It was déjà vu all over again at Teesside Airport on Wednesday 2 August. Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen set up a photo opportunity for the local media, including the Teesside Gazette, to reveal yet another new hydrogen scheme for the North East.
The photo opportunity was accompanied by a press release from the Department for Transport and an update to the UK’s Hydrogen Strategy. I’m not sure how much new content there is in the new strategy but, given that the Ministerial Foreword is still the one written by Kwasi Kwarteng when he was Energy Secretary two years ago, it doesn’t inspire much confidence. The Energy and Transport Department news sites are littered with hydrogen hype press releases. This one, for example, dates back six and a half years to 11 January 2017, and is almost identical to the one that they put out on 2 August 2023. In fact the same company, ULEMco, appears in both press releases.
Also on 2 August 2023, Energy Secretary Grant Shapps announced a “plan” to improve the electricity distribution network which contributed absolutely nothing to the debate.
Back to that DfT press release though, and it’s classic Ben Houchen, complete with one of his trademark word-salads containing the usual greatest hits:
- net zero ambitions
- cleaner, healthier and safer industries of tomorrow.
- low-carbon journey
- sustainable aviation fuel
- carbon capture and renewable technologies
- innovative and clean technologies
This is followed by the bold statement that “Hydrogen-fuelled airport vehicles and supermarket delivery trucks could provide greener and more efficient journeys.”
The word “could” is doing a lot of Ben Houchen’s heavy lifting as usual. We “could” choose to believe hundreds of his hydrogen hype press releases dating back to May 2017, each of them creating the illusion of activity, while actually delivering Net Zero.
This latest scheme plans to create four new publicly accessible hydrogen refuelling stations, increasing the number of refuelling stations in the UK by 50%. This would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. If you break down the maths, we’re starting with EIGHT hydrogen refuelling stations IN THE WHOLE OF THE UK and planning to increase this to TWELVE.
But the hydrogen is green, right?
Well, no. If you use hydrogen produced from “blue” sources such as natural gas, you are actually making the climate change problem worse. At some time in the future “green” hydrogen MAY be available but there is no realistic prospect of this within the next decade unless we massively ramp up renewables such as onshore wind, solar panels and offshore wind. But all three of these energy sources are in trouble. Rishi Sunak has just cancelled all future onshore wind projects, solar panel installations are being thwarted due to grid collection delays and NIMBY interests, and major offshore wind projects are being cancelled due to cost over-runs. The prospects for renewables took an even worse downturn in the March 2023 budget, when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak decided to provide a £23.6 billion subsidy to the oil and gas industry over the next five years. But this wasn’t the end of it, because on 31 July 2023, Sunak went one step further and decided to kill Net Zero 2050 stone dead.
Over in Redcar, they’re getting the “Hydrogen Village” razzmatazz, courtesy of Ben Houchen’s partner in hydrogen hype, local MP Jacob Young. On 11 July, Young excitedly confirmed that Redcar had won a race that nobody else had entered, for Northern Gas Networks (NGN to install a hydrogen network to replace natural gas in the north west part of the town. But the backlash to the hydrogen hype wasn’t long in coming, and only a week later the usually docile Teesside Gazette accurately pointed out that “some critics argue hydrogen is more combustible and prone to leaks than natural gas and question how energy efficient it actually is”. Three out of three for fact-checking, Teesside Gazette.
Young failed to mention that the Hydrogen All Party Parliamentary Group, of which he was the chairman, received £266,000 in funding from Connect PA, a lobbying firm owned by gas companies Shell and Equinor and gas boiler manufacturers Baxi and Bosch. It’s possible that Jacob Young isn’t playing this game with a straight bat.
Fortunately for the residents of Ellesmere Port, where where a company called Cadent were proposing a similar project to the NGN scheme in Redcar, they fought back against the hydrogen hype, and the company had to backtrack on threats to cut off the natural gas supply to their homes.