Energy Bill [HL]

Written evidence submitted by Cadent (EB27)

Public Bill Committee – Energy Bill

Cadent is the UK’s largest gas distribution network, providing natural gas to 11 million homes and businesses across England. We recognise the importance of the UK’s legal commitment to reaching net zero by 2050, and the important role that we, as a company, and as an industry must play if the UK to decarbonise.

Currently, 17% of the UK’s emissions come from space heating. Acknowledging the importance of transitioning towards cleaner, more sustainable energy sources, Cadent has been at the forefront of research and initiatives in new alternative energy, notably hydrogen and biomethane. The potential and possibly necessary role of hydrogen in home heating is set out in the CCC’s 6th Carbon Budget, with a programme to evaluate this properly in the Government’s Ten Point Plan, Hydrogen Strategy and the Heat and Building Strategy.

Cadent’s proposal for the Whitby Hydrogen Village Trial and our wider involvement in the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero Hydrogen Heating Programme, represent our commitment to innovative solutions that combine both environmental sustainability as well as practical feasibility.

Hydrogen, as a clean energy source, has the potential to play a pivotal role in achieving our net zero targets without significant infrastructural upheaval.

If chosen to conduct a village trial, Cadent will help assess the viability of hydrogen as a domestic and commercial energy source, providing crucial data that will help inform future policy decisions on home heating, due to be taken by the Government in 2026.

This evidence focusses on Chapter 2 of the Energy Bill, "Hydrogen Grid Conversion Trials", which sets out the legal framework necessary for the delivery of such a village hydrogen trial.

1. Introduction to the village trials

The Hydrogen Village Trial aims to help the UK to fulfil our legal commitment towards Net Zero by 2050. This is not an isolated venture but forms a crucial plank of a broader strategy aimed at decarbonising space heating in the UK.

Several government policy documents, including the 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, the Hydrogen Strategy, the Energy White Paper, and the Heat and Buildings Strategy, have all supported the creation of 'hydrogen villages.' Furthermore, the recent Skidmore review into Net Zero further validates the need for hydrogen heating community trials.

With 80% of UK homes connected to the gas grid, making up more than 22 million connections, the transition to hydrogen, a clean fuel that does not produce carbon when burned, could represent a practical and efficient way to achieve Net Zero.

Importantly, this trial proposal is about giving people choice in how they heat their homes in future. We believe that there is no one size fits all solution, and that the village trial will provide the vital evidence necessary to afford people that choice in future and the provisions in the Energy Bill as an essential element in allowing for the safe delivery of the village trial.

2. Consultation, engagement and public support

From the start, our number one priority has been to secure and maintain the support of the local community. Since the shortlisting of the trial locations in April 2022, Cadent have carried out an extensive consultation process.

Complex projects like the Village Trial require comprehensive public awareness and we have at every stage sought to make sure that we can produce this. Since the announcement of the two shortlisted locations for the trial in May 2022, Cadent has overseen a period of thorough engagement with Whitby residents and businesses. Specifically, this has included:

· Regular written updates to all properties in the proposed programme area to inform them of key milestones and engagement opportunities;

· Visiting every household and business and speaking to over 1,400 people on the doorstep about the proposals;

· Holding 7 focus group sessions with local residents, including a session specifically for customers in vulnerable situations (CIVS), to better understand their needs, views, and to inform our customer offer; 

· Setting up a Community Working Group, made up of local residents and stakeholders with a range of views on the Hydrogen Village programme, which has met monthly since September 2022 and has helped to shape our engagement programme and materials; 

· Delivery of over 1,000 in-home surveys locally, during which our engineers visited properties to check and service gas appliances and answer questions about the proposed trial. This was supported by a local outdoor advertising campaign which garnered over 1m impressions;

· Establishing a dedicated demonstration facility and visitor centre – the Hydrogen Experience Centre – in Ellesmere Port, which has hosted a wide range of local organisations and has been visited by over 700 residents and stakeholders to date; 

· Publishing the Hydrogen Village Handbook and delivering this to all properties. This provided information on the different technologies that may be available as part of the trial (both hydrogen and electric options), engagement opportunities, and support available for residents with additional needs;

· Offering Hydrogen Support Conversations via telephone, through which local residents could find out more about the proposed trial and ask questions – over 250 of these took place during the engagement phase of the project;

· Holding 5 drop-in information events to date, as well as a series of topic-specific webinars, which have collectively been attended by hundreds of residents. The topics and format for these events were informed by suggestions from our Community Working Group and external speakers were invited to take part in Q&A sessions with residents, representing independent organisations such as the University of Chester, University of Leeds, ARUP, Worcester Bosch, and more. Importantly, the events were public in their nature and open for all, so anyone could attend, and a range of views were heard;

· Participation in panel discussions and forums, such as Cheshire West and Chester Council’s climate change event and on BBC radio, where our senior representatives publicly addressed questions from academics, industry leaders, and the local community on the trial and potential role of hydrogen in home heating;

· Sharing information about the proposals and engagement opportunities on digital platforms, such as the website, Cadent social media channels, and via a monthly e-newsletter reaching over a thousand subscribers;

· Creating a dedicated information hub on our website, which features topic-specific factsheets on everything from safety to costs, as well as policy documents, academic studies, and industry reports on the future use of hydrogen for home heating;

· Giving residents the opportunity to share their views by completing questionnaires. The first questionnaire was completed by over 400 respondents and the second by over 600. This process was overseen by an independent accredited market research consultancy.

· Ensuring that all customers have safe and working boilers in their home by fixing over 150 situations and giving out over 1,000 carbon monoxide alarms.

· Supporting customers in all situations by setting up a variety of communication channels such as in-person home visits, a drop in centre open 6 days per week, offering password protection or joint decision maker visits identified in the customer data base, creating digital content with accessibility software or having large print and braille leaflets and information booklets available.

Critically, given the feedback from residents throughout the consultation phase, we have taken the approach where no one will be obliged to take part in the trial if they choose not to. We have made a commitment that those who wish to remain using natural gas for the duration of the trial will be able to do so.

Furthermore, there will be no forced participation in this trial. We will never enter anyone’s home without permission as part of the trial to switch them from natural gas to hydrogen.

Notwithstanding this crucial element of public consent, in our engagement, residents have shown considerable support.

Moreover, we have listened carefully to the local councillors, MP’s, local authorities who have been helpful in providing both their own time and feedback on this important project. We maintain that the hydrogen trials progressing in the UK are world leading and are really heating decarbonisation projects. Consumers in the trial have been given the opportunity to learn and decide about electric and hydrogen in tandem.

3. Addressing specific concerns and conclusion

We recognise, however, that some residents continue to have concerns about the trial. If Whitby is chosen as the preferred location, we will continue to intensively engage residents on key issues such as safety and choice to ensure and cement continued local support. A specific criticism from residents for example has been the lack of data available to answer all the residents’ questions, for example on things like safety, appliance choice etc. This is because many of these programmes are being developed in parallel. We will continue to commit to provide open information from these parallel projects to residents as they progress. Our project commits to:

- All residents will have the choice to opt out of the project and remain on natural gas if they wish;

- Residents opting in will have receive a comprehensive package of benefits – this has been already consulted upon with residents and we are happy to receive further views;

- No residents will be financially disadvantaged by the trial, all costs of participation will be covered by the project;

- All homes will be offered a free of charge energy performance certificate, regardless if they have opted in or out;

- When the trial concludes, residents will be converted back to natural gas with all new appliances at no cost to them; and

- We will continue and improve upon the communication and engagement as outlined above ensuring that all residents including those in vulnerable situations are supported throughout the project.

At Cadent, we have always been committed to maintaining a transparent and engaged relationship with the residents of Whitby and we pledge to continue this vital dialogue with residents, addressing their concerns, and ensuring that they can enjoy the full benefits that the trial could bring.

Richard Walsh

Director of External Affairs, Cadent

27 June 2023


Prepared 29th June 2023