Backdoor Lifelines to the Fossil Fuel Industry are not in Europe’s Common Interest

Energy transition

By Esther Bollendorff, Senior Gas Policy Coordinator at CAN Europe

MEPs will vote today on Projects of Common Interest (PCIs) – a long list of 166 cross-border energy infrastructure projects, which will, among other benefits, gain access to financial assistance from the EU. Despite there being no legal basis for new fossil gas projects to appear on this list, two emblematic pure fossil gas pipelines have been included. Since the Regulation on Trans European Energy Networks (TEN-E) was adopted in June 2022, fossil gas projects are no longer eligible for EU financial aid. It is outrageous to see that the 6th edition of the PCI list includes two controversial fossil gas pipeline projects, EastMed and Melita.

Beyond this, the list also includes sixty five hydrogen related projects, most of which focus on the transportation of hydrogen. These so-called ‘hydrogen ready’ pipelines will be used to transport fossil gas in the beginning of their lifetime and it remains uncertain when they will switch to green hydrogen. Inclusion of these projects in the PCI list risks extending fossil gas use in the EU long after 2035, builds the cornerstones of a fossil hydrogen backbone and provides the fossil fuel industry with yet another lifeline.  

Europe does not need an oversized hydrogen backbone

The future energy system will rely on renewable energy, mostly wind and solar and there will be much less space for gaseous molecules, such as fossil gas, methane or hydrogen. Sectors throughout the economy will largely be electrified and final energy demand will be significantly reduced. In particular, heating homes and heating processes within industry, transport and the power sectors will be almost entirely electrified. 

It is undisputed that renewable hydrogen will play an important role in the energy transition, but it is also undeniable that it is an expensive energy carrier which requires high energy input during production. The deployment of renewable hydrogen will require additional renewable energy capacities, on top of the large amounts of renewable electricity needed in the first place to electrify heating and transport. For those reasons, hydrogen will only be used in a few key sectors which are hard to electrify, such as energy intensive steel and cement industries. Hydrogen will also play a vital role in storing energy, to provide flexibility to balance an energy system that is based on decentralised renewables. 

This much more limited approach to hydrogen use will certainly not add up to the Commission’s REPower EU’s aspirational (and out of reach) target of 20 million tonnes of hydrogen by 2030. The European Commission has even u-turned on this target within the 2040 Climate target communication, where this objective had been strongly revised downwards to approximately 3 million tonnes. This is much more in line with modelling scenarios produced by think tanks such as Agora who predict a similar range for hydrogen and an infrastructure network based on local clusters. The large number of hydrogen projects on the 6th PCI list however seems to lean towards the gas industry’s demands – a 31.000 km long European Hydrogen Backbone


Don’t believe the hype

An unprecedented push for hydrogen’s prominence has been seen on the EU scene over the last three years, steered mainly by former European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans. Hydrogen has been seen as the silver bullet for the EU’s energy transition, largely based on unfounded numbers. This approach disregarded a more nuanced path to identifying priority sectors for hydrogen use, which should have included independent needs assessments of renewable hydrogen. Such assessments would have been indispensable before rushing into large scale development programmes. 

Certain industries remain strong supporters of this hydrogen push, even in sectors where there is broad consensus that they should not use hydrogen, for instance buildings. Gas distribution system operators, including local utilities associations such as the German VKU, have been pushing strongly for local distribution of hydrogen to homes. This risks massively increasing consumers’ energy costs if they fall victim to the false promises of the hydrogen industry. 


The Energy Revolution will not be Moleculed

Beyond the inclusion of scandalous fossil fuel projects, the PCI list being voted on this week undoubtedly confirms the un-nuanced rush towards hydrogen – and should as such be rejected by the European Parliament.

Hydrogen is not the silver bullet of the energy transition and the next European Commission should not open the doors to the greenwashing strategy of the gas industry, which simply wants to see a continuation of its core business of selling gas and building infrastructure. By including a high proportion of hydrogen projects in PCI lists, the European Commission will signal that hydrogen is a key component of the energy transition and shift much needed focus and funds to infrastructure that is built for molecules.

It’s vital that we pursue a drastic and expedited decrease in greenhouse gas emissions – and to do so, fossil gas needs to be phased out as quickly as possible. This requires a clear framework, trajectory and most importantly, a European Commission that does not invest in projects that should not legally exist. 

To guide the European Commission’s work programme for the next mandate, CAN Europe has developed a 10 point plan for the phase out of fossil gas by 2035. In this, we show that the Work Programme needs to include a gas phase out trajectory, conduct independent needs assessments for renewable hydrogen in key sectors and define rules for decommissioning existing gas infrastructure.


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