Henri Bontenbal

Candidate #17 for the Christian Democrats (CDA) in the Dutch Lower House of Parliament

1. Your idea for a national plan for twelve iconic provincial projects is part of the CDA election program. What is the underlying idea, and what made you think of it in the first place?

In the past few years, the national government has strongly focused on rolling out renewable energy, resulting in more windmills, solar farms, biomass plants, etcetera. Only in recent years, however, more attention has been paid to  the restrictions of the underlying energy infrastructure and what it really means to make this energy infrastructure future-proof. A new energy infrastructure is also needed for the sectors that are harder to make more sustainable, like the industry. There will now be a phase in the energy transition in which subsidising only the roll-out of sustainable energy is no longer sufficient.Plans should be made for a new energy infrastructure like for instance a hydrogen grid, CO2 transport and heat transport grids. At the moment, there is no adequate stimulation mechanism for creating this infrastructure. This is what our proposal is all about. Take the Nieuwe Waterweg for instance: the great statesman Thorbecke called it a ‘bold venture’. We still benefit from it. Iconic projects like these are necessary to really take a new step towards the energy transition and to facilitate innovation. In addition, we wanted to incorporate the regional component, for energy transition has to be linked with the earning capability of the Netherlands and therefore also with the earning capability of the regions. Regional economy and energy transition are interconnected.

2. In an article you wrote with Ruud van Ommen, which recently appeared in Elsevier, you advocated the necessity of a moonshot program for green technology. Could you tell us something about it? What are your views on H-vision from this perspective?

Our plea for a moonshot program is partly connected with my previous answer. We have to start thinking about new technologies required to make sectors sustainable where this is hard to do, like the production of steel, cement or fertilizer. Fundamental research and innovation have a long lead time. History shows that it may take several decades to go from fundamental research to a product. On the other hand, the corona vaccines show that fast breakthroughs are possible if we all join hands. It is my impression that energy research in the Netherlands is rather disorganised and without clear long-term goals. A moonshot program addresses the challenges and identifies the technologies needed. Next, it focuses the innovation budget on these long-term targets. H-vision is among the technologies required for the deep decarbonisation of sectors. Hydrogen is a vital link in making the industry more sustainable. We need major cost price reductions for large-scale electrolysis, for instance. By the way, I think there is too much dogmatism about green hydrogen. The surveys and studies I have read show that you should not make the transition to green hydrogen too quickly. We have to build the entire hydrogen chain without excluding all kinds of intermediate steps in advance. So here, too, we should call in a few science people to make calculations and decide what is the best way forward for us.

Henri Bontenbal

3. Has the split of integrated energy companies between grid operators and commercial energy companies been a good idea with everything we now know about energy transition and sustainability?

Yes, I think so. A free market system can be very wholesome. It keeps companies alert and ensures an efficient market transition. Companies often have a great problem-solving potential. We have to benefit from this. The fact that electricity and gas grids are in public hands is another favorable circumstance. It is the best way to safeguard public interests. But we have to keep thinking about the role of the government in the energy transition. Should the new infrastructure be in public hands or should it be in private hands, for instance? What is best for society? I can imagine that after some decades of overgrown free-market thinking, we think again about the positive role government investments and government ownership can play in the energy transition. This is already happening right now, as Gasunie invests in a heat transport grid, EBN in geothermal energy, the Port of Rotterdam Authority in hydrogen and CO2 storage, Tennet in the electricity grid at sea, and InvestNL in various sustainable projects. All of these are public organizations.
So I guess the question is who needs to invest in hydrogen grids in the industry and in the transport of CO2 and heat? I believe the government also has a role to play there.