An important committee of European lawmakers has voted to prolong EU subsidies for gas pipelines until the end of 2027, as long as the energy being transported contains an unspecified amount of hydrogen.
The European Parliament’s industry committee this week also voted to allow natural gas projects, including pipelines and storage facilities, to be given the “project of common interest” status that allows them access to finance and exemptions from competition laws.
Europe’s current shortage of natural gas was no doubt weighing on committee members’ minds when voting for the proposal put forward by its vice-chairman, Zdzisław Krasnodębski, a member of Poland’s ultra-conservative Law and Justice party, which is among the least climate-friendly governing parties in Europe.
Krasnodębski said that energy security and affordability for consumers would be taken into account when considering important energy infrastructure projects, but that the new ruling was in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal.
One committee member, the Swedish Social Democrat Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Erik Bergkvist, said it was the best possible agreement, arguing that fossil gas would only exist in small quantities when blended with hydrogen.
“We have to remember that blending is low-carbon. The main proportion will be renewable hydrogen gas,” he said.
His comment shows a complete lack of understanding about the potential use of hydrogen in gas pipelines.
It is not feasible to use more than a 20% hydrogen blend in the gas grid without upgrading both the network and gas appliances in people’s homes.
Also, due to the fact that hydrogen is roughly three times less energy dense by volume, a system with 20% green hydrogen and 80% natural gas would only reduce carbon emissions by about 7%.
Bergkvist doubled down on his lack of understanding, saying that the yet-to-be-determined natural gas/hydrogen blend would be “quite narrow and quite tough on fossil fuels”, that the blend “cannot be 95% carbon [based]”.
Under the ruling, companies blending hydrogen with fossil gas would be eligible for EU subsidies until 2027, as long as they planned to drop natural gas by the end of the decade.
In order for that to happen, pipelines would have to jump from 20% to 100% hydrogen. That would mean metal pipes, compressors and pumps on the network would need to be replaced, along with all gas appliances — a multi-billion-euro prospect.
There also seemed to be no consideration of where all this green hydrogen — and the renewable energy to produce it — would come from, or the fact that it is still a very expensive commodity.
Tara Connolly, a senior campaigner at environmental human-rights group Global Witness, pointed out the absurdity of the ruling, saying that combining high-price renewable hydrogen with fossil gas was like “mixing champagne with table wine”.
“You want to use [hydrogen] where it is most valuable, otherwise you put a huge amount of costs on everyone.”
The committee ruling still needs to be approved by EU energy ministers in order to become law.