Hydrogen standoff brings EU renewables law to screeching halt

The lawmaker in charge of steering negotiations on the EU’s revised renewable energy directive has cancelled an upcoming round of talks, laying the blame on the European Commission for failing to present a key piece of related hydrogen legislation.

Hydrogen standoff brings EU renewables law to screeching halt

The revised directive seeks to double the proportion of renewables in Europe’s energy mix, aiming for a 40-45% share of wind, solar and biomass in the EU’s overall energy mix by 2030, up from 22% currently.

But talks came to a screeching halt at the weekend when the German lawmaker in charge of steering the negotiations in Parliament cancelled a planned round of talks scheduled on Tuesday (7 February).

The talks, known as “trialogues”, involve representatives from the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the Council of the European Union to negotiate and reach an agreement on the proposed legislation.

“I want to inform you that I plan to cancel our next trialogue because we did not receive an updated version of the [hydrogen additionality] delegated act by now,” reads an e-mail sent by Markus Pieper, the centre-right MEP from Germany who leads the negotiations on behalf of Parliament.

Among other objectives, the directive defines the share of renewable energy that has to be reached in the transport sector – which includes hydrogen among so-called Renewable Fuels of Non-Biologic Origin (RFNBOs).

It is on this aspect that Pieper sees the European Commission at fault.

In his email, the German lawmaker bemoans the Commission’s failure to table specific implementing rules – known as a “delegated act” – defining how much “additional” renewable electricity is needed for synthetic hydrogen to qualify as “green” under the revised directive.

“The delegated act is of paramount importance not only for industry but also for our trialogue … to agree on transport-related targets,” Pieper stressed in his email.

By cancelling the talks, the German lawmaker is raising the pressure on the European Commission to finally present its additionality ruleset, which was expected to be tabled initially in December 2021.

Nine EU countries have been pushing for the inclusion of hydrogen in the 2030 targets. Yet, not everyone in Parliament has welcomed Pieper’s move.

“This cancellation has not been agreed with the other political groups,” stressed Nicolás González Casares, the socialists’ representative at the negotiation table, who condemned Pieper’s “unilateral action” as “not acceptable”.

Christophe Grudler, who represents the centrist Renew group in Parliament, chimed in as well. “Is this democracy? I Refuse to let renewables be held hostage to whims!” he wrote on Twitter.

A history of interventions

Back in 2018, the European Commission was tasked to create a rulebook to ensure electrolysers producing green hydrogen use only “additional” wind or solar power, and do not deprive other sectors of scarce renewable electricity.

But the law has been delayed several times due to repeated interventions from EU countries, Parliament lawmakers, and commissioners involved in the process.

In December 2021, the new German government pressed the Commission to delay the rules and shape them more to Germany’s liking, as EURACTIV revealed.

France, for its part, has been busy ramping up the pressure to have low-carbon nuclear power recognised in the law.

Pieper himself has sought to intervene. In September 2022, he tabled an amendment to the Renewable Energy Directive that would have opened the door to widespread hydrogen production, no matter the electricity source.

This, in turn, would have curtailed the Commission’s ability to regulate hydrogen via the additionality rules. At the time, the Commissioner even suggested that a delegated act on hydrogen additionality may no longer be needed.

Pieper’s move sparked frenzied intervention by the hydrogen industry, and the German lawmaker ultimately dropped his initiative.

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, the CEO of industry lobbying body Hydrogen Europe, told EURACTIV that the industry “urgently needs” the delegated act. While a directive could take years to implement, a delegated act would come into effect almost immediately, he argued.

In December, the EU executive finally tabled a document most stakeholders seemed to agree with. But this push, too, ended up being curtailed, this time due to concerns within the Commission itself, EURACTIV understands.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has since taken ownership of the matter. In making the hydrogen ruleset her priority, EURACTIV understands that she wants to align the policy with her own Green Deal industrial plan and the upcoming Net-Zero Industry Act expected to be tabled in mid-March.

“The Delegated Act and the Renewable Energy Directive are closely interlinked,” Chatzimarkakis told EURACTIV, saying “both are critical for the hydrogen sector” and a crucial part of the EU’s Green Deal Industrial Plan, presented by the Commission last week.

While the EU struggles with hydrogen “additionality” rules, the US is charging ahead with its own Inflation Reduction Act, which creates favourable investment conditions for hydrogen producers.

Nikolaus J Kurmayer, EurActiv.com

This article first appeared on EurActiv.com, an edie content partner

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