Europe’s gas industry has embarked on an intensive lobbying operation to try to hinder the phaseout of gas boilers under forthcoming changes to EU legislation, leaked emails suggest.
Gas companies want to keep gas boilers in operation to protect their current market, and to enable them to adapt into what they see as potential new “green” gas markets, in biofuels and hydrogen, despite serious concerns over their viability.
Leaked emails, obtained by the investigative journalism outlet DeSmog as part of a project funded by Journalismfund, and seen by the Guardian, show the industry attempting to introduce loopholes into the legislation that would allow the continued sale of boilers.
The emails, and information from the European parliament on lobbying meetings and conferences, indicate the liquid petroleum gas (LPG) industry has taken the lead on the lobbying effort.
LPG is the name given to butane and propane, fossil fuels that are byproducts of oil and gas extraction and refining.
The canisters and tanks have been a mainstay of rural communities across Europe that are off the gas grid and have limited heating options.
About 16.8 million people in the EU use LPG, about 4% of the population.
The LPG industry is represented by Liquid Gas Europe, a trade organisation that has held a series of high-profile events and closed-door meetings with members of the European parliament in recent months.
Their focus is on EU legislation known as the energy performance of buildings directive (EPBD), which governs how homes can be insulated and heated across the bloc and which is up for revision.
Proposed changes will be voted on by the European parliament next week.
One aim of the revision is to encourage the phaseout of gas boilers. Although this is targeted at boilers of a different kind from those that use LPG, the LPG industry perceives any such phaseout as a potential threat to its future.
Henry Cubbon, the LPG president at US fuel distributor Propane DCC, told the LPG Congress in Barcelona last June: “The gas boiler is our livelihood – if it gets banned, we have a real problem.”
LPG lobbyists also sense an opportunity, the emails and other lobbying efforts reveal. They want the directive to provide for favourable treatment of biofuels, made from waste or other organic materials, and hydrogen as a home heating fuel.
That is because they believe they could adapt much of their current infrastructure – including distribution networks and the boilers themselves – to switch from LPG to biofuels and hydrogen, which the LPG industry is calling “renewable gas”.
“We are doing a lot of work with regulators to see if we can position the gas boiler as a heating source of the future, powered by renewable gas,” said Cubbon.
As the emails and marketing materials show, the LPG industry is basing its lobbying on “the unique needs of rural communities”, which it portrays as underserved and at risk.
But this is highly controversial.
Experts increasingly believe that hydrogen will prove an expensive red herring for home heating, because the gas is poorly suited for domestic use, and also believe it is unlikely that biofuel production could be ramped up to become a mass-market heating fuel.
Experts and campaigners have told DeSmog and the Guardian that this intensive lobbying effort by the LPG industry could derail or damage attempts to switch rural homes to greener long-term alternatives, chiefly heat pumps and rooftop solar power.
Jan Rosenow, the director of European programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project, said: “LPG is a highly carbon-intensive fuel and will need to be phased out.
Replacing it with scarce biofuels in the future is not a viable strategy.
Sustainable biofuels are in limited supply and should be used where few alternatives to fossil fuels exist.”
He said efforts to decarbonise rural homes should concentrate on heat pumps. “Heat pumps are a proven and much more efficient technology that can replace LPG effectively today,” he said.
“The continued installation of LPG boilers with the hope that one day they could run on biofuels is fanciful and very risky.”
Ewa Abramiuk-Lété, the general manager of the Liquid Gas Europe trade association, said: “The revision of the energy performance of buildings directive opens a unique opportunity for policymakers to set up a path to cleaner and more efficient buildings in Europe.
Nevertheless, to achieve these climate goals while ensuring no one is left behind, we are convinced that all low- and zero-carbon technologies have a role to play, especially when they require no changes to existing infrastructures.”
She added: “When we look at the current situation in rural areas, renewable liquid gases, such as renewable LPG, renewable and recycled-carbon DME [a gas similar to LPG] have a key role in providing viable and affordable solutions.
The EPBD recast should therefore respect the principle of technology neutrality to effectively decarbonise the EU building stock, by introducing a mixed technology approach.”
Claims that the LPG industry was assisting in the EU’s decarbonisation efforts were dismissed by Silvia Pastorelli, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace EU.
She said: “The gas lobby is only really trying to protect its own bottom line, when it fakes concern for rural communities, and exploits people’s genuine fears about energy poverty.
It doesn’t matter what the problem is, their answer is always the same: more fossil fuels.”