Environment and fuel poverty campaigners are urging peers to scrap a proposed law that would allow gas distribution networks (GDNs) to switch people’s boilers to hydrogen without their consent.
The Energy Bill, which is due before the House of Lords on Monday, would allow GDNs to forcibly enter people’s homes for any reason connected to a hydrogen trial if they live within the designated zone.
Two such trials are being proposed in Whitby, Ellesmere Port, and Redcar, Teesside, as part of a Government plan to test the feasibility of having hydrogen supplied to an entire neighbourhood.
Cadent, the GDN for Whitby, has said it would build a parallel gas network in the trial area for residents who wish to remain on gas.
No such offer has come from Northern Gas Networks, GDN for Redcar, though both companies say residents in the proposed 2,000-house zones can opt to have an electric heat pump installed at no cost if they do not want hydrogen.
In a letter sent by Global Witness and signed by Greenpeace, Uplift, Friends of the Earth, Fuel Poverty Action, Ashden and others, peers are being urged to adopt an amendment to the Energy Bill that would give people the right to opt out of a trial, thereby removing the right of GDNs to forcibly switch them over.
It would also require the Environment Agency to monitor hydrogen leakage and the UK Health and Safety Executive to monitor safety, something residents and campaigners have expressed concern over due to hydrogen having a smaller molecule and being more flammable than methane.
Doug Parr, policy director for Greenpeace UK said: “Gas companies have shown they’re willing to act like mafia bosses in installing pre-payment meters and hydrogen could be their new racket.
“Unless the right to forcibly enter people’s homes is removed from the Energy Bill, the government will be legalising mob-like tactics.
“Hydrogen is expensive, polluting and potentially dangerous. There’s a mountain of scientific evidence demonstrating why using it in homes is a terrible idea.
“Rather than allowing gas companies to waste time forcing communities to take part in these guinea pig trials, the government should get on with the nationwide roll-out of heat pumps – the cleanest, cheapest and safest alternative to gas boilers and the genuine future of household heating.”
“Hydrogen is going to be much more expensive than gas and even though they’re potentially going to be insulated from that increase for a couple of years or so, ultimately they’ll end up paying a lot more for their energy than other energy users.
“It’s still going to be a high-carbon way of heating their homes because hydrogen manufacturing is not clean.”
A spokesperson from Northern Gas Networks said: “We will never enter people’s homes by force unless there is a risk to their safety, as is the case now.
“Heat pumps are a key tool in decarbonising home heating, but as it stands between 37% and 54% of UK homes are unsuitable for a heat pump and many customers will not be able to afford them.”
They also disputed the claim that hydrogen leaks more than methane, saying it will be no less safe.
Cara Jenkinson, cities manager at Ashden, said: “Hydrogen may be useful for hard-to-decarbonise industrial sectors such as steel making, but hydrogen for heating just doesn’t make sense.
“It’s not safe, not good for the climate, and much more expensive than renewable energy.
“We should expand on what we already have and which we know already works, such as heat pumps, solar and wind – all of which will also be a lot cheaper to scale up than new hydrogen plants.”
A spokesperson from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “No-one will be forced to use hydrogen.
“We expect gas distribution networks to only ever use powers of entry as a last resort to ensure consumers’ safety, for example to inspect and test pipes and valves, and only following court approval and once all other attempts to contact property owners and reach an agreement are exhausted.”