A trial to create the UK's first hydrogen-fuelled village has been scrapped due to protests from local residents.
The trial to convert gas boilers to hydrogen heating in 2,000 homes in Whitby, Ellesmere Port, has been defeated due to a lack of support from local residents.
The trial is now being proposed in a different location, but the news is a further set back to the government's plans to decarbonise UK homes and meet the UK's net zero targets.
What is the hydrogen boiler trial?
In 2021, the Government unveiled plans to establish a trial village as a crucial step towards becoming a leading hydrogen economy and achieving its net-zero target by 2050. The potential locations for the hydrogen heating village trial were identified as Whitby, Ellesmere Port, and Redcar, Teesside.
The proposed village trial aimed to convert a sizable village comprising approximately 1,000 to 2,000 properties from natural gas to hydrogen for heating purposes. Spearheaded by the gas networks, the trial intended to repurpose the existing gas network infrastructure within the local area to operate exclusively on 100% hydrogen.
Participants who chose to join the trial were offered various incentives, including new hydrogen appliances installed and maintained for free, price-matching with natural gas throughout the programme's duration, and £2,500 towards home energy efficiency improvements.
As part of the Government's broader effort to decarbonise domestic heating, several trials were already underway to phase out gas boilers by 2035, considering that residential heating accounts for about 17% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike natural gas, hydrogen combustion does not release carbon, making it a cleaner gas boiler alternative with reduced carbon emissions.
Trial in Whitby scrapped due to residents' concerns
In a setback for the Government's green initiatives, Lord Callanan, the Under-Secretary of State for Energy Efficiency and Green Finance, said the plans to transform Whitby into the UK's first hydrogen-powered village will not go forward.
Cadent and British Gas had put forward a proposal to implement hydrogen heating systems in 2,000 homes in the town for a two-year trial period. However, the lack of backing from the local community led to the decision to abandon the project.
Lord Callanan said: “After listening to the views of residents, it’s clear that there is no strong local support, therefore Whitby will no longer be considered as the location for the UK’s first hydrogen village trial.”
During the 10-month consultation process, residents expressed their desire to retain their gas boilers, use other eco-friendly alternatives such as air source heat pumps which homeowners believed were more cost-effective. The proposed plans also faced opposition due to concerns raised about the safety of hydrogen heating systems.
Even after Cadent and British Gas outlined terms in their bid at the end of March, including the option to participate in the trial voluntarily and allowing residents to continue using gas if they preferred, many families remained opposed to the plans.
Andy Ritchieson, a Whitby resident, told local newspaper The Chester Standard: "I’m very scared for my own kids, I’ve got two special needs children and our home has always been a very safe environment for them and I don’t like the idea of having hydrogen at the moment.
"I would be leaning toward a heat pump as I feel safer with that and I’m concerned with the knock on effect on house prices and everything else that goes with it. A lot of people seem share similar concerns to myself."
Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, said: “It is fundamentally unpopular in that area and I don’t believe in telling people we will be coming in to rip up out your boiler to replace it with this other thing that you don’t want, when they are other areas of the country that actually do want to go ahead with a trial.”
Cadent said in a statement: “We know that this will be disappointing to the many residents who told us they wanted their community to play a pioneering role in decarbonising how we heat our homes in the UK.
“We believe strongly in the role that hydrogen can play alongside other technologies and energy sources in reaching net zero.”
There was also pushback to the government's scrapped Energy Security Bill which would have forced nearly 2,000 homes in Whitby to switch from natural gas to hydrogen heating or face having their gas supply cut off. The plans were quashed after protests from the homeowners who also wanted to keep their gas boilers.
Trial now proposed in Redcar
The decision to cancel the trial was a response to scathing criticism from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) in their recent report.
The CCC attributed the lack of progress in hydrogen infrastructure to the Government's failure to provide a clear strategic direction for electrification and hydrogen policy, leading to widespread uncertainty.
Lord Callanan stated that ongoing discussions are taking place with Northern Gas Networks (NGN) regarding a separate hydrogen trial in Redcar, Teeside.
The Government plans to announce the next steps for this trial shortly. NGN's proposal involves converting 2,000 homes in certain areas of Redcar to use hydrogen instead of natural gas for a duration of at least two years, starting in 2025.
A Cadent spokesman said: “We believe strongly in the role that hydrogen can play alongside other technologies and energy sources in reaching net zero.
“While Whitby won’t be the location for the trial, the information we have gained over the last 12 months will still play an invaluable role in shaping how the UK heats its homes and businesses in the future.”
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News Editor Joseph has previously written for Today’s Media and Chambers & Partners, focusing on news for conveyancers and industry professionals. Joseph has just started his own self build project, building his own home on his family’s farm with planning permission for a timber frame, three-bedroom house in a one-acre field. The foundation work has already begun and he hopes to have the home built in the next year. Prior to this he renovated his family's home as well as doing several DIY projects, including installing a shower, building sheds, and livestock fences and shelters for the farm’s animals. Outside of homebuilding, Joseph loves rugby and has written for Rugby World, the world’s largest rugby magazine.