The European Union has introduced an important “caveat” in its much-touted green recovery plan, with Climate Commissioner Frans Timmermans admitting that natural gas will “continue to play a key role in replacing coal while helping to build a hydrogen infrastructure at least cost,” Euractiv reports.
“We try to steer away as much as possible from fossil fuel projects,” Timmermans told media last week, in a comment that wasn’t widely reported when the EU’s €1.75-trillion plan was unveiled. But “there’s one thing I have to acknowledge: in some areas of transition, the use of natural gas will probably be necessary to shift from coal to sustainable energy,” he added. “I think this is a caveat I have to add.”
Euractiv says Timmermans highlighted “the role of gas in the transition to a net-zero emission energy system relying chiefly on renewable electricity” as a grey area in the plan, “even though the notion of gas as a ‘clean’ fossil fuel is now increasingly challenged because of methane leaks”. Gas has been one of two factors, along with renewables, in the rapid decline of coal-fired generation in Europe over the last year. But while it emits about 50% less carbon dioxide when it’s burned in a power plant, that calculation is incomplete unless climate-busting methane emissions during production are factored in.
The EU’s interest in gas traces back to an already-existing network of pipelines and liquefaction terminals that could be used to reduce the cost of a transition to hydrogen, Euractiv explains. “The more we can have dual use of infrastructure, the better it is—also to make the transition to green hydrogen [produced from renewable electricity] affordable in the future,” Timmermans said. “I’m really excited by those possibilities and we will do a lot of work in that direction.”
European fossils applauded Timmermans’ “pragmatic and inclusive approach”, Euractiv says, with François-Régis Mouton, Europe director at the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, asserting that “gas and its infrastructure are extremely versatile. Be it natural—to replace coal—or decarbonized into hydrogen, gas is always an enabler for renewables and an efficient way to reduce emissions.”
But Friends of the Earth Europe campaigner Tara Connolly urged the European Commission to exclude hydrogen produced from fossil gas from any kind of EU funding. “Timmermans confirmed our fears that he’s willing to give money to fossil gas pipelines under the cover of supposedly ‘clean’ hydrogen,” she said. “Without this guarantee, hydrogen is simply the gas industry in sheep’s clothing.”