On 22 May 2020, the Socialist Party government of Portugal launched a public consultation process for a new policy document called Estratégia Nacional para o Hidrogénio (EN-H2) – National Strategy for Hydrogen. The consultation lasted six weeks and the Council of Ministers approved it in July. (If you want to know more about hydrogen and the strategy in particular, Climáximo has a dossier (in Portuguese) combining press releases and webinars.)
On 5 November 2020, the Sábado magazine published a cover story about corruption allegations and an ongoing legal investigation on government officials. Namely, the Minister of State for Economy and Digital Transition, Pedro Siza Vieira, and the State Secretary for Energy, João Galamba, are suspects for favouring the EDP/Galp/REN consortium in the hydrogen plans in Sines.
EDP is the main electricity company, Galp the main fossil fuel company and REN provides the electricity grid as well as fossil gas. They are all private fossil fuel companies. Historically, Galp is more connected to the Portuguese state apparatus than the government parties – to the extent of buying Euro Cup 2016 tickets to government officials, to give a recent example (it’s not an expensive gift per se, but what matters is the friendly consideration, right?). Oh, and also: the CEO of EDP was suspended last July due to another corruption scandal.
Anyway, this is all old news for many people. What may be interesting is that, João Galamba publicly announced the 50+ meetings he had about hydrogen, as reported by the Expresso newspaper on 7 November 2020.
This went a bit under the radar due to the US elections, but here are some basics according Galamba himself:
- He made 27 meetings before 22 May, of which 22 were with corporations, including but not limited to TAG Energy, Dourogás, Voltalia, Akuo Energy Group, LightSource BP, EDP, REN, Galp, Prio Energy, Vestas, Akuo and Trustenergy. (He later met with Endesa, Iberdrola and Allianz, too.)
- Of the 50+ meetings until now, none were with academics. and none had members of any civil society organization. (There are meetings with Dutch, German, Japanese, Canadian and US embassies, and thus we cover virtually all the private meetings.)
- Since 20 December 2019, there is some sort of a corporate working group that meets monthly. Participants: Galamba, EDP, REN, Galp, Vestas and Resilient Group. This group met on 15 May 2020, a week before the strategy was made public for consultation.
Why this matters?
Recalling that the Portuguese government delivered the task of preparing the COVID-19 recovery plan to the CEO of an oil and gas company (Partex), would we be surprised that the Secretary of State for Energy wouldn’t even bother to have a coffee with pastel de nata with someone who understands climate science – anyone non-corporate, be it academic or NGO? Not really.
The Portuguese government will preside over the European Council between January and June of 2021. Are we supposed to interpret this self-inflicted lobbying traffic as part of their warm-up for the takeover of the hydrogen debate by the fossil fuel corporations at the European level? Yes, but that’s already ongoing, and the most that the Portuguese government could contribute to that process would be to reduce the little transparency that may exist.
So the hydrogen plan was probably written by the main fossil fuel corporations in Portugal, in private consultation with other fossil fuel corporations. Are we supposed to be outraged by the decades old modus operandi of neoliberalism? Yes and no. There is nothing particularly surprising about this particular example of embedded corruption in capitalist political structures. However, the climate should keep us at permanent indignation. These politicians are committing crimes against humanity by delivering a promising technology to fight climate crisis into the hands of fossil fuel corporations who are planning to use it to greenwash their existing fossil gas infrastructures and to justify new fossil gas projects. We must register this case explicitly as such.