Residents living in what could be a new hydrogen village on Teesside are being “railroaded” into being test subjects amid concern about the explosive nature of the gas, a meeting heard.

Organisers of a question and answer-style session held in Redcar said about 80 people attended the event, along with 30 others who joined in online, although the company behind the plans to convert homes from natural gas – Northern Gas Networks (NGN) – had declined an invite.

One of the speakers, Professor David Cebon, a professor of mechanical engineering at Cambridge University, suggested hydrogen had a “much wider explosive range” than natural gas.

He said: “You can have a small or large amount and it will still go bang, whereas natural gas has to be in a narrow range.” An NGN spokeswoman said claims in the meeting were: “misinformation, pure and simple.”

Prof Cebon also said leaks of hydrogen could occur without leaks of the molecules that make it smell, adding to the danger, although a spokeswoman for NGN said it would be odourised in the same way as natural gas for safety and this had already been tested.

The Northern Echo: Some of those on the panel who fielded questions from residentsSome of those on the panel who fielded questions from residents (Image: RICHARD EYERS)

The professor claimed a “divide and conquer” strategy had been adopted under the plans with only individuals being able to express concern and decline the offer of their property being converted to hydrogen, rather than there being the option of the entire community rejecting the plans.

A public consultation was previously organised by NGN, which involved a public meeting, but the company has been in discussions with Redcar and Cleveland Council about potentially holding another before Christmas.

Kate Grannell, who with other local activists in Whitby, Ellesmere Port, helped successfully overturn plans for it to be a potential location for a hydrogen home heating trial, told the meeting:  “It begs the question why the gas industry are being allowed to railroad residents into being test subjects, against their will.”

Energy commentator Michael Liebriech, a clean energy analyst and founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said home heating was among the least efficient uses for hydrogen and also suggested a trial in Redcar would be “fantastic business for the gas industry”.

The Government has yet to confirm its support for a scheme in Redcar, which would affect more than 1,800 homes and businesses in the Coatham and town centre area.

Meanwhile should it get the green light, it would not go live until 2026 so to allow for the hydrogen to be locally produced by BP on Teesside.

The Northern Echo: The meeting organised at Redcar Rugby Union ClubThe meeting organised at Redcar Rugby Union Club (Image: LDR)

The National Infrastructure Commission, an executive agency which advises on infrastructure challenges, recently called on the Government to rule out hydrogen for heating purposes as part of a wide range of recommendations in a five-yearly review and said the use of the gas should be focused on generating power and decarbonising heavy industry.

NGN said residents in its proposed ‘Redcar Hydrogen Community’ would not be the first to use 100% hydrogen with projects fuelling homes in the Netherlands and commercial properties in Germany under way, while a green hydrogen gas demonstration project was also in the offing in Fife, Scotland.

Affected residents face having their gas boilers replaced with a hydrogen equivalent, or being given the option of an electric heat pump as an alternative.

‘Misinformation pure and simple’

Responding to some of the claims that came out of the meeting at Redcar Rugby Union Club, an NGN spokeswoman said: “This is misinformation, pure and simple – we are clear that we will never install anything that risks people’s safety or homes and the project will not go ahead without approval from the UK’s independent safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive. 

“As a responsible gas network, the safety of our customers is our number one priority and we will never compromise our safety record, which has been built through decades of experience delivering gas to people’s homes.

“We want to ensure people feel comfortable with the changes and encourage anyone with concerns or questions to come and speak to us at our Hydrogen Hub on the High Street in Redcar, which is open Tuesday to Saturday.”

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The company said a safety case had been put to the HSE for Redcar and its scheme would only go ahead if they were satisfied.

It pointed to five years of research to assess whether hydrogen could be delivered and used safely in the same way as natural gas “with data indicating it can be”, although opponents have countered that by stating multiple independent scientific studies have said hydrogen should play no, or only a very limited role, in heating homes.

NGN said every form of energy carried its own risk profile with mitigations being put in place to minimise risk.

Meanwhile, staff are said to have “worked tirelessly” with householders and businesses in Redcar to engage with and reassure them over its plans with more door knocking recently taking place in the town and conversations taking place.

A statement issued via social media on behalf of Coatham ward councillors Carl Quartermain and Lynn Rynn said there was frustration over the length of time it was taking to make a decision on the Redcar scheme and it had been “quite an endurance for everyone”.

It said the trial area within the town had in fact changed in recent months, leading to confusion for some residents.

Cllr Quartermain, who joined the Redcar meeting virtually, said: “Throughout this process myself and Cllr Rynn have consistently emphasised the significance of providing our trial area residents a platform to engage collectively with NGN so they can express their questions and concerns which, for some, remain unaddressed.”

He said he looked forward to receiving more details on another potential meeting involving the company.