Credit: Photo: Flip Franssen

Natural gas companies dominate Groningen research on ‘renewable’ energy

By Ties Keyzer, | 11 January, 2020

The Dutch government and energy firms finance research on renewable energy through the New Energy Coalition (NEC). The NEC’s turnover is expected to reach 100 million euros this year. However, The Investigative Desk and Follow the Money discovered that the research agenda is mainly dictated by large Dutch natural gas firms.

The New Energy Coalition is a collaboration of the three northern provinces, the University of Groningen, the Hanze University of Applied Sciences and industry. To the outside world, they profile themselves as ‘the centre of knowledge and expertise on climate transition’.

NEC’s business partners, which include GasTerra, GasUnie and the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM), have a very strong presence in its Board. The provinces Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe contribute financially, but have limited say over the expenditure of the subsidies they provide. The NEC does not provide insight into which business partners finance their research and what, if any, control of the methods and output they gain via their funding. Thanks to this construction the large natural gas companies hold the most influence over the research agenda, which focusses mostly on (liquid) natural gas, biogas and CO2 storage: applications aimed at conserving and using the existing gas infrastructure. This year, the NEC aims to have a turnover of 100 million euros on (subsidised) projects.

The NEC also heavily promotes research on hydrogen. Until recently, gas companies refused to invest in hydrogen but that changes now that government funding is becoming more easily accessible and gas production has ceased in Groningen. The new hydrogen projects initiated by the NEC almost exclusively make use of the ‘blue’ version of the gas, generated from natural gas, instead of the sustainable ‘green’ hydrogen variant.

The ‘scientific’ character of the NEC is used actively for acquiring subsidies from the Dutch central government and Brussels. Hans de Boer, chairman of VNO-NCW, lobbied the Dutch Parliament for hydrogen subsidies on behalf of the gas companies, thereby citing a NEC study that was financed by GasUnie. A delegation of the European Parliament was enthused about the idea of setting up a hydrogen economy in the Northern Netherlands, with a central role for the gas sector.

Students and former involved university employees voiced their concern about the disproportional influence of the fossil fuel industry on the university. NEC’s general director Gertjan Lankhorst counters that the ‘involvement of the gas sector is inherent to our origin and working methods’ and states that other, non-business partners, also have a say on ‘formulating research questions and solutions’.

The full version of this report was published on both our own website and that of our publication partner Follow the Money.

The report also featured in the Follow the Money podcast, in which the authors provided further details and background information.
Photo by Flip Franssen

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