Residents in a seaside town in North Yorkshire have taken to the streets to express their concern about becoming the UK’s first hydrogen village - despite not being given a vote on the matter.
If approved, the proposed trial would see Northern Gas Networks (NGN) switch 2,000 homes in Redcar switch from natural gas to hydrogen heating.
The project is deemed to be a key element of the government’s 2050 net-zero carbon emissions target.
Heat in buildings is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK - accounting for 22 per cent of total UK emissions - and hydrogen could be used as a low-carbon alternative to natural gas.
However, the plans have faced criticism since their announcement. Originally, the trial was set to take place in both Redcar and the Whitby area of Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, but plans for the latter were dropped following local protests. Now, some residents in Redcar are hoping for the same outcome.
But what are hydrogen homes and why are the plans facing backlash?
Why does the government want to trial hydrogen homes?
The UK has committed to reaching net zero by 2050. With heat in buildings accounting for one fifth of Britain’s emissions, authorities are keen to find an alternative.
According to the government, hydrogen offers a low-carbon heating option that works in a similar way to natural gas.
NGN say that using hydrogen gas to heat homes doesn’t create any carbon dioxide when burned, making it a greener alternative to fuel used today.
They also say that a hydrogen gas supply could offer the most cost-effective and least invasive route to zero-carbon home heating for many UK homes.
What does the trial involve?
The trial will involve 2,000 homes in Redcar being switched to 100 per cent hydrogen heating in 2023, pending on whether the plans are approved in 2023. The trial is expected to last for at least two years.
NGN says that Redcar has been selected because there are already commitments to produce hydrogen in the area.
Homeowners’ natural gas appliances would be replaced with hydrogen-compatible equivalents and other adjustments required to properties will be made.
Hydrogen will be piped to premises for the trial period through the existing natural gas network, which the government says will be appropriately modified to ensure it can safely transport hydrogen.
What do residents say?
Redcar residents have expressed their concerns over the plans. More than 500 people have signed a petition calling for a vote on the proposals and a protest was held on Saturday morning.
Plans for a similar trial near Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, were scrapped earlier this year in the face of local opposition.
Carl Conway, 51, has lived in the area for 25 years and says the community is “scared” by the lack of information they feel they have received.
“I’m very concerned along with all of the other residents who don’t want this to go ahead because we don’t want to be used as guinea pigs,” the father-of-three told The Independent.
“What they’re doing is causing massive disruption to our lives. Our homes might be totally worthless after this.
“Safety is a major concern of the community and from an insurance point of view, we don’t know whether we will even be covered.”
A 2022 review of research also cast doubt on the effectiveness of hydrogen. It found that heating with hydrogen is a lot less efficient and more expensive than alternatives such as heat pumps, district heating and solar thermal.
Another Redcar resident, Maria Tucker, said she felt as though the trial was being “forced upon residents”.
She said: “I feel its totally wrong that this trial is being forced upon us. We should be allowed to vote on this matter. Our local MP and Councillors are fully aware of our concerns and that we want the right to vote.”
Residents can choose to opt out of hydrogen power and choose to have their appliances replaced with electric appliances, but Mr Conway says many are not satisfied with this alternative.
He added that many residents do not feel as though they are being given enough information to make informed decisions on the trial.
He said: “Everyone I’ve spoken to feels the same. We don’t think NGN are answering our questions and they’re not putting anything in writing.”
Local residents Dr Craig Harrison and his wife Val, joined the march and live in the trial area.
“I can’t believe that a PM from North Yorkshire is letting this happen. It’s like something from an authoritarian regime,” Dr Harrison said.
“The fact the gas company can legally come into your house and force you to use a different method of heating is a concern,” he said.
“It’s dangerous, disruptive and expensive and it certainly won’t be levelling up the North,” Val Harrison added. “We have an awful lot of questions and Northern Gas Networks don’t seem to have any answers.”
What do officials say?
It said it was planning a public meeting in December and is working with the government about the arrangements and a survey suggested 76 per cent of residents were in favour, with another 19 per cent indifferent or undecided.
The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero says safety is “fundamental” to the project and that a decision would be made later this year.
A Department for Energy Security and Net Zero spokesperson said: “No decision on the trial has yet been made and we have always said community support would be at the centre of any decision.”
An NGN spokesperson said: “This a government initiative to demonstrate the repurposing of a gas network, where participants can choose between electric or hydrogen.
“We understand that there may be concerns about the move and our door is always open. We continue to actively encourage anyone with questions or reservations to come and speak to us at our ‘Hydrogen Hub’ on the High Street.”
In a statement addressed to Redcar residents Northern Gas Networks, CEO Mark Horsley, added: “There is absolutely no scenario in which we would ever install a product in anyone’s home or community that compromised their safety. To claim otherwise is false, and I’ve been disappointed to see unevidenced rumours circulating.”