carolina, Clemson, S.C. State, the Applied Research Center:Hydrogen, the Savannah River National Laboratory, the S.C. Research Authority, the S.C. Energy Office, the S.C. Fire Marshal’s Office, EngenuitySC, Greenway Energy LLC, Dantherm Power, the National Science Foundation Industry Industry/University Cooperative Research Center for Fuel Cells, and the Palmetto State Clean Fuel Coalition.

All are either publicly funded outright, or have received public funds.

The Alliance responded to the FOIA request on Aug. 24, 2009, and said that the organization did not have 15 years of data on job creation and investment dollars, as it had only been in existence since 2006. However, it did include a copy of a fact sheet which detailed the data it sent the Speaker’s office earlier this year.

Further attempts to determine the source of the Alliance’s numbers for hydrogen-related job creation and investment in South Carolina have failed.

Baxter-Clemmons said that because The Nerve did not include a specific request for verification of the information provided to the Speaker’s Office in its original FOIA, it would only turn over such data if another open-records request was filed.

Baxter-Clemmons added that the Speaker’s Office did not request verification of the numbers it was provided.

To date, the Alliance still has not provided documentation for the information given to state leaders on job creation and investment related to South Carolina’s massive outlay of taxpayer dollars into hydrogen technology.

Reach Dietrich at (803) 779-5022, ext. 110, or at kevin@scpolicycouncil.com