In what could be seen as a last-ditch attempt to win over sceptical residents, gas distributor Northern Gas Networks (NGN) has announced that it will pay up to £3,000 ($3,775) to those taking part in the Redcar hydrogen heating trial in northeast England, while also offering new appliances, smart thermostats and insulation.

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The UK government has promised that it will not approve any hydrogen heating pilot without “strong local support”, which ultimately led to the cancellation of the other UK’s only other proposed trial in Ellesmere Port, northwest England, in July after it became clear that residents did not want it.

Public opposition in the town Redcar has been growing in recent weeks, prompting the local authority, Redcar and Cleveland Council, to tell the government that it has withdrawn its earlier unequivocal support and adopted a “neutral” position.

On Thursday, NGN unveiled a new “offer package” to those taking part in the trial, who would have their current natural gas supply switched to 100% “locally produced, low-carbon hydrogen” through the distributor’s existing gas pipes.

The package includes “participation payments in exchange for sharing feedback — with up to £3,000 for residents and £2,000 for landlords”.

In addition, participants will receive a hydrogen boiler and “appliances such as a cooker hob”, smart thermostats, loft and cavity wall insulation for those that do not already have them, free servicing and maintenance of appliances, and a “guarantee that customers won’t pay more for their bill during the trial than what they would have paid if they’d stayed using natural gas”.

The roughly 1,800 homes and businesses in the trial area can also opt out to switch from natural gas to electric heating, in which case they would receive a free heat pump or electric boiler, and electric appliances, but not the money.

The aim of the new offer package is “to ensure that participants get the most out of the project and provide invaluable data to the government to inform future decisions on the use of hydrogen”, NGN says.

A similar offer was made in March this year to would-be participants at the proposed Whitby hydrogen heating trial in Ellesmere Port — less than three months before the government scrapped that pilot due to the lack of strong public support.

Gas distributor Cadent had offered £2,500 to participants, or the equivalent in home energy efficiency improvements, as well as free appliances, smart thermostats, vouchers for those requiring hydrogen cookers or fires, and a host of other incentives.

But these were not enough to convince residents, who objected over concerns about safety and NOx emissions, and a basic lack of information, including what would happen at the end of the two-year pilot. Residents in Redcar have expressed similar concerns.

NGN is obviously hoping for a different outcome, and is perhaps pinning its hopes on the fact that that residents in the planned project area tend to have lower incomes than those in the Whitby area of Ellesmere Port, and might therefore be more amenable to the hand-outs.

The stakes are also higher this time. If the Redcar project is also scrapped, it is highly unlikely that the UK government would approve the replacement of natural gas in the home with hydrogen, as it has always said a trial needs to take place before it could make such a decision.

This would be a major blow to UK gas distributors, which see clean hydrogen as the only possible route to keeping their lucrative networks in operation over the long term as the country moves towards its stated goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

The UK government is expected to announce its decision before Christmas on whether the Redcar trial can go ahead.