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LETTERS

‘Bought and sold’: that troublesome UMass Lowell hydrogen study

Alumni Hall at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

One more reason to take a close look at pipeline replacement program

Re “Gas industry’s wishes color hydrogen study: Funded work, rewrote conclusions to boost it as alternative fuel, e-mails show” (Page A1, Nov. 17): Sabrina Shankman’s excellent investigative reporting about the University of Massachusetts Lowell hydrogen study (which led to a peer-reviewed journal article) raises concerning issues about academic integrity and the compromising role that fossil fuel industry-funded research can play. But it is clarifying on one score: The flawed study unabashedly makes clear that introducing hydrogen into the Commonwealth’s gas distribution system depends on the accelerated pipeline replacement program created by the Legislature in 2014 to promote public safety and reduce methane leaks.

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The study even suggests that to expedite the introduction of hydrogen, the Gas System Enhancement Program “timeline could be accelerated” since several thousand miles of mains still await replacement with hydrogen-compatible plastic pipe.

But nowhere has the Legislature approved the GSEP’s “alternative fuel” purpose. The recent Future of Gas investigation declined to explicitly consider the program’s substantial opportunity costs. And the gas companies’ 2023 GSEP plans, filed last month with the Department of Public Utilities, make no mention of this new use. These plans call for about $800 million of ratepayer-obligated spending in 2023 alone. Portentously for Boston, National Grid’s plan assumes a $3.4 million-per-mile replacement cost — up 16 percent from 2022 — plus the company requests another five years (until 2044) to finish its plan.

The Gas System Enhancement Program is on track to cost gas customers $40 billion through the end of this century, making it the largest infrastructure investment ever undertaken in the Commonwealth, far exceeding planned investments in renewable, non-emitting energy. The program’s purpose needs to be clarified and made transparent. It urgently needs high-level, comprehensive scrutiny and redirection by our new governor, the Legislature, and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

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Dorie Seavey

Boston

The writer is a research economist on climate issues who conducted a study of the pipeline replacement program last year on behalf of Gas Leaks Allies.


Tough to stand up to industry’s clout, but stand we must

I am extremely thankful that the Globe put the article “Gas industry’s wishes color hydrogen study” atop the front page of its Nov. 17 edition. The UMass Lowell report is another instance of the gas industry’s trying to save its current business model. We’ve seen this type of behavior before with cigarettes and lead paint.

I devote my time to fact-based, rational climate action. I don’t have the level of funds that the vested fossil fuel interests do, but I have serious concerns about the realities of hydrogen use — its generation, transportation, storage, risks, and economics — that I would like to see raised to counter the industry’s claims.

The authors of the UMass Lowell study view it as “just the first in a potential series.” Likewise, the Globe and reporter Sabrina Shankman should use her article as a continuation of its investigation into proposals to use hydrogen and renewable natural gas for heating. The public, our legislators, and regulatory agencies need to be informed with easily accessible, accurate information.

Paul Dale

Chair, Energy Committee

Massachusetts Sierra Club

Wayland


‘Green hydrogen’ isn’t green. There’s a better alternative.

The problem with “green hydrogen” is that it isn’t green. The utility-funded UMass Lowell study proposes using a mixture of natural gas and green hydrogen, which would still employ a known greenhouse gas-emitting fuel as an energy source.

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The Home Energy Efficiency Team, or HEET, a local nonprofit, has come up with a better idea: GeoMicroDistricts, similar to what many college campuses use. These are networked geothermal systems that use underground pipes to carry water instead of gas and use heat pumps to heat or cool the water as needed. Both Natural Grid and Eversource have agreed to pilot this model and work has begun in Framingham to make this pilot a reality.

That’s a truly green solution: Gas companies selling their thermal management of water instead of gas.

Debora Hoffman

Belmont


This is a sad byproduct of how we underfund our public universities

As a professor of English and women’s studies at Salem State for 38 years, I witnessed how chronic underfunding harms our public universities. It leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by corporate interests. This year, UMass Lowell published a report favoring hydrogen for home heating. As the Globe’s Sabrina Shankman reports, this study not only was paid for by the gas industry but it was written in part by one of its representatives. The fossil fuel industry bought a report furthering its interests, and an academic institution sold its integrity.

There are several problems with the report, including failing to account for the emissions that go into making and using hydrogen, for which coal is one of the elements of production. If we made hydrogen green using renewables, the amount of wind energy needed to create green hydrogen that could heat just a fraction of our states’ homes would gobble up all of our renewable energy resources. Not to mention that hydrogen is even more explosive than gas.

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The gas industry has used this report to influence the regulatory process, lobby for pro-hydrogen legislation, and justify massive investments in its pipeline business. Instead, we must pass legislation that allows gas companies to transition to non-emitting thermal energy. We also must fund our universities adequately to prevent bad studies like this from happening again.

Patricia A. Gozemba

Co-chair

Salem Alliance for the Environment

Salem


Ask the actual builders what they think about hydrogen as a fuel source

Sabrina Shankman’s story might leave some readers with the impression that only in the minds of the Massachusetts utility industry is hydrogen a clean alternative fuel source. Although she focused on hydrogen’s use in heating buildings, I found it ironic that in the same edition, the Globe buried a brief wire service report that a New Jersey power plant that supplies New York City with electricity is converting one of its turbines to hydrogen fuel (Talking Points, Business, Nov. 17). Shankman also makes no mention of President Biden’s enthusiastic support for the establishment of hydrogen hubs across the country. Maybe she should be asking people like us who actually build the buildings that need to be heated and cooled before quoting infectious disease experts who happen to be climate activists but may not know much about energy supply and demand.

Harry J. Brett

International representative

United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters

Hanson


Hydrogen has its uses, but heating our homes isn’t one of them

Sabrina Shankman’s article reveals the not-so-subtle financial influence and lobbying impacts of the gas utilities and their allies on the results of a UMass Lowell study on green hydrogen. Not surprisingly, the study’s findings support the gas company position that green hydrogen is a viable alternative fuel for use in our homes. It is not.

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While hydrogen has several valuable industrial uses and may serve as an alternative fuel in parts of the transportation sector, it is entirely unsuitable for domestic use. First, hydrogen is highly flammable, more leak-prone than natural gas or renewable natural gas, and more likely to explode and severely injure or kill people.

Second, hydrogen’s use for heating homes would be six times less efficient than heat pumps powered directly by electricity.

Third, calculations have demonstrated that the production of enough green hydrogen to replace current levels of pipeline gas would consume most or even all of the projected clean energy available from the wind turbines off our coastline, thus leaving no or little clean electricity to power our economy, keep the lights on, charge the multiple electric devices and appliances in our homes, or meet the charging needs of an increasing number of electric vehicles.

And, still, an expanded use of hydrogen in our homes — backed up by a flawed academic study that the industry helped write — is exactly what the gas companies are proposing.

We should be outraged that academic research has been influenced by money from gas company executives, and ever more skeptical of what those executives tell us going forward. Ethics appear to have no standing in their decisions to promote misinformation if they decide that doing so favors their business interests.

Michael McCord

Boston