In November 2019, the Balearic minister for energy transition, the government’s vice-president Juan Pedro Yllanes, expressed his scepticism regarding plans for a hydrogen plant in Lloseta. This plant was one of a series of projects for a so-called reindustrialisation following the closure of the cement plant. Answering a question in parliament, Yllanes said: “I’m not going to fool you. We maintain a highly sceptical position.”
In January 2019, President Armengol, the national minister for industry, Reyes Maroto, the mayor of Lloseta and representatives from three companies (Cemex one of them), presented the plan to convert the cement plant. The hydrogen replacement, stated Maroto, would be a “leading-edge” plant in Spain. Despite this apparent alliance between governments, Yllanes was to insist several months later that there was little demand for hydrogen in the Balearics. He raised other issues, such as obtaining licences for production and resident concerns about the environmental impact. A few days later, Armengol stressed that the plant would be going ahead, while conceding that this would entail “complex processing”. She meant licences, environmental reports and so on.
Hydrogen, green hydrogen that is, has enormous potential for providing clean energy to economic sectors that require fuel that is high in energy density and heated to high temperatures. Hydrogen could decarbonise intense applications, such as shipping. Solar and wind can take care of most clean decarbonising energy needs, but not all of them in an efficient or practical way.
The benefits of hydrogen have long been understood, but as a technology it has had a drawback in that a production process using natural gas not only requires huge amounts of energy it also generates carbon dioxide. By using renewables, e.g. solar, and moving to a system of electrolysis (an electric current through water to split hydrogen atoms from oxygen), the full benefit is obtained. There are no emissions; it is green hydrogen and not grey hydrogen that pollutes.
Like Endesa, Iberdrola, the Spanish electricity multinational, is making a commitment to hydrogen. The company has set out the pros and cons, and one of the latter is the cost. Green or grey hydrogen, a lot of energy is needed for the production process, but Iberdrola suggests that as ever more advance is made in the development of a renewables infrastructure, this cost will come down.
Clean energy going forward therefore demands a complete and integrated package, and for the Balearics – regardless of any scepticism that Juan Pedro Yllanes may have had or still harbour – this integration is set to include hydrogen. The environmental concerns regarding the Lloseta plant would appear to have been dealt with. The two other companies which were represented when the plan was presented in January 2019 – Acciona and Enagas – announced in November last year that they will equip the Cemex plant with an electrolysis system.
Endesa has meanwhile presented a scheme to invest 2,900 million euros in 23 green hydrogen plants across Spain. For Mallorca, the electricity company has earmarked 52 million euros, and the location will be Alcudia – at the Es Murterar power station site.
Both the Alcudia and the Lloseta proposals are ones directed primarily towards the national government, which has its own agenda for energy transition. While the Balearic government’s objectives are in line with this, the issue which nevertheless begins to surface is one to do with the layers of administration. And where there are these layers, there are also the “submissions” and the reports. It’s what Armengol referred to – the “complex processing”.
Even before the Alcudia proposal has made its way to Balearic administrative processing, which would include the town hall, as it has to sign off on the licence (as Lloseta town hall will also have to), the environmentalist lobby is raising its voice. GOB view “with suspicion” both of these hydrogen plant schemes. The environmentalists suggest that they are designed to take advantage of European New Generation funds for economic reconstruction, while they believe that hydrogen isn’t exempt from having an environmental impact. Above all, GOB argue that there should be energy sovereignty that isn’t driven by business gain and that the model of energy production should be “less intense”.
In this regard, and GOB have the support of Amics de la Terra (Friends of the Earth) for this, there are objections not just to hydrogen but also to the various photovoltaic plants that are being planned, such as the one for the Son Bonet aerodrome, which has been proposed by the airports authority, Aena.
Despite the apparent urgency because of the climate emergency (as declared in Mallorca), the complexities inevitably arise, not least because of constant objections from an environmentalist lobby which can at times appear to be contradictory and that are founded, in no small part, on the interests of national entities such as Aena and Endesa.
But these interests are necessary. A great deal of energy is required, and a great deal is required pronto. Or is there not a climate emergency?