[2nd Allocated Day]
Further consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 12, page 1, line 5, leave out
‘a decarbonisation target range is set, that’
‘such a target range is set’.
Amendment 13, page 1, line 8, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘must’.
Amendment 14, page 1, line 11, at end insert—
‘(4) Subject to section 2(1) the decarbonisation level must not exceed the level deemed consistent with a low-carbon trajectory as advised by the Committee on Climate Change’.
Amendment 15, page 2, line 2, leave out from
‘and the first decarbonisation order may not’
to ‘Climate Change Act 2008’ and insert—
‘a decarbonisation order must be made by 1 April 2014’.
Amendment 16, page 2, line 6, leave out ‘A’ and insert—
‘Subject to section 2(1), a’.
Amendment 17, in clause 2, page 2, line 30, leave out from ‘The following matters’ to ‘target range’ and insert—
‘Before exercising the power to make a decarbonisation order the Secretary of State must obtain and take into account the advice of the Committee on Climate Change.’.
Amendment 18, page 2, line 32, leave out ‘The matters are’ and insert—
‘In providing its advice to the Secretary of State the Committee on Climate Change must take into account the following matters’.
Amendment 19, page 2, line 46, at end insert—
‘(3) As soon as is reasonably practicable after giving its advice to the Secretary of State, the Committee must publish that advice in such manner as it considers appropriate.
(4) If in making a decarbonisation order the Secretary of State makes provision different from that recommended by the Committee, the Secretary of State must, on making the order, publish a statement setting out the reasons for that decision.’.
Amendment 20, in clause 3, page 3, line 2, leave out from ‘a report setting out’ to the end of subsection and insert—
‘and publish a delivery plan setting out proposals to achieve the duty in section 1 to ensure that the decarbonisation target range is not exceeded.’.
Government amendments 51 and 70.
I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, in particular to my interests in the energy industry. In doing so, I emphasise, as I have done before, that my views on climate change and on the need for Britain to move more swiftly to a low-carbon economy and to cut its dependence on fossil fuels were formed two decades ago when I had ministerial responsibility for this area of policy.
I have not changed these views at any time since and have repeated them publicly and privately on many occasions throughout the past 20 years. My views have never been influenced at any time or in any way by my financial interests, all of which were acquired after I left the shadow Cabinet in 2005. That was 12 years after I accepted the overwhelming scientific consensus on this subject and began campaigning for a more urgent response to the challenge of climate change. Various bloggers, columnists and others, including one or two of my hon. Friends, who imply otherwise and who ignore the scientific consensus, invariably overlook my strong and consistent support for nuclear power, which is a low-carbon technology that should be part of Britain’s energy mix.
I am grateful for this opportunity to debate amendment 11, which stands in my name and the name of hon. Members from most parties. It is based on a unanimous recommendation made last July in the report of the Energy and Climate Change Committee on the draft Energy Bill. I am glad to say that the Government accepted many of the Committee’s recommendations, and by doing so materially improved the Bill, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team on their response to our report and on the outcome of their negotiations with the Treasury on a range of issues, including the levy control framework.
For a variety of reasons, however, the need for the amendment is even greater now than when my Committee’s report was published. First, despite some positive signs on the Government’s support for low-carbon electricity generation, the publication of the gas strategy on the very day of the autumn statement confused many investors. The possibility that the Government might sanction 37 GW of new gas-fired generation capacity rests uneasily with their acceptance two years ago of the fourth carbon budget, which covers the period 2023 to 2027, and raises the fear that the purpose of next year’s review of the budget is to water it down and weaken the incentives for low-carbon investment.
As a member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, I want to compliment the hon. Gentleman on his chairmanship. He has done an excellent job. Does he agree that unfortunately the Government have dragged their feet over the Energy Bill? They did not give us enough time to scrutinise it. The Bill then disappeared for a while and came back at short notice. Does this smack of a Government who are putting their heart and soul into energy?
It is certainly true, as the hon. Gentleman says, that we waited a long time for the draft Energy Bill. I think that the industry, the non-governmental organisations and the academic world were all hoping to see it appear a lot earlier than last summer. Our Committee was given a very limited period—about half the time normally given to Select Committees to comment on a draft Bill. We completed our work—with great assistance not just from my colleagues on the Committee, but from the staff—in about six weeks. Having received our recommendations at the end of July, we waited another five months before the actual Energy Bill was published, although I recognise that some of that period was used in the negotiations on which I have already congratulated the Secretary of State. The Public Bill Committee stage was completed in the first week of February, however, and we have now waited a further four months to get to Report, so the matter has not been conducted with the urgency that I think the needs of the situation required.
The understandably envious glances cast across the Atlantic by the Treasury at the transformation of the US gas market in the wake of the exploitation of shale gas have not passed unnoticed. Not surprisingly, there are now doubts in the minds of many prospective investors about the depth of the Government’s commitment to decarbonising electricity generation.
Incidentally, the Energy and Climate Change Committee was one of the first bodies to urge the Government, more than two years ago, to approve more exploration and testing to establish the scale of Britain’s recoverable shale gas reserves. If our dependence on imported gas can be cut and if consumers can be partially protected against fluctuations in international gas prices, which have been the main cause of the rise in domestic energy prices in the last few years, that is wholly to be welcomed. However, my Committee also warned, in a more recent report on shale gas, that it would be rash to base energy policy on the assumption that Britain will soon be a major shale gas producer. The opposition to exploring for shale gas in Sussex, which is already emerging, is a foretaste of the battle for public opinion, which must be won before domestic production of shale gas on even a modest scale can occur. The case for a diversified energy mix is therefore as strong as ever.
Secondly, although we hear regular warnings about a looming capacity crisis in electricity generation and the consequent risk of power cuts, there is a curious complacency about the Government’s attitude. Investment in new generating capacity is now at a low level. The nuclear talks between the Government and EDF remain unfinished. Even if, as I now hope and expect, they are brought to a successful, albeit belated, conclusion, it will be 2020 at the earliest before a single kilowatt of electricity is generated by a new nuclear power station in Britain. New investment in coal is unlikely to occur until an economically viable form of carbon capture and storage is available. Despite the huge potential market for CCS, there is no sign anywhere in the world of that happening. I am an enormous fan of CCS—it is the single technology that the world most urgently needs to address climate change—but we might have to wait another decade or even longer for a breakthrough on that front.
Meanwhile, coal can be imported cheaply from America, so our remaining coal-fired power stations are running flat out. Gas generation—the great white hope of many people—is currently so unprofitable that, far from large-scale new investment taking place, some plant is currently mothballed. Critically, potential investors in gas generation are holding back until the details of the Government’s proposed capacity mechanism are known. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to publish the details as soon as possible.
With a decision on nuclear still awaited and with fossil fuel generating investment at a standstill, it might be thought that money would pour into low-carbon renewables, but even there the picture is unclear. For example, according to new figures from Bloomberg, the flow of funds is actually slowing down. Doubts about whether a future Government will remain committed to supporting low-carbon technologies after 2020, fears that instead they will bet the farm on another dash for gas, and a lack of clarity about the level of strike prices to be proposed for the new contracts for difference regime have all unsettled investors. The only certain consequence of this is that investment will be slower and the risk of a capacity crisis greater.
What the hon. Gentleman has just said exactly echoes what businesses in my constituency are telling me. The lack of certainty and the suggestion that the Government will now delay setting targets until 2016 mean that businesses simply do not know within which parameters they are operating. They do not know whether they should go ahead and invest in the technology.
I agree with the hon. Lady and will develop that very point.
The element of perceived political risk is leading investors to seek higher returns from their investments in the UK energy market. Higher returns to investors mean higher prices for consumers. Amendment 11 directly addresses these issues. By itself, it would not immediately alter the low-carbon pathway on which the Government have already embarked, most notably in its acceptance of the fourth carbon budget. However, the prospect of the fourth carbon budget being watered down in next year’s review is simply another unwelcome uncertainty. The amendment would remove that uncertainty by requiring the Secretary of State to set, no later than 1 April 2014, a decarbonisation target for 2030 for electricity generation.
But will my hon. Friend concede that if we put up more wind farms, we would also have to build gas-fired power stations as back-up because the wind might not blow? That would be an awful lot dearer than just building the gas stations. How much is he planning to add to people’s electricity bills?
I recommend that my right hon. Friend look at the latest report from National Grid, which shows that the amount of back-up required for wind farms is extraordinarily low. More importantly, on the broader point about costs, I am sure he will be aware—because he takes a close interest in these matters—that nothing in the amendment would affect the cost of electricity between now and 2020 because the support for low-carbon technologies during that period is capped by the levy control framework. The amendment would have no impact on electricity prices for consumers for the next seven years.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend also takes a close interest in what electricity prices will be in the 2020s, and it is theoretically possible that approving this amendment could lead to higher prices during that period. That would depend heavily on an assumption about what gas prices will be doing in the 2020s, and I would not be confident about making such a forecast. If he is really concerned about the cost to consumers—a concern that I share—he should address his attention in the short term to the Treasury, which has imposed a minimum floor price for carbon. That will have the effect of raising electricity prices before 2020. It is an imposition that applies only in the United Kingdom and therefore puts us at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the European Union. I hope he will join me in making continued representations to the Treasury to drop that policy.
As currently drafted, the Energy Bill gives the Secretary of State a power to set a decarbonisation target for 2030, but it does not compel him to do so. It also prevents him from exercising that power before 2016. Suggestions that the amendment would force him to set the target at 50 grams per kWh in 2030 are mistaken. It would merely require him to set it in accordance with advice received from the Committee on Climate Change. There is nothing in the amendment that would require him to set a particular figure. If the Committee were to recommend a figure higher than 50 grams per kWh, the Secretary of State would have to heed that advice. If he did not do so, he would have to explain why.
The Committee on Climate Change itself would not have a completely free hand in determining its advice to the Government. It would still have to take account of all the matters referred to in clause 2(2). I remind the House of five of those key points. The Committee would have to take account of
“scientific knowledge about climate change…technology relevant to the generation and storage of electricity…economic circumstances, and in particular the likely impact on the economy and the competitiveness of particular sectors of the economy…fiscal circumstances, and in particular the likely impact on…public borrowing”
“social circumstances, and in particular the likely impact on fuel poverty”.
My hon. Friend began by saying that the whole purpose of his amendment was to provide certainty. He is now saying, “This won’t be certain because it will depend on half a dozen things that we cannot forecast.” Why does he imagine that people will invest on the basis of a legal obligation to do something in 2030 that it is impossible to do now, and that they will not invest on the basis of subsidies that are available now and that can be removed only as a result of breach of contract?
I am not sure that I completely follow my right hon. Friend’s concerns. Those points in the Bill will simply ensure that, in the event of an unexpected substantial change in economic circumstances or the emergence of a new technology, the Committee on Climate Change would have an opportunity to review its advice. Indeed, I would hope that it would want to do so in normal circumstances anyway. Moreover, investors are accustomed to having to adjust their decisions and expectations in the light of changing events.
I am seeking, through the amendment, to remove another element of uncertainty. I want to ensure that the Government’s current commitment to moving down a pathway of slowly decarbonising the British economy and reducing its dependence on fossil fuels, which is particularly relevant to the electricity generating industry, is reinforced by accepting an obligation to set the target in secondary legislation during the next 10 months. I believe that that would be wholly helpful to investors. It would give them a more secure and predictable framework in which to make their decisions, as well as having an effect on the returns that they might expect.
In Northern Ireland, Airtricity’s electricity prices have gone up by 17.5%, and Northern Ireland Electricity’s prices have risen by 18%. What elements of the Bill will give consumers confidence that prices will not rise above affordable levels, given that prices are heading in the wrong direction at the moment?
On the wider point about future prices, it would be dishonest for anyone to suggest that we could protect consumers against the probability of higher energy prices. The world’s demand for energy is expanding very quickly, particularly in the Asian economies, and that will probably lead to higher prices. What the Government can do, and what the Bill is aiming to do, is at least to minimise those price rises. A number of measures can be taken to achieve that, including improving competition, ensuring that consumers are better informed and deploying various smart technologies on a large scale. Also, as I have said before, it would be helpful if Britain were able to go ahead and identify the scale of our recoverable shale gas reserves and then exploit them. That would certainly reduce our dependence on imports, and it might give us some protection against price fluctuations.
The amendment is not so revolutionary as some people seem to think. It seeks to bring forward by a couple of years something that the Government are contemplating doing anyway. If it is true, as the Secretary of State said yesterday, that we are heading for a substantial decarbonisation of electricity anyway—I am sure that, if he said it, it must be true—what possible objection could there be to the amendment? There is now widespread support for such a measure. Only two weeks ago, the Committee on Climate Change published a report recommending that a target for reducing carbon emissions from electricity generation by 50 grams per kWh to 2030 should be set in legislation, with the flexibility to adjust it in the light of new information. The amendment provides for precisely that.
A wide range of businesses and trade bodies have backed the proposal. The Aldersgate Group, whose members include Microsoft, Marks & Spencer, Aviva, Sky, Pepsico, British American Tobacco and many others, is a strong supporter. Many companies with an interest in the supply chain and with the potential to create jobs in Britain want to see the amendment accepted. A wide range of voluntary bodies is also campaigning for it, including the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the United Reform Church and the Quakers in Britain. I mention the Churches because, in the recent debate on gay marriage, I found myself on the opposite side from most of those organisations, and I am delighted to be allied with them on this issue.
I am listening closely to what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Does he agree that the purpose of setting a decarbonisation target now is surely related to the supply chain? Companies are looking at bringing developments on stream around 2020, as many of them have a long lead-in time, and they want to know now that there will be a market for them after that date.
That is certainly one of the reasons for the amendment. It would help to create more jobs in the UK if the supply chain companies received reassurance in that regard.
Even among hon. Members there are signs of enthusiasm for my amendment. At the Liberal Democrat party conference last September, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury proposed a motion to establish a
“target range of 50-100g of CO2 per kWh for the decarbonisation of power sector in addition to existing carbon reductions.”
If every Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament who supported the Chief Secretary on that day were to join me in the Aye Lobby at 4 o’clock, the amendment would be carried. I am sure that all my hon. Friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches are keen to take this opportunity to strengthen their well-known reputation for consistency.
My hon. Friend will be well aware that one of the biggest road blocks to achieving progress in this area is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is not the Liberal Democrats who are standing in the way of the progress that we need to make. My hon. Friend needs to work with his own colleagues to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to come on board.
I say to my hon. Friend that there are two people who could give a decisive signal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon by voting for the amendment: one is the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the other is the Energy Secretary—both members of my hon. Friend’s party, with which we are delighted to be in coalition.
Given that the hon. Gentleman has chosen to reduce this issue to a political knockabout, it would be interesting to ask him, if he is so committed to his amendment, what meetings he has sought with the Treasury to discuss it.
I frequently pass the time of day in the warmest possible terms with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer when we are voting in the same Lobby, which from time to time we are.
Even the Government seek powers in the Bill as it stands to introduce a decarbonisation target, but for some reason they do not want to do so until 2016 at the earliest. The problem with the Saint Augustinian coyness and this promise of possible future chastity in the matter of greenhouse gas emissions—“but, please God, not just yet”—is that by 2016 many investment decisions will have been made. If these lock Britain into a high greenhouse gas emission future, they will either prevent us from meeting our climate change commitments or else will lead to the construction of fossil fuel generating capacity, which will subsequently have to be scrapped.
The year 2016 is also after the next general election. Delaying a decision until then creates another needless but harmful element of doubt about the Government’s true intentions. I therefore urge hon. Members on all sides of the House to support this amendment. Doing so will remove an element of uncertainty whose presence hampers investment, increases the risk of a capacity crisis and raises electricity prices unnecessarily. The amendment will not impose on the Government today any commitments that they do not already claim to embrace. Furthermore, it will not remove the need for even greater priority to be given to demand-side measures and to energy efficiency—issues that I wholly support. By itself, the amendment will not raise electricity prices in the next seven years by a single penny because the total sums spent on subsidising low-carbon electricity in the period up to 2020 has, as I have mentioned, already been capped by the levy control framework.
I am listening to the things that the amendment will not do, but will my hon. Friend tell my constituents in Winchester and across the beautiful Hampshire downs what a decarbonised power sector will look like in my constituency and in many other constituencies by 2030?
That is quite a challenge because we cannot predict exactly which will be the most cost-effective technologies. I very much hope, incidentally, that we will move swiftly away from a situation in which the Government set the strike prices for contracts for difference on a centrally determined basis, and that they will allow different technologies to bid in an auction process so that we can be sure that we are getting the best value for money. It may well be that some technologies that we do not yet know about will offer better value than offshore wind farms, for example, which look to me as if they are going to be at the costly end of the spectrum. Even today, it is possible to see solar and an array of wind farms—I visited them in my constituency last Friday—operating. The farmer who showed me these with great pride—he was lucky enough to make his investment before the rates were cut a year and a half ago—pointed out that his sheep enjoyed sheltering under these panels and that there was some evidence to demonstrate increased productivity from the sheep as well as the generation of renewable power.
I think I have probably said enough about the Treasury’s floor price for carbon for the House to realise that I am not a supporter of it. I stress that we need to recognise that it is raising prices, adding to consumer and business bills and making British business less competitive relative to the rest of the EU, and it manages to do so in a way that does not cut carbon emissions by a single kilogram.
Without amendment 11, the Bill, whose early passage through Parliament is desperately needed for economic and security reasons as much as for environmental ones, will be needlessly weakened. I commend the amendment to the House.
I am pleased to join the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo) in supporting amendment 11 and voting for it later today.
The Secretary of State is in a bind. His party believes in a 2030 decarbonisation target—it is Lib Dem party policy, after all. His party put the issue in its manifesto. Many of his MPs went further and actually signed a separate pledge in support of a decarbonisation target. Have they not learned the Lady Bracknell rule of politics: to break one pledge may be regarded as a misfortune; to break two looks like contempt for the electorate? The Secretary of State is, however, a decent fellow and he has told me from that Dispatch Box that he favours a 2030 decarbonisation target and would be happy to implement one were it not for the fact that he struck an agreement with the Chancellor. I understand that he refers to this agreement as “the grand bargain”. Hardly: it is more of a Faustian pact.
The Secretary of State was right to negotiate £7.6 billion under the levy control framework to support renewables up until 2020—but a bargain this was not. Old coal will be allowed to provide base load beyond 2023; gas will be incentivised to provide base load right the way up until 2045. All pretence of meeting our carbon budgets and emissions targets will be abandoned, and the jobs and growth that leadership in low-carbon industries would generate will be lost. The combined value to the UK economy of all this is worth many times more than the paltry £7.6 billion that the Secretary of State has negotiated up to 2020. A grand bargain? Not since Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage has a worse deal been struck.
Just 10 days ago, the UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change produced its report on the electricity market reform. The report compared and analysed the relative benefits of investing in a portfolio of low-carbon technologies through the 2020s rather than investing in gas-fired generation. The report finds that investment in low carbon would save consumers between £25 billion and £45 billion. If, however, one uses the higher-end estimates of gas and carbon prices, the Climate Change Committee’s estimate then rises to £100 billion.
Of course. The hon. Gentleman must be forgiven for not having a memory retention of more than 10 seconds. I did, in fact, say that the lower-end figures were £25 billion to £45 billion, and that the higher end of the spectrum led to the estimate of £100 billion. There we have it. If we compare the £7.6 billion that the Secretary of State has negotiated with the lower-end range of £25 billion to £45 billion, we see what the Climate Change Committee has said the gas strategy might cost us in comparison with a low-carbon investment strategy.
Critically, the Climate Change Committee says:
“Only if the world abandons attempts to limit risks of dangerous climate change would a strategy of investment in gas-fired generation through the 2020s offer significant savings.”
Is it not the case that the climate has been changing for the last 4.5 billion years, while surprisingly there has been no increase in temperatures for the last 15 years, so growing numbers of people think the whole thing is hogwash, and they are going to support quite reluctantly what the Government are doing as the least worst option?
Yes, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the climate has been changing over billions of years. If, however, he cared to read the report from the Met Office and from meteorologists around the world, he would find that the fluctuation over the past 10 years, to which he referred, relates to the context and background diminishing rather than the effect of emissions reducing. Again, if he bothered to read the report, he would find that it says that once the background comes back to normal or back to the average, the effect of the increased emissions would then produce a correspondingly sharp rise in climate change. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there have always been changes in the climate and there are risks that we must factor in, but when we do so, we must take full account of the scientific data. Failing to do so is the mistake he made in his intervention.
So here we have the United Kingdom Government, who proclaim themselves to be a leader in the international climate negotiations in the run-up to the United Nations framework convention on climate change agreement in 2015, adopting a national strategy that their own independent expert advisers have told them will make economic sense only if the world abandons its attempt to avoid dangerous climate change. If it were on “Mock the Week”, we should all be in hysterics.
This is not the advice of some partisan body funded by industry. It is the advice of the independent committee that we established and expressly charged with the task of advising Parliament on the most cost-effective measures that can be taken in order to deliver on the UK’s legally binding commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050. What that committee is telling the Secretary of State is that the £7.6 billion that he has negotiated needs to be set against at least £25 billion to £45 billion of increased costs to the UK public. The House should not wilfully choose to disregard the advice of the Committee on Climate Change unless it hears very specific evidence from Ministers that refutes its conclusions. To disagree with the Committee without such evidence would be wilfully to embrace higher energy prices than are necessary to our emissions objectives, and to accept lower economic growth and the likelihood that this policy will fail.
Amendments 11 to 20, which we will press to a vote this afternoon, require the Secretary of State to set a 2030 decarbonisation target for the electricity sector by 1 April 2014, at a level that
“must not exceed the level deemed consistent with a low-carbon trajectory as advised by the Committee on Climate Change”.
I am most grateful to the 43 Members on both sides of the House who have chosen to add their names to the amendments. They, like the hon. Member for South Suffolk and me, believe that a 2030 decarbonisation target is essential to the success of the Bill. Let me repeat those words: “the success of the Bill”. We are not trying to wreck the Bill, for it is too important to play politics with. Ministers should distinguish between those who bring a spade to bury their endeavours and those who, like the hon. Member for South Suffolk and me, bring a spade to shore them up. I am conscious that the Government Whips have been given a good deal of extra work by the amendments, and I will happily buy a refreshment for any of them who feel aggrieved by having to argue with their colleagues against both common sense and principle.
So far, we have identified a number of arguments that have been adduced in the Government’s defence. Front Benchers have been keen to tell their troops not to worry, because they have introduced a provision to set a decarbonisation target in 2016. Well, that is not strictly accurate. The Secretary of State did not need to give himself the power to set a decarbonisation target in the Bill, because he already had that power under the Climate Change Act 2008. What the Government actually do in the Bill is make it illegal for him to set a 2030 decarbonisation target before 2016. There is no compulsion for him to set it even after that date; there is only a permission and an acknowledgement that he may do so.
The Government specifically claim that the enforced delay makes sense, because by that time the Committee on Climate Change will have published its fifth carbon budget, which covers the year 2030. They say that it is best to consider the committee’s budget recommendation along with any decarbonisation target. Interestingly, the committee itself does not agree with that view. In fact, it has repeatedly disagreed with it. In its recent report on electricity market reform, it is quite explicit in saying:
“We recommended to the Government in summer 2012 that a carbon-intensity target aimed at reducing 2030 emissions to around 50 gCO2 /kWh should be set under the Energy Bill, which is currently progressing through Parliament.
In response, the Government has taken a power in the draft Bill which would allow it to do this in 2016. It has argued that setting a target any earlier would be premature, given that the fifth carbon budget covering the period 2028-2032—and setting the economy-wide emissions limit for 2030—will not be legislated until 2016.
However, it is not necessary to wait for the setting of the fifth carbon budget to take a decision on the 2030 carbon intensity target, given clear evidence to show that investment in a portfolio of low-carbon technologies is a robust strategy with low regrets and significant potential benefits across a wide range of scenarios.
Neither is it necessary to wait for the fourth carbon budget review in 2014 to set a carbon-intensity target. Although the Government has linked its approach to EMR implementation with the review of the fourth carbon budget, it will remain economically desirable to invest in a portfolio of low-carbon technologies whatever the outcome of the review, given the 2050 target in the Climate Change Act.
Moreover, delay in setting the target will allow current uncertainties to be perpetuated, with adverse consequences for supply chain investment and project development”.
The committee concludes:
“We therefore continue to recommend to the Government and to Parliament that a carbon-intensity target aimed at reducing emissions to around 50 gCO2/kWh should be set as a matter of urgency.”
Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that there are already many positive signals for investors in the marketplace? There is the 2050 target, there is the levy control framework that enables billions of pounds to be contributed by central Government, and there is the Government amendment to the Bill, to which the hon. Gentleman has referred and which allows the Secretary of State to take those measures in 2016.
Is the hon. Gentleman not as concerned as I am—and, indeed, as Professor Dieter Helm was when he gave evidence to the Public Bill Committee—about the possibility that including additional targets that impose restrictions on the marketplace will simply lead to higher costs for both British business and consumers?
I agree that it is important to address the question of what the costs to British industry and British consumers will be. As the hon. Gentleman will accept, the independent Committee on Climate Change has already addressed that question, and, indeed, its remarks and recommendations were based precisely on its assessment of the likely costs and benefits and the signals that currently exist in the market; but he has made a fair point. We certainly need to ask what signals exist, and what effect either costs or benefits are likely to have on our national well-being.
It is heartening to know that the Government want to hear what the Committee on Climate Change wants to say in three years’ time. Perhaps they will now extend that courtesy further by not just hearing but listening to what the committee is saying today.
The other argument that the Government Whips have deployed against the amendments is that sector-specific targets without road maps are meaningless. That is, to a degree, relevant to the point made by the hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride). This is not only about the targets; it is also about the road maps relating to the implementation of those targets, and that, of course, is precisely why we have a levy control framework. It is also why the EMR report of the Committee on Climate Change calls on the Government to extend to 2030 funding allocated to support the development of less mature technologies under the framework, to present
“options to support mobilisation of new sources of finance, including roles for the Green Investment Bank and Infrastructure UK”,
and to publish in the EMR delivery plan
“the amount of capacity that the Government intends to contract”
over the next period.
The final argument that we have heard from Ministers is that they do not wish to sacrifice jobs and growth for the sake of the environment. That is the most fallacious argument of all. It was dealt with very well in some of the pre-Committee hearings. Andrew Buglass from the Royal Bank of Scotland told the Energy Bill Committee that there is a cliff edge and that cliff edge is making it very difficult for supply chain investors to invest in the UK. Overcoming the insecurity created by the 2020 cliff edge does not require more public money or even the promise of more money. It requires coherence in the form of a 2030 target that proves to industry that the demand for low-carbon energy will continue to rise beyond 2020.
The shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), has previously quoted comments made by Mr Buglass in an Energy Bill Committee sitting, observing that Mr Buglass stated that a 2030 target
“is absolutely critical from the conversations I have with potential supply-chain investors because they quite rightly point out that it is very difficult for them to take investment to their board if they really only have visibility on three or four years-worth of work.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 15 January 2013; c. 51, Q154.]
We must put that target in place if we are to incentivise potential investors and achieve the investment in low-carbon industry that we need.
I support the decarbonisation target. Does my hon. Friend agree that this issue is not just about what DECC is doing, but what the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is doing? There are many investors looking to invest in constituencies across the country, but they will not make that investment if the uncertainty arising from the Government’s current position persists. It is therefore vital that we get some kind of assessment of where that investment can go, because that will help to create the green jobs that we all want.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the great mistakes this Government have made on energy policy is to confine it simply to energy itself, and not to consider it in the wider context of British industry. That is why I am delighted that the new Minister for Energy, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), has a spanning brief over the two Departments. I hope he will be able to bring that to bear, because we must see how our energy policy is related to our exports. Unfortunately, last night the Government did not accept the amendments on carbon capture and storage, but we must understand that the growth of CCS as a new technology in this country will impact not only on our own energy policy here in the UK, but much more widely in terms of the exports and the impact we can make on climate change across the globe and in countries such as China and India, which will be using coal for the next 30 or 40 years. That is the true prize. Our own energy consumption and our own emissions are small compared with those of the rest of the world, but the impact that our industrial policy can make is enormous. That is why we have to integrate energy and business, as my hon. Friend says.
Potential investors in the UK have a policy risk concern; they are concerned about what the future shape of our energy policy might be. Siemens told us if we wait until 2016 to set a decarbonisation target for 2030, it and many of its competitors are likely to delay or cancel planned investment in the UK. The Energy Secretary is shaking his head. I know he is not shaking his head to indicate he disagrees that that is what Siemens said, as he has read the Hansard Committee reports and he knows that is precisely what it said. He may disagree with those comments, but that is what industry is telling us, and we ignore what it is saying at our peril.
The hon. Gentleman mentions Siemens. In Germany emissions per capita and per unit of GDP are higher than in the UK, and in the UK they are falling more quickly, yet he seems to think that the best way forward for us is to have targets and increasingly to act unilaterally. Why are our European neighbours going in the opposite direction?
That point is often made; it is often said that Germany is getting rid of its low-carbon nuclear and is embracing coal as the fuel for the future. The hon. Gentleman is diligent on these matters, and I am therefore sure that he has examined the Pöyry report commissioned by his Government—by DECC—which was published in April 2013 and which made it clear that this is not a sustainable pathway for Germany. It concludes:
“It is our opinion that there will be no major new unabated coal or lignite projects in Germany for the foreseeable future beyond those currently under construction. Our view appears to be endorsed by the German companies: three majors have very publicly announced that they have no intention of building additional coal-fired power stations in Germany until at least the end of the decade.
The Netherlands has many parallels to Germany in that legacy circumstances are responsible for a wave of new coal-fired power stations, but that these conditions are highly unlikely to repeated.”
It then goes on to talk about Spain.
The hon. Gentleman knows that the decision on nuclear in Germany was taken at a time when highly political conditions were in play. Those conditions are not going to be replicated in the future, and, importantly, the business sectors in these countries have seen that this is not a credible future pathway.
Order. Before the hon. Member for Ynys Môn intervenes, I should point out that although the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) is, as usual, entirely in order as there is no time limit, he is a sensitive fellow and I therefore know that he will wish to take account of the fact that several other Members might also wish to volunteer their opinions in the course of the debate.
I will be brief, but my hon. Friend’s comments on the German issue have provoked me to intervene. He is right that there may be no new-build coal power stations in Germany, but German business is concerned that it will be importing nuclear from France or coal from Poland, and that carbon issues will therefore be imported.
If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not, as I have tried to give way as much as possible and I wish to respect Mr Speaker’s advice. I am conscious that I have spoken at great length, so I will now conclude my remarks.
Earlier this year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer received a letter from many of the companies referred to by the hon. Member for South Suffolk, in which they make the situation very clear:
“Projects can take 4-6 years from investment decision to construction and operation. We are already close to the point where lack of a post-2020 market driver will seriously undermine project pipelines. Supply chain investment decisions depend on reasonable assurance for manufacturers that a production facility to be constructed during this decade, costing hundreds of millions of pounds, will have an adequate market for its products well into the 2020s.
Postponing the 2030 target decision until 2016 creates entirely avoidable political risk. This will slow growth in the low carbon sector, handicap the UK supply chain, reduce UK R&D and produce fewer new jobs.”
The Government must reconsider.
These amendments have attracted significant debate and interest across the House. Let me say, first and foremost, that the Government share the view that decarbonisation of the electricity sector, done in the right way, is vital. It will help us to: deliver secure and affordable energy for the long term; diversify our energy mix: insulate the economy from price spikes in the international energy market; and meet our long-term, legally binding goals on renewable energy and climate change. It is because decarbonising energy generation is one of the central pillars of this Government’s energy policy that we introduced these new provisions into the Energy Bill, in order to take that critical step of enabling a legally binding decarbonisation target range for the electricity sector to be set in 2016. That would be the first of its kind in the world.
Amendments 51 and 70 refine these provisions by adding the target range duty to the list of considerations to which the Secretary of State must have regard when exercising certain electricity market reform functions, such as when making regulations relating to contracts for difference and the capacity market. That will help to ensure that, when a target decarbonisation range is set, the Secretary of State is obliged to take his duty to meet that target range into account when exercising his functions in respect of electricity market reform.
The Minister referred to the amendments introduced in Committee as ones that enabled the Government to set a target, but he is as aware as I am, and as many others are, that that is not what they do; they say that the Government “may” set a target. If he is now saying that the Government will set a target, will he support the amendments proposing to change the wording from “may” to “must”?
The amendments we introduced in Committee allow the Government, if they so wish, to set a target. I will come on to deal with that point, but let me turn first to the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo) and the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner). I do not believe that these amendments take the right approach for the following reasons.
First, now is not the right time to set a target range. Hon. Members say that doing so will improve investor certainty, but this Government are already giving clear signals about the future of our electricity sector, and I shall address that in a moment. Secondly—this answers the point made by the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex)—it would be a mistake to impose a legal obligation now that a target range must be set. Decarbonisation of the electricity sector is inextricably linked to that of the entire economy, so a decision to set a binding target range should be taken in 2016 when we consider the trajectory of the whole economy towards our 2050 target. Thirdly, the Committee on Climate Change is the wrong body to set a legal constraint on what the level of the target range should be.
I wish to expand on each of those three points. Hon. Members say that we must set a target now because investors need greater certainty. The Government agree wholeheartedly that investor certainty is essential to delivering our energy and climate change goals at the least cost. That has been a fundamental part of our policy to date and it will continue to be a high priority. However, it is very important to recognise that we already have legal targets and measures that clarify the long-term future of electricity generation in this country. They include: the 2050 target to cut emissions by at least 80%, which is likely to require the entire electricity sector to be decarbonised; the fourth carbon budget that runs up to 2027, which requires this country to halve its emissions in the whole economy—we have set out in the carbon plan the likely implications of that for the electricity sector; and the 2020 EU renewables directive, which will mean 30% of electricity generation coming from renewables in 2020, compared with around 10% today. We shall also be arguing, as the Secretary of State announced last week, for the most ambitious greenhouse gas emission target ever to be set in the European Union of 50% by 2030.
In addition, we have committed ourselves to providing clarity on the trajectory of the electricity sector up to 2030 by issuing guidance to the National Grid Company on an indicative range of decarbonisation scenarios consistent with the least-cost approach to achieving our overall 2050 carbon target. Of course, we must also not forget that what matters most for investors now is not simply words and aspirations, but funding. That is what we have got through the Government’s decision to increase support for low-carbon electricity year on year to £7.6 billion by 2020, a tripling of support between now and 2020 which provides a clear and durable signal to investors.
Was my hon. Friend, like me, struck by the comments made by the chief policy officer of the CBI at the weekend? She said:
“It is clear that investment decisions will stand or fall on the details of the Contracts for Difference, the capacity mechanism, and the levy control framework—not on a carbon intensity target.”
My hon. Friend anticipates me; I was certainly due to quote the CBI in support, and I will come to that in a moment.
Finally, in this regard, I should mention this Energy Bill, which puts in place the most significant reform of our electricity market since privatisation, in order to attract the £110 billion of investment we need over the next decade to replace current generating capacity, upgrade the network and cater for rising electricity demand. That will provide further support for investors. For example, the Government’s delivery plan, which is due to be published in draft in July, will provide draft strike prices for renewables projects that wish to take up contracts for difference. They will provide further certainty about potential future revenues to developers of such projects, at an earlier stage than under the renewables obligation. We expect this approach to bring on significant investment in renewable technologies, enabling the Government to meet their objectives on renewable energy, decarbonisation, security of supply and affordable energy for consumers.
This Bill has already been welcomed by investors. John Cridland, director general of the CBI, has said that it sends a
“strong signal to investors that the Government is serious about providing firms with the certainty they need to invest in affordable, secure, low-carbon energy”.
The chairman of ScottishPower has said:
“our investment plans will create 4,500 jobs…along with thousands more jobs in other industries, and a further increase in the £1 billion we spend each year with UK suppliers.
We are able to make that sort of investment because we have confidence in the UK, and in its energy policy and regulatory regime.”
The Minister states that trajectories are already in place, not only for electricity generation and decarbonisation, but in this Bill. Bearing those in mind, will he now, this afternoon, rule out the implementation of any element of the gas strategy that his Department has recently published, particularly the one suggesting that a possible scenario might introduce gas to twice the emission levels put forward by the targets he has set out today?
No, I certainly will not do that; gas is a key part of our carbon plan, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will look at the gas strategy as a whole.
Setting a target now to come into effect next April would mean not waiting to consider what is happening in the wider economy, for example, the progress being made in the commercial deliverability of carbon capture and storage, how that could contribute to decarbonising our energy supply, and the take-up of electric vehicles in the coming years. Therefore, setting a target now risks imposing additional costs on the economy and on consumer bills in the future in order to meet the target, and that would not be helpful for anyone.
The Government believe that the right approach is to make a decision on whether to set a target in 2016, when we can consider the whole picture. That already means setting the target range 14 years before it is due to be met. That is even longer than is required under the Climate Change Act 2008 in respect of carbon budgets, which are set 12 years ahead. Setting it now—in effect, asking Ministers to set it at Christmas—means that we would be doing so 17 years ahead. I suggest to the House that there is no certainty for investors in setting a target before we can possibly know how we can meet it.
That takes me to my second point, which is that the Secretary of State can only make a decision on whether to set a target when considering the trajectory of the whole economy towards our 2050 target in a way that is consistent with the overarching framework provided by the Climate Change Act. The timing is important. There is significant interaction between the electricity sector and other sectors of the economy, especially those, such as heat and transport, that might well become more dependent on electricity as we move into the 2020s and 2030s. That will in turn have an impact not only on overall demand for electricity but on when that electricity is needed.
Such questions must all be considered together when thinking about the best way to decarbonise electricity generation as part of a least-cost route to meeting our obligations under the Climate Change Act. It is therefore vital that a decision to set a target range is not taken in isolation, which is the approach suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk and the hon. Member for Brent North, but in the context of considering the pathway of the whole economy towards our 2050 target. That date will be in 2016 and not before, because 2016 is when we are due to set in law the level of our economy-wide fifth carbon budget, which will cover the corresponding period between 2028 and 2032. At that point, we will be able to consider the pathway of the whole economy towards our overarching 2050 target and understand better the most cost-effective way to achieve that. If at that point in time it is decided that a target range is the right approach, we will have the legal authority under the Bill to act swiftly to set a binding target at the right level.
I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) was right to say in an article last weekend:
“My difficulty with the target…is that we would be requiring it to be set without knowing that it can be met, and that cannot be a responsible decision for government to make, when the costs of getting it wrong would have to be picked up by consumers for decades to come.”
His argument is that given the uncertainties about the relative costs and potential of different low-carbon technologies, it would not be right for a Government to set a target now without first having thought through precisely how a particular level would be achieved. I agree with him and believe that that is why we should consider setting a target range in 2016 in the wider context of setting and determining how we will meet the fifth carbon budget.
That takes me to my final argument, which is that amendment 14 requires that the level of the decarbonisation target range must not exceed that recommended by the Committee on Climate Change. I fully agree that there should be a role for the committee and our proposed approach takes that into account.
Some have not passed climate change legislation, of course, which is why they are not bound to set targets.
By waiting until 2016 to make a decision on whether to set a target, the Government can take on board the advice provided by the Committee on Climate Change on the level of the fifth carbon budget, covering that period, as part of its responsibilities under the Climate Change Act. That advice must include views on the whole economy, including the electricity sector.
It would be wrong to blur the lines of accountability between the Committee on Climate Change and the Secretary of State, as the role of the committee is to advise the Government and not to set policy. That point was made neatly by the right hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock), who was the Minister in charge of the Climate Change Bill in Committee in 2008. She said:
“The committee will have a vital role in providing impartial advice and scrutiny, but we do not think it appropriate for an unelected body to make, or be seen to be making, policies. The individual decisions that will directly affect families, communities and businesses should be made by Parliament and the Government.”––[Official Report, Climate Change Public Bill Committee, 3 July 2008; c. 285-286.]
That could not be clearer and I agree that it should be for the Secretary of State to decide the level of any decarbonisation target range, because it is he who ultimately bears the responsibility and is accountable to Parliament. Of course, he should take into account the committee’s advice, just as he does now when setting the carbon budgets, but that advice should not impose a legal constraint.
In conclusion, I do not doubt the good faith of my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk and the hon. Member for Brent North. I do not doubt their intentions or their environmental commitment. Nobody can know for sure how our economy will change over the next 17 years, yet my hon. Friend wants to impose this obligation on us now, from April. If he is so sure about the future growth of our economy and so sure about the path of energy supplies and the changing pattern of energy costs, there is only one thing I can say to him. He quoted St Augustine, and I am only reminded of Melbourne’s remark about Macaulay, when he said, “I wish I was as certain of anything as he is of everything.”
One thing about which I am pretty certain is that the world’s concern about climate change will be more intense in 2030 than it is today. The probability is that through a combination of emissions trading systems and carbon taxes there will be a high carbon price in 2030, and I believe that the most competitive economies in 2030 will be those that have reduced their dependence on fossil fuel consumption.
I can certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the concern might well be more intense, but whether we will be so certain, I am not so sure. Indeed, I have read a report of a speech delivered by my hon. Friend during the recess, in which—I was somewhat puzzled to see this—he said about climate change that
“the causes are not absolutely clear. There could be natural causes, natural phases that are taking place.”
Let me make the record absolutely clear. I said that during the 4 billion year history of the planet there have been much greater changes in climate than anything that is likely to result from a 50% increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, but that those changes took place before there were human beings, which are one of the most recently arrived species. If we are to support life for 7 billion going on 9 billion human beings in the style to which we have rapidly become accustomed and to which many still aspire, the one absolute precondition is climate stability.
I am sure that those who support my hon. Friend will be grateful for that explanation. The quotation I have seems pretty clear to me, but it is for him to explain it. If he is not so sure any more, why should the rest of us be so sure?
I would say to my hon. Friends that they should let the Opposition, as they always will, be opportunistic. Let the Opposition please the lobbyists by suddenly supporting a target that they never endorsed in 13 years in power. I ask those of us here who share the responsibility of government to be a little more careful not to risk higher bills now for our hard-pressed industries and constituents, not to force out generating plants before we have the new investment that the Bill will deliver and, above all, not to drive up costs for those industries struggling to compete against lower energy costs abroad.
Let us have economic and industrial policy that is coherent, and energy policy by design, not decarbonisation by dogma or by default, which can only drive our industries offshore. There is a better way forward, and it is in the Bill. Let us be the first Government ever to enable a legally binding target to be set at the right time: when we set the fifth carbon budget in 2016. We can then better assess the real prospects and costs of carbon capture and storage; properly measure what is happening to the whole economy; and better judge the transition to a greener future against the costs that our consumers and businesses must bear. I urge all my hon. Friends not to rely on blind faith, but on the practical steps that we are taking in the Bill to decarbonise our economy while ensuring security of supply at least cost to our constituents.
There are many reasons to support the decarbonisation amendments, and many hon. Members—most recently the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), who is just leaving the Chamber—have set them out with great expertise and eloquence. From a security perspective, I want to underline that the stakes could hardly be higher. It is clear that those who will suffer the most harm and hardship from the impacts of climate change are often the poorest and most vulnerable, here in the UK and globally—those who have contributed the least to the problem. In that respect, this crisis is not unlike the banking crisis.
As many business leaders and experts such as Lord Stern have said, there is no business as usual at all in a 3° or 4° warmer world. A couple of years ago, at the launch of the UK’s climate adaptation plan, the big idea was managing the unavoidable and avoiding the unmanageable. “Avoiding the unmanageable” means keeping global temperature rises below 2°. For years, that line in the sand has been recognised by the UK and most other Governments, and enshrined in legal documents under the auspices of the United Nations framework convention on climate change and the G8. That is the basis for the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008, and our carbon budgets, which the policies in the Bill will, or perhaps will not, deliver. Internationally, citizens and Governments of low-lying island states risk their entire nation being literally wiped off the face of the map, even with a 2° rise.
I read recently that Tuvalu would be wiped off the face of the earth within 10 years if we did not do something about global warming. The only problem is that the article was 10 years old, and all those islands are still there. Is this not just more exaggeration from those who want higher electricity prices as a result of decarbonisation?
I do not really know where to start to respond to such an ignorant intervention. I will not even bother wasting my time with it.
As I say, a couple of years ago, we were talking about the fact that entire nation states face being wiped off the map. If the hon. Gentleman cared to look at the situation in Tuvalu, he would realise that it is getting more and more serious. If such a real and present threat were facing the UK, would we not join their calls for much more dramatic emission reductions, to keep the global temperature rise to less than 2°—perhaps to 1.5°? Would we not go, as many nations are, for 100% renewable energy over the next few decades?
I cite those statistics because I want to remind the House what we are talking about. Much of the debate so far has rightly been about the cost of decarbonisation, and about the targets and so on, but the bottom line is that what we are discussing is literally life and death. People’s life or death is at stake today. That is why we need to use this opportunity to make sure that the Bill is as ambitious as it can be.
I have talked about what I would regard as the moral case for swift action. We have heard a lot about the economic case. There is no shortage of companies telling us that a decarbonisation target is essential. The joint letter of more than 50 Aldersgate Group members, for example, said:
“the Government’s perceived commitment to the low carbon transition is being undermined by…the absence of a specific carbon intensity target.”
Many other companies would say the same.
I would like to focus on the impact internationally of what we do at home. A domestic decarbonisation target is crucial if the UK is serious about securing a global deal on climate. We hear a lot from the Government about the need for international action, and it often sounds as though they are saying, “Let’s wait until there is international action before taking action here at home,” but as someone who would know about this, John Ashton, would say, action at home first is absolutely critical if we are serious about getting global agreement.
John Ashton, as many hon. Members will know, was the Government’s special representative on climate change, a Foreign Office diplomat who has spent many decades working on the subject. Last month, he talked about the need for global agreement, explaining:
“British diplomacy can influence this, perhaps critically; the argument that we are just too small to count is nonsense. But our diplomacy starts at home.
I have been personally involved in British climate diplomacy for most of the last 15 years, at the heart of it for much of that time. Nothing that we accomplished could have been accomplished if we had been faltering at home as we are now. You cannot expect others to act as you ask, or even listen to what you say, if you are not doing yourself what you want them to do. If we in Britain appear to be giving up…we will be out of the game. That is why I spent so much of my time as a diplomat, close to half of it, on domestic policy.”
Let us not think that domestic policy and global policy are not linked. They are essentially linked. If Britain is to maintain its position as a real leader on climate change, we absolutely have to act at home. The decarbonisation target is a crucial part of that.
Indeed, I would say that the target does not go far enough, although of course I will support it this afternoon. Let us remember the context: a target of 50 grams of carbon per kWh by 2030, which is what the amendments that we are considering are essentially proposing, is absolutely the minimum that we should seek to achieve. The Climate Change Act 2008 and the carbon budgets that flow from it reflect the overwhelming consensus, stated many times by the Government, that we have to keep below 2° warming, but current carbon targets give us only a 37% chance of doing that. I want to emphasise that, because I sometimes think that when we discuss targets in the House, we assume that if we meet a certain target, that gives 100% certainty of a given outcome. Clearly it does not; it is about a balance of risks. How many of us would get on an aeroplane if we were told that it had only a 37% chance of reaching its destination in a safe way? A 37% chance is pretty low, yet those are the odds that we are arguing about even now.
I wish the argument was about not whether we should decarbonise straight away or by 2016, but the extent, far-reachingness, speed and ambition with which we should do it. That is the debate that we should be having, instead of arguing about whether we should be going in this direction at all. An honest reappraisal of our targets is needed, with science, and the implications for young people, vulnerable communities and future generations, at the forefront of our minds.
The hon. Member for Brent North, who is a leading advocate for action on climate change globally, raised the challenge of the need for tighter targets in his Westminster Hall debate. I would like to know his view of John Ashton’s stark conclusion that the UK could never have achieved anything close to its previous international influence against the backdrop of current policies. Credible domestic targets and action are crucial.
As well as science-based targets, we need an honest reappraisal of the role of fossil fuels and the fossil fuel lobby’s enormous influence over policy making. To say, “Gas is lower-carbon than coal, so let’s get fracking” is disingenuous at best. Gas is still a high-carbon fuel, and gas prices are projected to rise in future, irrespective of shale gas. That is according to most of the expert analysis that I have seen, certainly from independent sources without direct or indirect financial or family ties with Cuadrilla and the wider fracking fraternity.
Through the Bill, Ministers are putting in place mechanisms that offer vastly greater support to nuclear power than to renewables. The Bill is about gas and nuclear; it is not sufficiently about a low-carbon future. Through it, Ministers are offering long-term guarantees for high-carbon gas generation until 2045, and a way for the same gas companies that are putting up bills and raking in profits to take even more money from taxpayers and bill payers through the capacity mechanism. The Secretary of State is offering long-term guarantees and assurances for high-carbon gas generation, and tax breaks for fracking. Ministers have not chosen to give anything like a similar degree of certainty for wind, wave, tidal, solar, biomass, hydro or geothermal power—nothing beyond 2020. That is made even worse by the Government’s opposition to proposals, backed by industry, for 2030 targets for either renewables or efficiency.
The Government had the opportunity, in the Bill, to drive a radical transformation in ownership and control of energy away from the big six to communities, localities, individuals, private companies, public authorities, joint enterprises and co-operatives. Instead, they have chosen a support mechanism that only really works for the likes of EDF, npower, Centrica and E.ON, which will tighten their death-grip on us.
In the light of these actions, it looks extremely unlikely that the UK stands much of a chance of achieving the carbon reductions necessary, or even of remaining on track to meet the 2050 target without a 2050 decarbonisation target. I end with another quote from John Ashton. When asked for his view on the decarbonisation target, he stated:
“I can’t myself see how any MP who votes against the target will thereafter be able credibly to claim that they support an effective response to climate change.”
I know that will not bother some in the House, but I hope that for many other Members it will concentrate their minds on the vote.
I remind the House that I have declared in the register that I offer advice on global economies to an investment business and an industrial business.
I oppose the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo) and others, and I do so primarily because it is high time that this House heard a voice for the consumer of energy. I am extremely worried about energy prices. The Labour Government did some good work, highlighting the serious problem that they called fuel poverty. They rightly identified the fact that at the time of their Government many people in our country found it difficult to pay the energy bills because they were already high. In recent years—the end of the Labour period and now under the coalition—those bills have gone up considerably further.
People facing fuel poverty have also had the great problem that in recent years we have had a succession of particularly cold and bitter winters, with heavy snowfalls and ice, and a series of rather cold and damp summers. Although I will not go into the arguments about how we can measure rising temperatures and how much global warming we are actually experiencing, the cruel fact of life for people facing rising energy bills is that they need to use more energy because it is so cold and they need to keep warm. We even had snow and frost in May this year in England, at the very time that energy prices were being put up, partly by market forces and partly by a deliberate act of policy by the Europeans to try to make energy dearer to put people off using it. We need to take on board the fact that there is a serious problem of people affording the heating bills.
This is doubly damaging in an economy that is experiencing a fragile and modest recovery and needs a faster recovery. Energy is taking too much of the family budget. At the very time when we want people to have more money to spend on other things to create demand and jobs around the economy generally, a large chunk is being taken up by those rising energy bills, both because of price and because of the need to burn more as a result of the climate conditions outside. We also see that there is an additional problem, which my right hon. Friend the Minister referred to at the end of his speech: British business now faces considerably higher costs for the energy it needs to use than competitor businesses in America or throughout much of Asia. It should be a grave worry to everyone in the House who is concerned about jobs and about the creation of more industrial activity in Britain that we are deliberately creating very high priced energy in this country, which is a major impediment to industrial development.
I welcome the Chancellor’s statement some time ago that he wished to see the “march of the makers”. I welcome the idea that we need to build up stronger and bigger industry to go alongside the successful job creation that we have had in financial and professional services and related areas. It would be good for our economy to have a more diverse and flourishing structure. We have some very good industrial businesses, but we do not have enough of them and the sector is not as large as I think any major party in the House would like to see.
So if we are all serious about wishing to have an industrial strategy that works, and if we are serious about wanting to create a climate in which business can flourish and more industrial jobs can be created, surely we must tackle one of the main costs that business faces—the cost of energy. The Government are well aware of the problem and have responded to lobbying by high energy-using industries, such as steel, glass and ceramics, where energy is a massive part of the total cost because extreme heat is applied for the transformation of the materials in the process. The Government are providing some kind of subsidy to those heavy energy users in a desperate attempt to prevent some of those factories and process plants closing, but even with the subsidy the production costs are much higher in Britain than in America, China or other parts of Asia, so we are still at risk of losing more of that business by closure, and we are certainly at risk of not attracting the new investment in those types of industry that we might like as part of our industrial strategy.
The Government also need to understand that it is not just transformational processes such as steel or glass production that have an energy cost problem; it is more or less any kind of industry with an automated plant. If we wish to be competitive in a western country against countries in Asia which have relatively low labour costs, we need to automate. We need to have a very high degree of machine power so that all the mundane jobs can be done by intelligent machinery to keep costs under control. But we lose the advantage of being able to automate and use high technology if the cost of the energy to drive the machinery is so uncompetitive. We will soon lose the advantage as well because a country such as China is industrialising not only very rapidly, but with the application of far more technology and labour-saving equipment going into its factories. So we have a double problem in that such countries are automating and they have much cheaper energy.
I urge the Government to take our problem of energy prices extremely seriously. American energy prices are typically a third lower than United Kingdom energy prices, so if energy is 10% or 20% of the cost of the given process and the given industry, we can see immediately that there is a 3% or 6% cost advantage just from the energy bill, which in very competitive world markets can be an important distinction. When we look at the success that America is now having in building her recovery longer and faster than the European countries, it is clear that part of that success comes from the accent placed on cheap energy. The United States of America has not put through legislation similar to the legislation passed in 2008 by the Labour Government—legislation that I did not feel able to support at the time because I thought it would be damaging to prosperity and would put up our energy bills too much—and we see that America is also reaping the benefit of the shale revolution. I hope that the words of the Prime Minister and the Energy Minister will result in action, because the United Kingdom has an opportunity with shale as well, but America not only has found the shale and is keen on the shale, but is now extracting such large quantities of shale gas that it has much, much cheaper gas prices than the United Kingdom, of benefit to consumers and American industry.
We should be aware of the fact that when countries assembled to try to take on the Kyoto work of carbon targets, it was noticeable that only the European countries were left in the game. Even Japan, which had obviously been the host to the original Kyoto proposals, was no longer willing to sign up to such targets.
China is allowed to have a totally different approach to carbon targets because it is a growing economy. I have a great deal of sympathy with its need, but China is not being asked to cut its carbon emissions in the way that the United Kingdom is being asked to cut emissions. When the Kyoto process was last looked at to try to get much tougher targets across the world, the only countries that were still prepared to be in the game were the European countries, so the European economy as a whole on the continent is saddled with dangerously high prices and restricted ability to generate power in different ways, and the United Kingdom has the particularly virulent strain of this disease because of the House’s passion to legislate for dearer energy.
My hon. Friend is right, I fear, but that goes a little wider than the amendment. What we are trying to do today is to stop making matters worse by encouraging the amendment, which would mean that the United Kingdom got even more out on a limb. As he implies, the Germans, having decided against nuclear for a variety of good and political reasons, are clearly going to use a lot more coal, and I cannot see how they can conceivably do that and hit all the targets. They will just move on and in due course Germany’s influence in the European Union may well dilute the target more in the European Union as a whole and leave the United Kingdom even more exposed.
Is my right hon. Friend as concerned as I am that any free trade agreement between the US and the EU may turn into one-way traffic for manufactured goods? Perhaps that is why the Americans are at the negotiating table now. They see the competitive advantage that they will have on energy costs.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Americans are playing a blinder on all this, and we need to understand that the American economy is now getting itself back into order, which we should welcome as they are an important ally and a big trading partner, but we should also be warned that they are doing things to have competitive energy that we are clearly not prepared to do.
I hope that the House will join those on the Government Benches in voting down the proposal. It makes a bad situation worse, and I urge Ministers to understand that their prime duty is to keep the lights on and their secondary duty is to make sure that the power is affordable, both so that granny does not have to shiver when we have a cold summer or winter and so that we have some industrial jobs left by not trying to be holier than thou and ending up unemployed.
I rise to speak in support of amendments 11 to 20, which, as the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo) said, stand in the names of a range of Members from almost every party in the House, and certainly from every part of the UK, including Members from both governing parties. In particular, they include my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) and the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), who is no longer in his place, but who secured a Westminster Hall debate on the issue just prior to the Queen’s Speech.
I begin by paying tribute to the lead proposers for their efforts in securing cross-party support for the amendment. There have been three Ministers in eight months so it is easy to lose track, but the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), who unfortunately cannot be with us this afternoon, spoke in a debate in the House last November about the need to take energy policy out of politics, because investors need to know that there is support for long-term measures. That is key, and it is in that spirit that the amendment is offered to the House this afternoon and that the Opposition will seek to support it in the Division Lobby.
As the hon. Member for South Suffolk and others who have spoken have made clear, the crux of the amendment is that if, as the Government keep repeating, their intention in relation to energy policy is to seek renewal of our energy infrastructure in a way that safeguards security of supply and reduces our carbon emissions, and does so in the most affordable way, then the greatest prize in securing that investment is clarity, predictability and purpose. That is precisely what a decarbonisation target provides, and it does so in conjunction with the carbon budget and other measures in the Bill. That is why I believe that there is, or certainly was, near universal support for a decarbonisation target. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition called for it last year. As we have already heard, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury moved such a motion at the Lib Dem conference last year. Two years ago, the Prime Minister himself said that decarbonisation is necessary if we are to meet our ambitious climate change commitments. As we heard from the Chair of the Select Committee, it unanimously concluded that
“providing greater clarity about the contribution that the power sector is expected to make towards meeting these targets would help to provide certainty to investors. The Government should set a 2030 carbon intensity target”.
Many Members present today served on the Bill Committee and they will recall that the Secretary of State said in evidence that he supported a 2030 target. He is no longer in his place, but when asked whether he supported a target he said:
“I do not think that it is a secret. That is my position and the position of my party. We are in coalition and we have had discussions with assertive colleagues.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 15 January 2013; c. 8, Q11.]
A number of others are assertive about the importance of the target, however, and I am talking now about those outside of the House and politics. There is strong support for this in the energy industry, business in general, academia, public bodies, the Government’s own advisers on these issues, the Committee on Climate Change, as we have already heard, organisations and industry, including companies as diverse as Microsoft, Sky, Unilever, the EEF—to respond to the point made by the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood), the steel industry is a member of the EEF, which supports a 2030 decarbonisation target—the Carbon Capture and Storage Association, Oxfam, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, the Environment Agency and many more, not just those who seek to benefit directly from the investment that we know needs to happen. Memorably, when the Secretary of State was challenged in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) to name a company that opposed the target, he was unable to do so.
The arguments in favour of the decarbonisation target are as important as those who have pledged their support for it. The first comes from a jobs and growth perspective, on which the hon. Member for St Ives focused in the recent debate that I mentioned earlier. It is important to recognise that a target would
“stimulate green growth in the economy and create a framework where there is greater certainty and confidence among businesses to invest in renewable energy.”
That is from the text of the motion passed at the Liberal Democrat conference last autumn. The Committee on Climate Change, as we heard my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North say in a comprehensive manner, recently made the economic case for a 2030 target. The evidence that we heard in Committee from the representative from RBS, the lead investor in renewable energy in the UK, on behalf of the Low Carbon Finance Group, reinforced that point, as have a number of potential investors, including Siemens and Gamesa, which are looking to site offshore wind fabrication plants, possibly in the UK.
In our discussions yesterday, there was passing reference to the cost of offshore wind, but the best way to ensure that costs are reduced and to get the wider economic benefit that comes with that—as we have heard, that economic benefit will not necessarily be in the part of the country where there is more economic activity, but in those areas that are suffering the most—as the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has made clear in some of its publications, is by securing the manufacturing jobs here as well. Outline agreements from these companies are jeopardised when what they hear are mixed messages, what they see is a lack of clarity in UK policy and what they speak of is a lack of confidence in being able to make the case to their global investment boards that the investment should come here as opposed to anywhere else.
The Minister talked repeatedly about investment and my hon. Friend refers to the uncertainty of investors. Does he recognise the analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance that investment in renewable energy has fallen drastically since the Government came to power? What does that say about the Government’s ambition to be the greenest Government in history?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the worrying signals on confidence. That is part of the case being made today for the target. We need to have that confidence if we want to get that investment, those jobs and that manufacturing capacity, quite apart from the other benefits in terms of security of supply and carbon emissions. That is why I am sure that those industries and companies will be concerned to hear the tenor of some of the Minister’s remarks, which seemed to be going further back even than those of his predecessor, who I think was moved to the Loftus road of Government, the Cabinet Office, the home for displaced Ministers, in suggesting that this is something that we might not want to do in the future. The right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) made it clear in Committee that he felt that this was not a debate about the principle of a target, but about when it was going to be set. It seems that the Minister has rowed back further from that position.
If we want the best chance of getting those jobs in the UK, the best chance of Siemens building its offshore turbine factory in Hull and the best chance of Gamesa building its factory in Leith, and to get the wider jobs and growth benefits, we need a target. If costs are disproportionately high in the UK we must look at the cause—a carbon floor price that is completely different from what is happening elsewhere in Europe. That is the real focus on where those costs are higher. If we want those economic benefits, we need the target, because that is what industry needs to make those decisions, to convince those global boards that have a number of different options about where to make that investment and to make sure that it happens within the UK.
What we have learned from the past three years, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Anas Sarwar), is that confidence in investment in the UK among those new industries has fallen and is falling. What we have learned from what is happening now is that people are not making decisions because they are seeking clarity and certainty from the Government on a range of matters to do with the Bill, including the specific issue we are discussing. If the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about manufacturing industry, he should support the target, which will help give clarity and certainty and ensure that manufacturing jobs come to the UK.
What I learned from the time towards the end of the Labour Government is that a focus on industrial strategy is absolutely key in diversifying our economy, and that the significant increase and activity in the renewable and low-carbon industry, which were happening and are now under threat, resulted from a clear set of signals from the Government. That is what we need from the Government now, but we will not have it unless the target is included in the Bill.
I will make progress, as other hon. Members wish to contribute. Before the interventions, I was touching on some of the points implicit in remarks made by some Government Members about costs and gas. Rejecting a 2030 target will almost certainly lead us to another dash for gas. As I said in Committee and all the way through our consideration of the Bill, gas has an important place in our system. As I have made clear, I do not take an ideological position on shale gas either; it needs to be properly regulated and monitored, but we need to explore what is there before we can know what we can get out of it.
Making simplistic extrapolations from what has happened in the US indicates a bout of wishful thinking, and a hope—and risk—in respect of something that might well not turn out to be the case. We need gas and will continue to need it; it is important for our security of supply and for our being able to deal with peaks in demand. However, the combination of a failure to decarbonise our electricity sector and increased reliance on gas leaves us more exposed to the volatility of that globally traded commodity.
It is essential that there should be diversity in our energy supply even before we consider any of the impacts in relation to emissions and the climate. The danger is that we will be left open to a greater reliance on gas and consumer prices going up even further. Various hon. Members have referred to the increase in cost to consumers, but they know as well as I do that the greatest element of that cost increase in the past three years has related to wholesale energy prices.
Sometimes there are discussions about how far companies properly pass on savings when the costs fall, but over the three years wholesale prices have certainly increased and that is the greatest single part of the increase in energy bills paid by my constituents and those of the right hon. Member for Wokingham and other hon. Members. The target is also vital for that reason.
The problem is the Government’s approach to decarbonisation and how it is characterised in their amendments in Committee. The Government may or may not, at some point in the future that is yet to be defined—it may never be defined or indeed reached—set a decarbonisation target range for the carbon intensity of electricity generation in Great Britain. The definition of carbon intensity itself and the means of calculating it can be changed by the Secretary of State—and, by the way, the Secretary of State can revoke the order. That is hardly the sense of clarity that the amendment seeks.
The illogicality of the Government’s argument is summed up in amendment 52, which the Minister only barely referred to. It would require the Secretary of State to publish an annual report from 2014 setting out how he had met the duty to meet a decarbonisation target. I suspect that that report would be very thin, simply reading: “A target will not be set until 2016. There is nothing more to report—move along now.”
It was not only the Secretary of State who said that he supported a target. The Minister here, the right hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), did so in the recent Westminster Hall debate, saying:
“I see the strong merit of the argument for a decarbonisation target”—[Official Report, 17 April 2013; Vol. 561, c. 124WH.]
But he also said that we should wait to set it. The Minister’s predecessor said in Committee:
“The principle, that it would be useful and of value to set such a target, is established.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 5 February 2013; c. 489.]
If that is the case, there is no reason why the Government should not at the very least support the amendments that change “may” to “must”. However, as we have heard from the tenor of the Minister’s and some other hon. Members’ remarks, that is not what the issue is about.
The issue is about a deep division in the Government and a damaging and risky outlook that a dash for gas is the best course of action for our energy policy. That is obviously what the Chancellor thinks, but it is not what the Chief Secretary to the Treasury thinks, unless he has changed his mind. The Committee on Climate Change does not think that; nor does industry or the 200 organisations that support the amendment. As I said, the Secretary of State has supported a target and he does not think that either, although he has lost out in discussions with what he referred to as “assertive colleagues”.
There is an opportunity for Parliament to be assertive this afternoon—assertive about security of supply, about jobs and growth, about investment, about clarity of purpose and in our support for the important amendments before us.
I rise to speak with a fair amount of trepidation; I feel like Lord Cardigan, commander of the gallant 600, charging into the valley of death. Half a league onward, as they say. [Interruption.] Yes, some did make it through; I shall hold on to that fact.
I have spoken to many individuals, companies and organisations over the past few weeks and months and asked each of them what they felt was needed in the Energy Bill. To be frank, nearly all of them asked for different things. This is a mammoth Bill trying to do lots of different things and everyone is clear that those things need to be done in the right way.
I have talked to small generators—new entrants to the market. They would like a decarbonisation target, and so would I, but what they would like more is for their route to market to be easier and free from too great a reliance on the big six suppliers—whether that is through a green power auction market or other means. I know that a great deal of work has already gone into this, but it is essential that the Government table amendments that offer a long-term solution and not merely transitional help.
I have also talked to large generators, which are already investing billions of pounds in new infrastructure. They would also like a decarbonisation target, as would I, but what they would like more is for the strike price to be set at a level that gives certainty in their markets and allows them to plan for the next 20 or 30 years and access finance over that time scale.
I have talked to consumer groups, acting on behalf of hard-pressed electricity customers. They would like a decarbonisation target, as would I, but what they really want is a meaningful simplification of tariffs. They want a single, consistent unit price to allow people to compare and immediately identify cheaper alternatives, forcing suppliers to keep prices down, improving competition and making it easier for consumers to switch.
I have talked to companies, large and small, involved in the manufacturing supply chain for renewable energy. They, too, would like a decarbonisation target, as would I, but what they want more is for access to ports to be sorted out or for the tripling of the levy control framework to happen in a controlled and steady way, rather than being backloaded towards 2020, so that their new technologies get a chance to establish themselves and deliver the tens of thousands of jobs that green growth can bring. Small and medium-sized enterprises more generally are most exercised by uncompetitive energy contracts and unfair renewal terms.
I have also talked to community groups, and guess what? They would quite like a decarbonisation target, but what they crave is an increase in the small-scale feed-in tariffs threshold for community energy schemes from 5 MW to 10 MW. The danger is that, as community schemes become more successful, they may hit 5 MW. An increase in the small-scale feed-in tariff limit will ensure that we do not inhibit their development. That is real and meaningful help for community energy schemes, making routes to market simpler and more attractive for them.
What about investors—investment banks and pension funds? Would they like to have a decarbonisation target? Of course they would, but at the top of their shopping list are things such as detailed contract for difference terms that are fit for purpose, a credible contract for difference counter-party that the market can trust and believe in, an easier route to market for independent generators, and no strike-price auctions before the electricity market reform regime has been operating for a number of years and the financial community has grown comfortable with other aspects of the contracts.
What about the environmental non-governmental organisations? I have talked to them too. I have received emails and letters from them, and I have had posters put up in my constituency and adverts placed in the local newspapers, and they seem to like the idea of a decarbonisation target for the energy sector. However, I am sure that if they were honest they would say that they would like the bigger prize of an EU-wide binding emissions reductions target of 50% by 2030—something for which the Secretary of State has been able to gain cross-Government support in the past couple of weeks, against all the odds. I congratulate him on managing that feat.
What about me? In common with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I would like to have a decarbonisation target, but what I would really like is not to have to generate the stuff in the first place, because that is better for all concerned. So I want realistic assistance for domestic and business users to incentivise them to use less energy, and I want the capacity mechanism to be designed in such a way that demand-side reduction can play a major part in removing our need for spare capacity generation. Those are my priorities.
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s list. He will know that some elements of it are dealt with in later amendments, particularly the one about community energy, which would increase the threshold from 5 MW to 10 MW. Will he support that amendment if we divide on it?
I have been told not to deal with it; I think the direction I was given is quite clear.
Of course I would like a decarbonisation target, but that was not in my party’s manifesto; indeed, it was not in any party’s manifesto. Nor was it in the coalition agreement. In fact, there is only anything about it in the Bill at all because of the efforts of a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State, ably backed up by the present incumbent. Of course I would like more, but as 15% of the coalition Government we cannot always get exactly what we want. [Interruption.] It is 15.5%, in actual fact.
I came to this place from business: a place where making a contract and signing up to it really means something. If one side reneges on that contract along the way, they can expect there to be consequences. We have already seen examples of that in this Parliament. It would be great to see much more of the processes, attitudes and behaviours seen in business than the opportunism, time-wasting and theatrics that we see far too often in this Chamber. Again, however, we cannot always get everything we want.
There are many things I would like to have seen in the Bill, but many more are included that all sorts of organisations want us to get right. For the Minister’s perusal, here is my Christmas list: an easier route to market for independent generators, a strike price that provides certainty in the market, simplification of energy tariffs, the levy control framework to be implemented in a controlled way, an increase in the small-scale feed-in tariffs threshold for community energy schemes, credible counter-party and contract terms that are fit for purpose, and a binding EU-wide emissions reductions target of 50% by 2030. It is not a long list.
Last year—I thank the Secretary of State for this—I got a green deal that is set to support 60,000 installation jobs this year, up from 26,000 in 2012, and a green investment bank investing £635 million in green infrastructure projects. If, at the end of this legislative process, I get everything on my list, I will say thank you again. I am damn sure that I do not intend to be the spoilt child stamping my feet and whining, “But I didn’t get my decarbonisation target,” because, after all, if I got everything I wanted this year, what would I ask for next year?
I trust the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) will support a number of later amendments on demand-side reduction and routes to market for independent generators and community energy. He put his finger on some of the problems that several people have been grappling with as the Bill has made its way through the House.
It is very odd that when the Bill first made its way to this House in draft form it had no target in it, and yet it was all about low-carbon electricity, routes to market for low-carbon energy generators, the future of large-scale low-carbon energy and how that might be supported to play a much increased role in our energy mix over the next few years, and how the whole electricity market would be decarbonised over the next period in line with what DECC had previously published as its plans for a radical decarbonisation of the electricity market over that period. The Bill was the embodiment of how those changes would be made—how, over the next period, our energy markets, particularly our electricity market, would radically change how they move forward and how they supply energy to us. The Bill also contains emissions performance standards that reduce the emissions that plant may make, also in line with the decarbonisation of our energy over the coming years.
It is blindingly obvious that a Bill of that kind should have a target at the front in order to underpin all the other things that it is doing. Not having that target is rather like someone carefully strapping a belt around their waist and then sallying forth having forgotten to put on the trousers that the belt was supposed to be supporting in the first place. When the Bill first arrived, the lack of a target was a puzzle to a large number of people. In a sense, the hon. Member for Edinburgh West has started to unpick some of that puzzle. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) outlined, we know from what the Secretary of State has said to the Energy and Climate Change Committee on more than one occasion that he was very keen on having a target in a Bill and was engaged in work on that target, the details of which he could not yet vouchsafe to the Committee.
In fact, the Secretary of State was engaged in discussions with the Treasury about what might go at one end of the Bill and what might be negotiated away at the other end to secure the things that he thought were quite important, relating particularly to supporting low-carbon energy in the way that I have described. The result, as we discovered fairly recently, is the announcement of the extension of the levy control framework from 2015 to 2020, with a figure increasing from the current amount of £2.3 billion to, allegedly, the whopping figure of £7.5 billion in 2020.
We need to be rather careful about immediately jumping for joy about that aspect of the negotiation, because as soon as we unpack the figures we realise that each year the levy control framework takes along with it the accumulated underwriting of whatever has been commissioned in the year before. That means that by the time we get to 2020, the accumulated contracts for difference, or ongoing renewables obligation certificates, that are caught up in the £7.5 billion make up a good proportion of the total. The actual amount of support contained in the levy control framework up until 2020, per year for new entrants—that is the key thing to look at in terms of the development of low-carbon energy, particularly round 3 offshore wind and the like—turns out to be not much more than is being undertaken at the moment. The idea of its ending up at twice the current level is rather belied by the figures in the levy control framework. Nevertheless, the Secretary of State felt that he had got a good deal.
It is not, however, a particularly good deal and it is clear that the inclusion of a target in the Bill was sacrificed. A belt and trousers had not previously been available, but on 5 February—halfway through the Committee stage—the Secretary of State came along with the belt that had resulted from the discussions. As hon. Members have said, as a result of the discussions, although the Secretary of State could not set a target before 2016, he could set a target at various levels that could be considered then. Indeed, the Minister has made great play of the argument that we will need to have all the facts at our disposal with regard to the future state of the universe in order to decide how we might set a target.
A couple of important things need to be considered during the intervening period. First, the gas strategy set out by the Department of Energy and Climate Change over a number of years assumes a relatively low level of gas over the long term and, while it views gas as essential, it sees it as a back up for other, renewable forms of generation. The recent gas strategy includes an option to reverse that approach and puts gas at the centre of a future strategy. It includes gas plants running at maximum capacity, grandfathered for a long period and playing the main role—not the back-up role suggested by the low-carbon strategy exemplified by the Bill—in energy generation.
Explicit within that gas strategy is the need to take a decision in 2014. The strategy specifically says that, depending on what happens in Europe, a decision will have to be made as to whether to increase the carbon target. Accommodating the strategy could therefore result in a target of about 200 grams of emissions per kWh by 2030, rather than the 100 to 150 grams envisaged previously by the Department and endorsed by the Committee on Climate Change. A significant decision might be taken in 2014—way before 2016—which could blow the potential 2016 target out of the water.
Secondly, regardless of the negotiated outcome, the levy control framework has been extended to 2020, but we have not heard what will happen beyond then. There has been no indication of what support might be given to low-carbon energy after 2020. There is a cliff face.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. It may well be the case that the specific mechanism of the levy control framework relates to meeting that target.
As I have said, I am not sure that the framework as it stands addresses the target in the way we might think. Nevertheless, in order to achieve the target, those companies investing in new, renewable, low-carbon plants, offshore wind and all sorts of other low-carbon arrangements that are at the heart of the Bill have to start on the work now on projects that will come on stream in six, seven, eight, nine and 10 years’ time. However, those companies, which are at heart of the engine of this Bill, will not do that under the current circumstances, because they have to take decisions now and if they see that they will face a cliff face of some height in 2020, they may well decide that they do not want to use their initial investments for that purpose because there will be no business for them after that time.
I have a specific example, which the hon. Gentleman has prompted me to give. I recently visited Vestas offshore wind research and development centre on the Isle of Wight. The centre is researching the future of the next generation of Vestas offshore wind blades and other mechanisms. It is researching, among other things, 80-metre blades and doing a great deal of stress testing and research and development, and in the process it is fabricating those blades. As a result, the centre has in place on the Isle of Wight a single-line manufacturing capacity that could produce a large number of 80-metre offshore blades in the UK.
If nothing happens after 2020—we should bear in mind that making blades as close as possible to large offshore developments is, significantly, commercially advantageous—it is extremely unlikely that Vestas will change its R and D facility to a production facility, because it will not make blades in this country for development in the south China seas. That could lead to the development of a UK offshore wind industry being based on no supply chain whatsoever, because in order to carry out developments we would have to source from elsewhere. That would be of considerable expense to consumers, which would not be the case if we adopted a longer-term approach.
The oddity of there not being a target in the Bill raises questions about the strategy to create certainty for the process by which the new form of low-carbon energy market will be brought into being. The idea of enacting the Bill without including a target is bizarre, but that is the position we are in. Including a target would not just be the right thing to do; it would be a practical element of what the Bill is about. It would also be a practical way of ensuring that electricity market reform and the Bill itself work. There are a number of reasons to support the inclusion of a target, and the final bizarre thing to note is that a large number of hon. Members present know that to be the case and want the Bill to include a target.
A number of hon. Members may decide, for all sorts of reasons, that it is expedient not to vote for a target. If that is the case, let me be clear that they will undermine the very purpose of the Bill. They will also undermine what we all voted for with regard to the Climate Change Act 2008, which ensured that we can reach our low-carbon future in a coherent and controlled way, using the best of our resources and technology and our supply chains, and developing a low-carbon economy that can reach the targets in a way that is good for the consumer and for society. This is that important. That is why I hope that hon. Members who may be equivocating over whether to go for the deals—the Faustian pacts that have caused the Bill to reach its current state—will come out in favour of what their own heads tell them, namely the logic of including a target to make sure that the Bill is shaped as well as it can be for the future.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), but I am not sure whether I agree with him about the logic, let alone the coherence, of the Bill or the amendment. He says that many hon. Members will want to vote for the amendment for logical and coherent reasons, but I do not believe that that is so. Many hon. Members—a very high proportion—although rather less of my constituents vote almost always on the green side of any argument. They vote almost ideologically—they support the greener side of any issue under discussion. The problem with that approach is that it has led to a network of legislation and other commitments in this country that are internally incoherent and make no sense. Instead of hon. Members looking at the matter in the round and seeing how they could best obtain their overall objective, be that decarbonisation or otherwise, they support each and every of various, disparate initiatives that add up to a whole that does not make sense, even in terms of those objectives.
Those promoting the amendment say that they want to bring certainty for investors, and yet the Minister, too, says that that is his objective. The Minister mentioned that he wanted to protect and insulate consumers from price spikes. The problem is that the method by which he seeks to do so, and administers in the Bill, locks in high prices, so that for a very long period, whatever the uncertainties, our consumers will be locked in.
The primary purpose of the Bill is not the decarbonisation of electricity, but to set up the contract for difference model that allows the Government to sign long-term and very expensive contracts with all manner of energy producers—the Government will pick winners through an opaque process—and give certainty to investors that our consumers will be forced to pay those prices and have them added to their electricity bills throughout the length of contracts that could contain a change-of-law clause that it might not be possible to unpick in future should we want to do so. That is what worries me about the Bill. We are changing the pie-in-the-sky, Alice in Wonderland policy objectives that the previous Government proposed—only four or five current Government Members voted against them—but we can undo a Government policy objective for 2050 if we find that it does not make sense or is overly expensive. This Bill, however, essentially makes such a reverse undoable because it moves the policy from the sphere of legislation to that of contractual commitments.
It is sensible that the control levy framework is scored as public spending—I welcome the fact that the Government and the statistics office have ensured that. However, under the framework, the plan is to increase the cap on spending from £2.35 billion to £9.8 billion by 2020. All hon. Members who have spoken in the debate have said that the sum is £7.6 billion, but it is not. The sum is £9.8 billion, unless we say, “It’s £7.6 billion in real terms from a previous year.” Our constituents will pay £9.8 billion in 2020. For most of our constituents for the past few years, wage increases have been lower than price increases.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a danger that the Bill could mean that poor folk in constituencies such as mine are priced out of heating their homes in order that rich people in London can feel good about supposedly saving the planet?
Yes, there is an element of that. Moreover, we will be unable to do anything about it, because a future Parliament will be stuck with the contracts.
I fear that the sum might be larger than the £9.8 billion. Policy Exchange has released a well-considered analysis that adds up the total additions to gas and electricity bills within the levy control framework to £16.3 billion. Even that does not take into account two significant factors: first, the carbon tax floor, which is a tax and not in the levy control framework, which applies to spending; and secondly, the cost of banning coal production—coal production will be banned by shutting down plants through the EU directive, and through the domestic and unilateral legislation to ban the construction of new coal-fired plants. We could be looking at amounts equivalent to 4p, 5p or 6p on income tax.
Almost all hon. Members seem to be prepared to drive that measure through, but almost all of my constituents that I speak to do not want to pay those amounts on their electricity bills. We are forcing the measure through. Obviously, lobbyists and the industry understand this complex area, but it is important that Members get to grips with the Bill and the extent to which CFDs will drive higher prices. The more I understand the Bill from the point of view of my constituents, the less keen I am on it.
The amendment confuses two issues, the first of which is the Climate Change Act 2008 commitment to an 80% reduction in carbon gases by 2050. The commitment applies to the whole economy, but the amendment seeks an electricity decarbonisation target. The Minister persuasively drew attention to that inconsistency. If we are looking to hit the 80% reduction target in 2050—the target strikes me as an enormously ambitious and costly one, and I doubt it will be met—we need to decarbonise large sections of the economy, and not just the electricity sector. As part of that, we must persuade significant sections of the heating and transport sectors to convert from current fossil fuels to electricity. However, the amendment would accelerate the decarbonisation of electricity still more, which will shove up the cost of electricity so much that it will be hugely unattractive for those sectors to switch to electricity from their current fossil fuels. Therefore, even on its own terms, the electricity decarbonisation target risks setting back its avowed goal of helping towards the purported 2050 target for the decarbonisation of the economy as a whole.
None the less, one might say in the amendment’s favour that it potentially exposes the contradictions in current policy. We have heard a lot of the “grand bargain”. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) was honest in setting out how much the Lib Dems have gained from it and how little they have given up in consequence. I do not, on balance, support the amendment, but I am not sure why the pass has been sold on so many other issues to avoid having to make a decision in 2014—we are quite happy to kick it down the road and make it in 2016.
The inconsistencies in the proposals are significant. The hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner)—I am pleased he is still in his seat—suggested that it would be cheaper to go down the route of renewable electricity rather than electricity largely from gas. He cited a Committee on Climate Change report, but did not mention the basis of its calculation. The report states:
“Beyond 2030, bills would fall in a low-carbon system as new low-carbon capacity is commissioned at lower cost than the older capacity (assuming learning in deployment leads to cost reductions). In contrast, for a system with a major share of generation from unabated gas, bills would continue to increase as carbon prices continue to rise.”
The basis of his argument is predicated on the assumption that the massive carbon tax will rise—that is within the system, but also endogenous to his own model.
Had the hon. Gentleman paid attention, he would have noticed that I mentioned the basis on which the Committee on Climate Change made its assessment. The Committee concluded that we could assume that the price of carbon will not continue to rise only if the rest of the world gives up its aspiration to avoid dangerous climate change. Only in that scenario could it make economic sense for the Government to pursue the strategy he suggests.
On both the occasions that I sought to intervene or have an exchange with the hon. Gentleman, he replied that the problem was my failure of understanding rather than his failure of explanation. Might we perhaps together put on the record the key facts behind that assumption?
The carbon tax has just been introduced from nothing to £16 per tonne. It will go up to £32 by 2020, go up still further to £76 by 2030, and, incredibly, by 2050 it will be a minimum of £200 and perhaps £500 per tonne of carbon. That compares with less than £2 per tonne of carbon in the current EU trading system. If we assume enormous exponential rises in carbon tax, it will obviously be cheaper for consumers and producers of electricity to use grotesquely expensive renewables rather than cheap fossil fuels that have a vast tax is imposed on them. Even in that scenario, there is the benefit to the Treasury of the tax revenue. In many other areas of this debate, there is not that counter-benefit. The Treasury could use that revenue to fund the levy control framework, so that using gas would be enormously cheaper overall than using renewables.
I would like to trouble Members with one other quotation, because I think it sums up the Bill better than I can:
“The Government’s proposal for Electricity Market Reform (EMR), based on signing long-term fixed price contracts (Contracts for Difference) with its preferred mix of generators, is unsuited to a world of uncertainty. It is predicated on an assumption of relatively high future gas prices. It risks imposing large expense on UK energy bill-payers if that assumption proves wrong.”
Rather than the Committee on Climate Change, which the hon. Member for Brent North is so keen on citing, perhaps I should look at what the Department of Energy and Climate Change says. I do not agree with all its analysis, but in the impact assessment of the renewable energy strategy, the Department estimated that the net cost up to 2030 would be £12 billion on an assumption of high gas prices. On its central assumption of gas prices, it estimated the net cost would be £56 billion, yet it admitted that if gas prices were lower, the net cost of renewables up to 2030 would be £95 billion. That money would be added to our constituents’ electricity bills.
The uncertainty around the gas price is enormous. The estimates from credible authorities have been coming down. The International Energy Agency’s estimate has come down by 20%, and even DECC’s estimate has come down by 10% in just one year. If there is any serious exploitation of shale in this country, the EU and elsewhere that is similar to what we have seen in the US, the whole assumption of high and rising gas prices on which the whole energy strategy is based will be shown to be completely wrong and that will lead to our locking ourselves into contracts that will cost our constituents enormous sums of money utterly unnecessarily.
The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, so I want to respond to it. He will, I trust, have read the Committee on Climate Change report on EMR, in which it states:
the conclusion that he has just rubbished—
“is robust when possible impacts of shale gas on the gas price are accounted for. Shale gas could play a role in the gas mix that helps to balance intermittent power generation, and meet demand for heat, provided appropriate environmental safeguarding regulations are put in place.”
Yes, it is robust in that sense, but the reason it is robust is because almost any conceivable change in gas price is completely swamped by the enormous increase in the carbon tax from £16 now—and less than £2 in the ETS—to up to between £200 and £500 per tonne by 2050. Of course the conclusion is robust. If we assume that there will be a massive tax on carbon, it will be cheaper to have lower carbon rather than higher carbon, but so what? CFDs are included in the Bill, but they have virtually nothing to do with this amendment. We keep on hearing that it is about electricity decarbonisation, but it is not. That was only inserted in the Committee stage of the Bill.
The amendment is about hitting the renewable energy directive for 15% of all energy production in this country—not just the electricity sector, which makes up approximately a third—to be from renewables by 2020. However, that will set back decarbonisation across the whole country, because it is a very expensive way to decarbonise. All the savings we can make through energy efficiency, better insulation of people’s homes, or, I hope the Minister will not mind me saying, through different lighting that saves money across the network, are no good or will only work on the denominator, because we are forced to hit, by 2020, the 15% renewables target—33% of electricity—set by the EU Commission. That will be grotesquely expensive and will lead not to innovation in low-carbon technologies, but to the rolling out of fairly mid-tech current generation onshore and offshore wind at twice the price. That will absorb a huge proportion of the £9.8 billion and lead to very little advance in technology compared with what we could do with proper R and D focused activity. That will happen not because of decarbonisation, but because the EU directive that states that this must be done through renewables.
Domestically, we are making the situation even worse by inserting further restraints, such as a 12.5% cap on biomass. One way to get closer to hitting the EU target is to use dual firing, where half coal, half wood pellets emit approximately the same amount of carbon as gas, earning a half-renewable credit on the real constraint, the 2020 EU target. We are not allowing that, however. We could pay other countries—Germany, Spain and perhaps Poland—to do a lot of those things far cheaper than we could do them ourselves. We have a new Government in Iceland, and £2 billion is the estimate of the capital cost of an interconnector to Iceland for its renewable electricity. These measures are not being considered. Even if the objective is to reduce carbon, that can be done so much cheaper than the proposals that will be forced through by the Bill, which will be millstone around our constituents’ necks for decades to come.
I understand fully the call in the amendment for the decarbonisation of the energy sector, and for a target to be enshrined in the Bill. What the target should be and whether it would be realistic is debateable. There have been wide differences and many suggestions about what an achievable target might be. If the target is too ambitious, it will be impossible to achieve. We need to bring some form of reality into the debate and forget the pipe dreams of what people would love to see. This is about what we can actually achieve between now and 2030, and between now and 2050. Is it achievable to decarbonise the energy sector to the degree of 50 grams of CO2 per kWh? That is one suggestion, and I am sure that plenty of Members believe that that is achievable. I find it difficult to believe, however.
Unlike the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart), who had a shopping list of issues he wanted to discuss today, I want to focus on carbon capture, coal burn and gas burn—fossil fuels. I want to accentuate the positives in burning fossil fuels with carbon capture. I believe, and the expert advice shows, that it can contribute greatly towards an agreed decarbonisation target. The trick is to transfer the high-carbon electricity generation to low-carbon electricity generation. [Hon. Members: “How?”] Carbon capture and storage is the answer. People seem to forget that fossil fuels provide 70%—not 7%, but 70%—of the UK’s electricity supply, and that is set to continue for the short and medium term. Coal burning is set to increase not just in the UK, but across the world, over the next 20 to 30 years. For whatever reason, however, the role of coal, particularly in the UK, is often pushed aside, swept under the carpet, totally ignored. This is done deliberately in the Commons by many Members of Parliament, despite the fantastic role that the miners of this country have played. They have worked hard for many generations, producing the wealth and fuel to generate this country, so it is unacceptable that they should be ignored.
Only three years ago in 2010, the UK market demand for coal was roughly 54.1 million tonnes. That is what we burned in 2010. During the same period, only 18.4 million tonnes were produced here, with a rough 50:50 split between open-cast and deep-mine sectors. Beyond doubt, then, a lot of imported coal is required to meet the nation’s demands. Coal imports have easily exceeded indigenous coal production since 2003. Coal is not going away. It is here to stay, in the UK and globally. We will not be able to persuade the likes of China, India and America to stop burning coal; they are burning coal unabated right now—that is a fact of life.
There have been quite a few references to China, but China has set very ambitious carbon-intensity reduction targets, including a 45% reduction in carbon intensity by 2020, so actually it is stimulating huge investment in renewables and low-carbon technologies, including carbon capture and storage. The hon. Gentleman must see the potential in that strategy as well.
Absolutely. I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Energy and Climate Change Committee, of which I am a member, visited China the year before last and saw the potential in China. Much was said in the meetings we had, but I would like to see happening on the ground what they said would happen in the future. It is looking not to decarbonise, but certainly to make huge reductions in emissions, and again I will want to see over perhaps 10 years what achievements can be made. I hope that it happens.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is correct, but it would not be too difficult in China to make a little headway, given how much carbon it produces. The trip to China was a learning experience. I am sure that other Members present were on that delegation. I think we ought to focus on its proposals for renewable energy, carbon capture and storage and the rest and take a leaf out of its book, although I will want to see how much progress it makes in the not-too-distant future—perhaps five or 10 years.
The amendment is concerned with coal and decarbonisation. At the same time as importing huge amounts of coal from Russia, China, South Africa and Australia, we have allowed our coal industry to be destroyed. The Minister might wish to refer to that. Only a couple of months ago, there was a big fire at Daw Mill colliery, one of the biggest collieries in the world, and the situation still has not been remedied, despite the Government’s promises to look after that and, with UK Coal and Scottish Coal, the open-cast mines in what is left of the UK coal industry.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the points he is making, which are not often made in this place. In my constituency, we do not produce coal, but we import it, mainly from Colombia, through Hunterston. There was a proposal to build a new coal plant at Hunterston, but that might not be going ahead now. It would probably have been a carbon capture plan using predominantly imported coal, because, I understand, the types of coal produced in Scotland probably would not have been suitable. I know that he is a strong supporter of carbon capture. How do we ensure that we use indigenous coal?
That is an excellent and important point that I will come to shortly. We have understood for generations that we closed profitable coal mines the length and breadth of the country, knowing full well that carbon capture was in the background. We have done nothing to protect the British deep-mining coal industry, and that has cost thousands and thousands of jobs. We have dillied and we have dallied with carbon capture and storage, including over the past three or four years. The first announcement was made by the previous Labour Government, who committed themselves to carbon capture and storage in 2007. Where is it? It is not here. It has been kicked into the long grass.
My view is simple. We should look to exploit the coal reserves up and down the country, with carbon capture and storage onsite and with clean coal power stations. That would decarbonise the electricity sector and go a long way to ensuring that we can meet the targets. It might even mean that we could reach 50 grams of CO2 per kWh. I am not too sure about that, but it is the answer. The demand for coal is significant here. Electricity consumption is set to increase, as is the consumption of coal, but as mentioned by several Members on both sides of the House, by 2015 approximately 9,000 MW of coal-fired plant is to be closed down, as a result of the large combustion plant directive, so the UK will become increasingly dependent on imported gas for electricity and domestic heating purposes.
What impact will the burning of gas have on our ability to meet our targets? People do not want to recognise that gas is a fossil fuel—coal is not the only fossil fuel—and emits just less than the suggested emissions performance standard of 450 grams per kWh, so when we talk about allowing gas to be burnt unabated, we must think of the consequences. It will mean that we will be unable to achieve any of our decarbonisation targets for 2030 or 2050.
Do people in this Chamber believe that shale gas will be the answer to our problems? Too many questions need to be asked about shale gas, although we need the general public to support it before anything else. There are a lot of problems with fracking. What is the cost of exploitation? We do not know what it is. Is it safe?
What are the emission levels? I am not saying it is not safe, by the way; I am saying that there are a lot of things we need to get right. As a member of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, I support the fact that we have said that the exploitation of shale gas should not have been delayed, but should have gone ahead months ago, if not a year ago.
I have listened to the hon. Gentleman’s arguments. Does he accept that in America, shale gas has been not only exploitable, but exploitable at reasonable prices? It has turned the American economy around, to the point where manufacturing that had been outsourced to other parts of the world is now being brought back to America because energy costs have been reduced.
Order. Decarbonisation is the focus. While I am on my feet, I would also like to gently remind all Members in the Chamber that this debate will end at 4 o’clock. The mover of the amendment will get a few minutes at the end, but a lot of Members who have been sitting in the Chamber all this time are still waiting to speak, so may we have some consideration to get them in as well?
Order. My comment was not directed at you, Mr Lavery, but sitting in the Chamber all day yesterday does not necessarily qualify you for that. I was referring to the number of interventions by some who have already spoken and by those who have not been here all afternoon—and the fact that you have been on your feet for some time. I was just trying to help you along and explain the shortage of time.
Once again, thank you very much for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker.
The shale gas issue, which the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) referred to in his intervention, is important. By the way, the situation in the USA is completely different from what might happen in this country. I hope that shale gas is everything that everyone wants it to be—no one would be more pleased than I if it was. We are looking, but if we are to achieve our targets, we have to get carbon capture and storage. We have to be serious and urgent about it if we want to decarbonise the electricity sector. There is no other way to do it. Coal power plant with CCS can diversify the UK’s fossil fuel requirement and, in addition, deliver national security of supply.
In summary, as I have explained—I am not sure whether I have explained it enough—fossil fuels provide 70% of the electricity generated in the UK, and that is likely to continue. Fossil fuels represent a major source of CO2, and CCS is a key technology that enables fossil fuels to become a low-carbon source of electricity. Fossil fuel electricity generation is not subject to the intermittency of renewables or the inflexibility of nuclear, is an important tool in meeting variations in demand, and, with carbon capture, will allow the UK to maintain diversity of fuel and energy sources. Fossil fuel with carbon capture and storage would undoubtedly enable the UK to decarbonise, in line with so many people’s hopes and aspirations. The message from me is quite simple. The Government need to stop dithering over carbon capture and storage. They should give equal importance, attention and focus to CCS as they have to securing nuclear power into the future. We should support the British deep-mine coal industry or forget any ambitions to meet the target of a decarbonised UK by 2030.
At the outset I should draw attention to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have interests in family farms in Suffolk where renewable energy projects are being pursued. However, this afternoon I shall largely concentrate not on land, but on the coast and developments at sea, with a focus on the nuclear industry and, predominantly, the offshore wind industry.
My Waveney constituency, Britain’s most easterly constituency, stands to benefit from some of the larger projects that will hopefully flow from the Bill, such as the construction of the Sizewell C nuclear power station in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) and the development of the East Anglia Array, the largest round 3 offshore wind farm, for which Lowestoft, the largest town in my constituency, is the nearest port. These projects provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring jobs and prosperity back to an area that has been hard hit in the last 30 years by the dramatic decline in the fishing industry, the closure of factories and the rise of package holidays, which has hit the domestic tourism industry. If we can build a strong domestic supply chain for low-carbon energy generation, we will have an opportunity to reverse that decline and properly rebalance the economy. This opportunity is not restricted to East Anglia, but is repeated all around the coast of the British Isles. To me, the issue before us in this debate is the role that having a decarbonisation target in the Bill could play in building a domestic supply chain and creating jobs.
It is important to emphasise that there is broad agreement, at least between the Front-Bench teams, on this Bill’s direction of travel—the promotion of a mixed energy supply economy with appropriate demand-side measures. This collegiate approach is needed to attract much-needed investment—an estimated £110 billion by the end of this decade and £330 billion by 2030—in the UK energy sector. For the Government and the Opposition to be singing from completely different hymn sheets would have unnerved investors and seen them fleeing these shores. Instead, despite differences, largely of emphasis, most of the feedback that I receive from industry is that the British energy sector as a whole is a good place to do business. What we are debating is what needs to be done to make it the world leader—the come-to place.
In considering whether there should be a decarbonisation target in the Bill, I have had regard to the evidence and opinions provided by a wide variety of colleagues, local and national businesses, and non-governmental organisations. Let me go through some of these; there are differences of opinion between some of them. The CBI is of the view that the most important factor driving investment decisions is electricity market reform—the proposals in the Bill on contracts for difference, the capacity mechanism and the levy control framework. It is vital that this debate on the decarbonisation target should not hold up the Bill’s receiving Royal Assent. Electricity market reform will be the main catalyst for the investment we all seek. Likewise, it is important that the draft strike prices are published on time next month.
I take note of EDF’s findings. EDF, too, emphasises the importance of a decarbonisation target not preventing the Bill from passing through Parliament in a timely way. EDF expresses the opinion that if such a duty is to be provided for, it should be in secondary legislation, subject to adjustment in the light of new evidence. That would help to ensure that the required pathway to 2050 is realistic and deliverable. I am also mindful of the importance of a Europe-wide target and the need for agreement at EU level. The EU emissions trading scheme should be the key target in decarbonising European economies.
The issue that especially concerns me is that if no target is provided before 2016, investors’ uncertainty will be prolonged. There is a particular risk to the investment in round 3 projects, from which my constituency and East Anglia have the opportunity to benefit through economic development providing new opportunities for local businesses and creating new jobs.
The forthcoming publication of the offshore wind strategy is welcome, but the feedback that I receive from industry is that, on its own, it might not be enough to maximise inward investment. I have studied closely the Committee on Climate Change’s recent report, and in particular its conclusion that a decarbonisation target would help to deliver savings of £25 billion to £45 billion on consumer energy bills. Further, it emphasises the need for a strong signal about the future direction of travel in order to support supply chain investment, which has long payback periods, and the development of new projects that have long lead-in times. There is a risk that, owing to a lack of visibility beyond 2020, supply chain investment and project development might not proceed, as the Government have not yet clearly set out their intentions for that period.
In considering energy policy generally, regard should be given to three factors: affordability, security of supply and environmental responsibility. At this time of prolonged economic downturn, there is a fourth: the opportunity to promote economic growth and attract inward investment in order to rebalance the economy towards the regions in favour of engineering and manufacturing and to create jobs.
The decarbonisation target is not a silver bullet. On its own it will not achieve those objectives, but it could well be an important piece in a jigsaw that will attract investment, help to build a new domestic supply chain, help to bring down costs in emerging energy technologies such as offshore wind, and enable UK businesses to win contracts, thereby creating home-grown jobs. There is a concern that, without such an objective, investment in renewable technologies in the UK could slow down significantly. In such a scenario, UK energy bill payers could in effect be supporting jobs elsewhere in Europe—in Denmark and Germany, for example. That would be a poor deal for British households.
I have listened carefully to the arguments this afternoon, and to the passion with which my fellow Suffolk MP, my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo), put forward his case. I am also grateful to the Minister for setting out his case to me. I listened carefully to him, as I promised I would do. He set out his case well, and in many respects it was compelling. My one concern, however, is the delay until 2016. By that time, important investment decisions might well have been made for round 3 offshore wind projects. The orders might already have been placed, and my concern is that not enough of them will go to British businesses. The amendment would improve the prospects of securing that investment in Britain, across East Anglia and in my Waveney constituency. It is not an easy decision to vote against one’s party, but on balance I sense that the interests of my constituents and of businesses in the Waveney area would be best served by the inclusion of a decarbonisation target in the Bill. I shall therefore be supporting the amendment.
I strongly support the amendments in this group. It is imperative to decarbonise the energy sector, and I believe that including a decarbonisation target in the Bill would give a clear and unmistakeable message that we intend to do so. The first reason for adopting such a target is that we must reduce our carbon emissions. The energy sector is a major contributor to carbon emissions and the Committee on Climate Change has made it clear that decarbonising power is the cheapest way of meeting our overall carbon budgets.
There is, at best, a mixed message coming from the Government on how they intend to proceed with the decarbonisation of energy. In the Bill Committee, witnesses told us time and again of the need for a decarbonisation target to ensure that a clear message was sent to those involved in the industry. The mixed message coming from the Government could seriously harm our efforts to attract not only new renewables generation but, crucially, the supply chain that will ensure that we reap the economic benefits and the jobs that go with them. In opposing the decarbonisation target, Ministers have made the point that other nations do not have such a target. That is true, but many of those countries are already ahead of us in creating a supply chain that can supply investment in renewable energy in their territories. We are trying to attract that supply chain here and to ensure that it is established so that we do not simply continue to import the infrastructure that we need to create green energy for the future.
Much was said earlier about the situation in Germany. Although it is true that Germany does not have a decarbonisation target, it recently announced a very ambitious 2030 renewable target, which includes 25 GW of offshore wind and a budget of €23 billion. I understand that France, too, is considering moving towards such a target, so there is movement elsewhere within the EU on such targets, and we should not be left behind.
In the evidence session, Danielle Lane of DONG Energy made it clear that the 2020 target is presently at the cliff edge, and that the industry needs certainty about the direction of travel after 2020—a clear sign that after that date there will continue to be a clear commitment from all parties to continue along the route of decarbonisation.
The issue is very important to Scotland, where the development of green energy is a vital part of the revitalisation of our manufacturing industry. It is interesting to note that the Scottish economy has achieved some growth over the last two quarters, much of it through the energy sector. Scotland’s offshore potential is huge—25% of the entire European potential. If we are able to harness that, we could attract billions of pounds-worth of investment and create tens of thousands of highly skilled and sustainable jobs. Indeed, Scotland’s offshore wind route map outlined the potential for £30 billion-worth of investment with up to 28,000 direct and 20,000 indirect jobs by 2020.
We already have strong offshore experience in the oil and gas industry, particularly in the north-east, and many of these skills could be transferable to new offshore renewable energy developments. I would cite the example of offshore wind, which I believe has a strong vibrant future. There are plans to install up to 10 GW of capacity in Scottish waters over the next decade, including three projects off the coast of my Angus constituency. Many more sites, alongside commercial wave and tidal generation, are being looked at for deployment in the 2020s. We must ensure that we send a clear and unambiguous message that we want these developments, and that we will continue to push for the decarbonisation of the energy sector.
It is important to set the targets now because companies are looking at long-term investment. It will be many years before these investments come on stream, but the decisions affecting 2020 are being looked at in the boardrooms now, and if we delay in putting forward our plans for decarbonisation, we may well lose out on all the potential.
Over the last few years, both private and public investment has been made to help stimulate sustainable, long-term growth in offshore renewables, including developing the technology. The deep waters off Scotland’s shores have specific problems, but many of them have already been tackled by oil and gas development, which might point the way to dealing with offshore wind arrays and onshore development at our ports such as Dundee and, in my own constituency, Montrose. That development, however, is based on the assumption of having a long-term stable market for manufacturers.
Firms such as Gamesa, Areva, Mitsubishi and Samsung have indicated an intention to establish manufacturing plant in Scotland in order to meet the expected opportunities for offshore wind development. The difficulty we face with this Bill, however, is that we can be sure of funding only up to 2020—and then, as DONG Energy says, we face the “cliff edge” of uncertainty. Many of those who are considering investments do not feel that there is sufficient reassurance of a long-term market for their products beyond that date, which could lead them to reconsider or delay any decisions on investment. Such delays could lead to a significant loss to the economy and check ambitions to create a new greener manufacturing base, especially when, if companies decide to go ahead within the compressed time that is certain, there would be a considerable shortfall in the ability of UK-based manufacturers to meet the demand for turbines, which will inevitably lead to the importation of much of the infrastructure, creating jobs elsewhere but not in Scotland.
I finish on the point that decarbonisation is important not just for climate change benefits, but for the real economic benefit of creating sustainable jobs for the future.
In the north-east, energy in all its forms concerns my constituents almost more than any other issue. Whether it be fuel prices, energy prices, the role of wind, biomass and nuclear, opencast mining, the renewable heat incentive, solar, off-grid, liquefied petroleum gas, heating oil, gas or electricity prices, not to mention the role that climate change should play—these are all key issues for the people of Hexham.
It is definitely the case that the Government have a fundamental duty to keep the lights on and to lift the people of the north-east out of fuel poverty. Like the hon. Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), I inherited a situation in which 24% of our population were living in fuel poverty. It is a situation that has sadly not improved that much, although I applaud what the Government have tried to do. I especially welcome the work that they have done on fuel prices, and their support for household energy.
In case I am required to do so, I make the declaration that I am a member of the all-party parliamentary group on off-gas grid and the all-party parliamentary group for the wood panel industry, and that my constituency contains employers in the timber industry.
I entirely accept that our desire to reduce carbon consumption is often incompatible with a reduction in energy prices. The fact is that renewable energies are not as efficient as coal, oil and other fuels, which often has the knock-on effect of increasing energy prices. Anyone who doubts that should read the maiden speech made by Lord Ridley in the other place last month. Notwithstanding the competing difficulties with which the Government have to deal, carbon reduction and renewable energy obligations will continue to be met, and energy companies will be required to place gas and electricity consumers on the cheapest tariffs.
I welcome the Government’s efforts in relation to the green deal, about which I should have liked to say more. It is having a considerable impact, although we need it to trickle down to local suppliers, too few of whom are providing it on an ongoing basis.
I applaud the efforts made to deal with fuel poverty through the buy oil early campaign, and look forward to doing my bit later in the year. However, it has been put to me that the success of the campaign would be massively increased if winter fuel payments were made earlier in the year, when oil is much cheaper—hypothetically, on 1 August.
Having listened to what was said about decarbonisation by my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo), I am sadly not persuaded. This is a debate that has seen the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) charge, with Tennyson, to the redoubts of Sebastopol, and also to the shifting climatic sands of South Suffolk. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) disparages the Secretary of State and sees him as the political equivalent of Queens Park Rangers, but fails to add that Hamilton Academical are not exactly in the champions league.
It strikes me as entirely sensible for the decarbonisation target to be set after the Energy and Climate Change Committee has provided its advice on the fifth carbon budget in 2016. However, while I support the Government’s strategy of shifting away from oil and decarbonising, we must be careful not to rely excessively on wind energy. The hon. Member for Wansbeck and I face twin problems in that regard, because the Northumberland area is being randomly covered with wind farms. There is no proper strategy and no local development plan, and our constituents are not encouraging the move in any way.
I urge the Government to address the future role of wind, and also that of biomass. The continuing domestic subsidy for biomass is having an impact on the jobs of all utilisers of wood. It means that the demand for timber from energy companies increases, and so too does the price. The subsidy gives those companies a competitive advantage, enabling them to purchase timber more cheaply than any other provider in the country. I repeat my calls for the subsidy to be scrapped, so that the wood panel industry—and, indeed, anyone who utilises timber—can compete on a level playing field, while continuing to decarbonise.
The Bill should be strongly supported. I shall vote against the Labour amendment—[Interruption]—which, I hasten to add, is also the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk. I should have liked to include many more items on my wish list—much like the hon. Member for Edinburgh West—but, in the interests of satisfying you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I shall end my speech.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), although I am disappointed that he will not be joining us in the Lobby.
Many of those who oppose the amendment have tried to suggest that it is pro-wind, but it is not about wind energy. I am proud to put on record that I am pro-nuclear, pro-renewables and pro-energy efficiency. I see no contradiction in holding those three views, because I want to decarbonise the economy, but I do not want to do so only for the sake of decarbonising it. Many Members who support the amendment are not—the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) has just left the Chamber—just ideological greens. I consider myself to be a practical environmentalist. I want to see the environment looked after properly, quality jobs in this country, and the promotion of quality jobs in the energy sector. I want to see our country become the world leader in all forms of new generation. I want to see us, as pro-nuclear, being the forerunner in that new technology. There is also great untapped marine energy potential in this country, and I want it to be unlocked. The Bill offers a good mechanism for doing that.
We need a target not for the sake of having a target, but to provide a proper framework. The Liberal Democrats—including the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart), who is having a discussion in the Chamber at present—should follow their consciences and vote for this proposal, because they believe in it. Yesterday, a number of Liberal Democrats voted against the Government on some amendments because it was the right thing to do, and it would be the right thing for Liberal Democrats to do again today. They should vote with their conscience and support the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) and the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo).
We are in a good position. Whichever party were in power now, the Government would have had to introduce electricity market reform. The Minister was right to say that, but he was wrong to say nothing had been done in the previous 13 years—in saying that, he falls into a trap. A lot was done in the 13 years of the last Labour Government. They introduced a lot of proposals to help with renewables. They also brought nuclear back on to the agenda—it had almost entirely slipped off it. They introduced the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to clear up the mess left by previous Governments of both colours, too. A lot was done, therefore, and today’s proposals build on the agenda set by the last Labour Government during their 13 years in office.
We need to decarbonise the electricity market, and that presents huge challenges. As we wean ourselves off fossil fuels, gas heating will have to be electrified, and we will therefore need low-carbon electricity. The transport system will need to be electrified as we move to high-speed trains. Our cars will need to be electrified, too. These are massive challenges, and we will need sufficient generation of low-carbon energy if we are to meet our 2050 targets.
The 2030 target puts in place the signal and the framework for now. That is why these measures are important. As my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) said, the Bill is about decarbonisation and reform of the market. In order to ensure that happens, we need the mechanisms contained in the Bill. Having a target—which the Secretary of State and his Liberal Democrat colleagues want—is the right way forward.
There is not much time left in our discussion of these amendments. I had a lot more to say, but I just want to congratulate my hon. Friend—I want to call him that—the Member for South Suffolk on introducing these amendments, along with other Members. He may not have managed to unite the Government, but he has managed to unite the Methodists and the Baptists, who are both supporting the proposals, along with many other groups across industry.
The CBI has been mentioned. It is not against the decarbonisation target; it just feels that it should not get in the way of the Bill’s progress. One way not to get in its way is to vote for the amendment at 4 o’clock. I urge Members across the House to join us in voting for this target, and thereby making Britain a leader in decarbonisation and future energy generation.
I support the comments that my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and other colleagues made about the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo) and his introduction of this amendment.
Investment in clean energy and policies to keep the lights on go hand-in-hand. We need a commitment to decarbonising the power sector by 2030 not just to combat devastating and unpredictable climate change, but to keep energy prices down and the economy growing into the second half of the 21st century. The idea that there is a binary choice between a firm commitment to green energy and keeping energy bills down is clearly a false dichotomy. Decarbonisation is fundamental to keeping energy prices down in the long term; the alternative is to remain at the whim of unpredictable yet ever-rising global fossil fuel prices.
It is therefore shocking that investment in green energy has fallen in every year since this Government came to power. At current rates, investment in 2013 will be at its lowest level since 2006. This is not just a case of “not good enough”; it is an utter dereliction of duty. The Government, riddled by indecision and infighting, are deterring investment, stopping Britain becoming the leader in Europe on renewable investment.
At the evidence stage of this Bill, I asked the Secretary of State whether he agreed with his party’s position of wanting a decarbonisation target in the Bill. He said that he did but we have a coalition Government, which therefore meant that it was not going to be there—that says it all. This issue should be beyond party politics. I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) has decided to support the amendment, and I understand that the president of the Liberal Democrats, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), and their former leader, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy), are going to support it, too. I urge other Liberal Democrats, who have the choice at 4 pm as to which way to vote, to support the amendment, in line with their party policy.
This Government rightly decry short-termism, and we all support a long-term plan to improve British competitiveness and boost growth, which is why it is so disappointing that the Government cannot recognise the crucial long-term benefits of a 2030 decarbonisation target. Long-term strategy is even more crucial in energy policy, where large fixed costs must be met. Investors’ cash, which we know is highly mobile, relies on a strong and unwavering vision from the Government. Without such a vision, the UK has slumped to seventh in the world for investment in clean energy, and for the first time we are no longer ranked first globally for offshore wind attractiveness.
Decarbonising the power sector by 2030 is not just an important part of our legally binding commitment to reducing the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050—it is the totality of it. The Prime Minister once recognised that. In 2010, he told the Liaison Committee that
“if we don’t decarbonise electricity, we’ve got no hope of meeting all the targets that we are all committed to”.
I entirely agree with the statement, but, unfortunately, the Prime Minister seems to have abandoned that.
The case for a 2030 decarbonisation target is about more than preventing catastrophic climate change. There is an irresistible business case for these amendments, and it can be summed up in one word—jobs. The renewable industry currently supports 110,000 jobs and, across the supply chain, it could support 400,000 jobs by 2020. In 2012, the CBI estimated that nearly one third of the insufficient number of jobs created in the UK came in the green sector. Two thirds of jobs providing low-carbon and environmental goods and services are outside London and the south-east. Furthermore, if we use the BIS definition of “low-carbon environmental goods and services”, we find that the largest activity in the sector is manufacturing, with 20% of total sales and employment, as opposed to a figure of 13% for the economy as a whole. In 2010-11, green business grew by 2.3% in real terms, outstripping global growth, yet this Government’s dithering is scaring off investment in an industry worth £3.2 trillion.
Jobs, rebalancing the economy and economic growth are three pillars of this Government’s agenda that would be boosted by a decarbonisation target. It is at times of economic stagnation—this economy is certainly not booming—that investment is at its most economically productive. With interest rates at near zero, the Government should be prioritising investment in decarbonisation. That the “greenest Government ever” claim they want to decarbonise the economy but will not support a 2030 decarbonisation target is simply bizarre. Without such a target, I am deeply concerned that this Bill will not give investors the confidence we know they need to invest in low-carbon generation in the UK.
I pay tribute to everyone who has taken part in the debate and thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to comment briefly on what has been said. I am particularly grateful to members of my Committee who have spoken and although their full tributes have done great damage to my career prospects, they are much appreciated nevertheless—[Hon. Members: “What career prospects?”] Okay, I accept that.
I am particularly pleased that most of those members maintained the position that the Committee took last summer when we reported on the draft Bill and made a unanimous recommendation about the need for a target. My right hon. Friend the Minister set out the Government’s position very powerfully. I do not think that there was any doubt about his reasons for opposing the amendment, but nothing he has said has explained to me what, if the Government remain as serious as he says they are about meeting the fourth carbon budget, which takes us to 2027, and progressing further towards the 2050 target, the objection is to accepting now rather than in three years’ time the advice of the Committee on Climate Change about a 2030 target for decarbonising electricity generation. That seems to me to be completely consistent with everything he said.
My right hon. Friend also had some perhaps predictable fun about press reports of an answer I gave at something called the Westminster Russia Forum last week, but I am not sure that he attempted to understand the intervention I made during his speech. I do not doubt, and I have not doubted for 20 years, that the man-made increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the past 200 years as a result of the industrial revolution is extremely likely to be the cause of the changes in the climate that we are now observing.
Leaving that to one side, however, I want to reiterate that unlike a great many people who argue about the science of climate change I see it in an historical context. The human species is one of the most recently arrived on the planet and the phenomenal success of the species—our proliferation in numbers and our control over our destinies to an extent that perhaps no other species has ever achieved—has only happened even more recently than that. The precondition for that has been climate stability.
Concern was expressed by some hon. Members about the cost of energy. I absolutely share those concerns and it is for that reason that the amendment, which I will press to a vote in three minutes’ time, does not have the effect of raising electricity prices by a single penny for the next seven years. Anyone who is concerned about short-term movements in electricity prices should be hammering the Treasury about the floor price of carbon. That is what is forcing prices up and reducing the competitive position of British industry, not the setting of a decarbonisation target for 2030 on advice from the Committee on Climate Change.
As for what will happen to prices in the 2020s, nobody can be certain, as colleagues have made clear. There is, however, a very strong probability that the cost of various renewable energy technologies will be lower then than it is today, as several are on a very rapid downward cost curve. The pace of that reduction in the price of those technologies might be even faster if the industries concerned have greater certainty that the Government remain committed to reducing dependence on fossil fuels for electricity generation beyond 2020.
There are therefore in my view overwhelming environmental reasons for supporting the amendment, but there are other reasons, too. As I made clear, it will encourage investment and bring down the cost of investment, benefiting consumer prices. By accepting the amendment, the Government would strengthen their claim to be the greenest Government ever. The credentials of all previous Governments are not that strong, so achieving that accolade is probably even now within the grasp of the Government. Accepting the amendment would be a big step towards placing Britain in the vanguard of the new industrial revolution, taking our economy to a position in which it is less dependent on fossil fuels. I am convinced that countries, industries and companies that do that will not only be doing the right thing environmentally but enjoy an economic and financial advantage by improving their competitive position over those countries that remain dependent on fossil fuels in 2030.
For all those reasons, I warmly commend the amendment to the House. I urge all my hon. Friends and, in particular, those on the Liberal Democrat Benches, to join us in the Lobby and do something that will materially improve the Energy Bill.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme order, 3 June).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).
General considerations relating to this Part
Amendment made: 51, page 5, line 3, at end insert—
‘(aa) the duty of the Secretary of State under section 1(1) of this Act (decarbonisation target range);’.—(Michael Fallon.)
Amendment made: 70, page 104, line 6, at end insert ‘(za) Part 1 (decarbonisation);’.—(Michael Fallon.)
New Clause 11
Provision about electricity demand reduction
‘(1) This section applies where provision made by electricity capacity regulations relates to the provision of capacity by reducing demand for electricity.
(2) Where this section applies, the Secretary of State may, instead of conferring functions on the national system operator, confer functions on such other person or body as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.
(3) For the purposes of provision made by virtue of subsection (2), the references to the national system operator in—
(a) section 22(5)(a) and (d);
(b) section 23(2)(a) and 23(3)(a);
(c) section 25;
(d) section 27(2)(a) and (b);
(e) section 29,
are to be read as if they included a reference to a person or body on whom a function is conferred by virtue of this section.’.—(Gregory Barker.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 12—Pilot scheme for electricity demand reduction.
New clause 2—Strategy for electricity demand reduction—
‘(1) The Secretary of State must within 12 months of the passing of this Act publish a strategy setting out policies to achieve a reduction in demand for electricity of at least 103 TWh by 2020 and 154 TWh by 2030.
(2) The strategy must include an assessment of the cost effectiveness of the policies included in it.
(3) Before publishing the strategy the Secretary of State must consult such persons as in his opinion may have information that will assist him in drawing up the strategy.
(4) The Secretary of State must—
(a) implement the strategy; and
(b) report to Parliament every year on progress.’.
Amendment (a) to new clause 2, at end add—
‘(5) Nothing in the strategy shall rely upon the use of the price mechanism to reduce demand.’.
Amendment 1, in clause 10, page 8, line 8, at end insert—
‘( ) Section 41(4)(a) of the Energy Act 2008 (“specified maximum capacity”) is amended as follows: “Specified maximum capacity” means the capacity specified by the Secretary of State by order, which must not be less than 10 megawatts.’.
Amendment 42, page 8, line 8, at end insert—
‘( ) Regulations must—
(a) place a duty on the Secretary of State and the Authority to promote new generation capacity from distributed generation schemes; and
(b) define “distributed generation schemes”.’.
Amendment 43, page 8, line 8, at end insert—
‘( ) In section 41(2)(a) of the Energy Act 2008, at end insert—
“() establishing, or making arrangements for the administration of, a scheme of financial incentives to encourage the distributed generation of electricity;”.’.
Amendment 44, page 8, line 8, at end insert— In section 41(2)(b) of the Energy Act 2008, at end insert—
“() requiring or enabling the holder of a distribution licence to make arrangements for the distribution of electricity generated by distributed generation;”.’.
Amendment 45, page 8, line 8, at end insert—
‘( ) In section 41(2)(c) of the Energy Act 2008, at end insert—
“() requiring the holder of a licence to make arrangements related to the matters mentioned in paragraph () or ().”.’.
Amendment 46, page 8, line 8, at end insert—
‘( ) Section 41(4)(a) of the Energy Act 2008 (“specified maximum capacity”) is amended as follows—
“specified maximum capacity” means the capacity specified by the Secretary of State by order, which must not exceed 50 megawatts.’.
Amendment 47, in clause 15, page 10, line 13, at end insert—
‘(d) conferring on the Secretary of State the power to establish an auction market (the “green power auction market”) in which generators are entitled to offer, and holders of supply licences are entitled to bid for, electricity generated from renewable sources.
(e) the the Secretary of State must exercise the powers in subsection (d), and take such other steps as they consider necessary, for the purposes of ensuring that—
(i) the green power auction market begins to operate when the first CFD is made and does not cease to operate until expiry of the last CFD that has been made; and
(ii) the reference price under a CFD entered into by a generator who is a party to any agreement made through the green power auction market is based on the price payable to the generator under that agreement,
(iii) in this section, “supply license” means a licence under the section 6(1)(d) of the Energy Act 1989.’.
Amendment 34, in clause 21, page 12, line 41, leave out ‘this section’ and insert ‘subsection (1)’.
Government amendment 100.
Amendment 35, in clause 21, page 13, line 6, at end insert—
‘(4A) The Secretary of State must within one year of the passing of this Act make regulations establishing a scheme or schemes to make payments for the purpose of rewarding the installation of energy saving measures.
(4B) Regulations under subsection (4A) are referred to in this Chapter as “demand reduction regulations”.
(4C) Prior to the making of regulations under subsection (4A), the Secretary of State must publish a report setting out the total potential for energy demand reduction and the extent to which this potential will be achieved by Government policies including—
(a) the scheme or schemes, and
(b) other relevant programmes, regulation or expenditure.’.
Amendment 36, in clause 22, page 13, line 13, at end insert—
‘(1A) Demand reduction regulations must make provision about demand reduction payments.’.
Amendment 37, page 13, line 21, at end insert—
‘(2A) Subject to any further provision made under this Chapter, a demand reduction payment is an instrument by virtue of which—
(a) an energy user is paid for reducing the demand for energy or investing in a technology which can be shown to reduce the demand for energy either permanently or for a specified period;
(b) all electricity suppliers may be required to make payments (“demand reduction payments”) to or for the benefit of these users.’.
Amendment 38, page 13, line 23, at end insert—
‘(3A) Provision included in regulations of demand reduction payments for the purposes of subsection (2A) may make provision about the meaning of “energy user”.’.
Amendment 39, page 13, line 41, at end insert—
‘(4A) Provision included in regulations of demand reduction payments by virtue of subsection (2A) may include provision about—
(a) the terms of a demand reduction payment;
(b) the circumstances in which, and the process by which, a demand reduction payment may or must be made;
(c) the persons who may be paid;
(d) the circumstances in which and technologies for which payments may be made;
(e) the number and size of payments;
(f) the means by which demand reduction payments are to be calculated;
(g) a person or body who is to administer the settlement of demand reduction payments (“a settlement body”);
(h) the enforcement of the terms relating to demand reduction payments;
(i) the resolution of disputes relating to a demand reduction payment payment;
(j) the circumstances in which a demand reduction payment may be terminated or reclaimed or varied;
(k) the circumstances in which a demand reduction payment may be assigned or traded;
(l) the means for monitoring and verifying the energy reduction for which demand reduction payments are made.’.
Amendment 40, page 14, line 6, at end insert—
‘(5A) Provision falling within subsection (4A) includes provision—
(a) conferring on the national system operator the function of issuing demand reduction payments;
(b) about any conditions that must be satisfied by or in relation to a person before that person may receive a demand reduction payment;
(c) about any matters in relation to which a person must satisfy the national system operator before the person receives a demand reduction payment.’.
Amendment 41, page 14, line 9, at end insert—
‘(6A) Provision made by virtue of this section may include provision requiring a person to consent to the inspection of plant or premises, either before or after that person receives a demand reduction payment.
(6B) Subject to the provisions in section 24, the Secretary of State must within six months of the making of demand reduction regulations establish a fund drawn from capacity payments for the purpose of issuing demand reduction payments.’.
Government amendment 135.
We now turn to the topics of electricity demand reduction and route to market. I shall speak in favour of the new clauses and amendments in the name of the Secretary of State and I thank hon. Members for tabling the other new clauses and amendments in this group, prompting debate on this vital set of issues.
I will start by setting out the Government’s approach to electricity demand reduction. Making good my pledge in Committee, the Government have brought forward new clauses 11 and 12 and amendments 100 and 135, which, for the very first time in our energy history, would allow energy saving projects to compete for new investment on an equal footing with power stations. It has long been recognised that in many cases it is cheaper, as well as greener, to save electricity rather than generate it. However, the coalition’s radical legislative proposals for large-scale energy efficiency are a double win—a win not only for the green agenda, but for hard-pressed consumers worried about rising bills.
The fact is that successive Governments have failed to grab the opportunity to get units of saved power, or “negawatts” as they are sometimes called, to compete with traditional megawatts. Thanks to this reforming Energy Bill, the era of negawatts has finally arrived. We already have a number of important policies aimed at driving greater efficiency, but these measures mean that we can go further. As I said to the Financial Times way back in September 2010, we need to create new markets for electricity efficiency projects to bring in the scale of new investment needed that is commensurate with the challenges and opportunities.
Following our consultation on options to promote electricity demand reduction, we concluded that a new financial incentive would be the most effective way of delivering a step change in the efficient use of electricity. The most cost-effective way to achieve this, without cannibalising the budget for renewables, is to include demand reduction in our proposed capacity market, and that is achieved through Government amendment 100. Hon. Members and their constituents can now be reassured that while we have a massive, multi-billion pound, low-carbon infrastructure programme ahead of us, we will not be building expensive new energy plants unnecessarily where cheaper alternatives for energy efficiency are available.
Delivering EDR through the capacity market will let us achieve three key objectives: targeting reductions at more expensive peak times; securing value for money because it will set megawatts against potentially cheaper “negawatts”; and bringing permanent demand reduction projects into line with shorter-term demand-side response measures to enable more effective, joined-up delivery of energy efficiency across the board. The approach of delivering EDR through a capacity market is proven—it is already being done in the United States of America—but our approach is more visionary and will certainly be much more ambitious. Government new clause 12 will provide a spending power to enable our approach to be tested via a large pilot, or pilots, to better understand, among other things, the complexity of the issue and the scale of the potential. Government new clause 11 and Government amendment 135 allow the Secretary of State to appoint and make payments to an alternative delivery body to National Grid for the capacity market. If it is decided that National Grid is not best placed to carry out the EDR elements of the scheme, then we will have this legislation ready.
I am most grateful to the hon. Members for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for their thoughtful amendments, which were tabled prior to the Government’s amendments. I am also grateful for their consistent and constructive, as well as passionate, advocacy of this agenda. I particularly thank the hon. Member for Southampton Test. He and I have long been proponents of action in this area, but his expertise in and technical understanding of these issues are, I think, universally acknowledged to be unsurpassed in this House. I hope that the House will join me in recognising his contribution. Amendments 34 to 41 seek to include demand reduction in a capacity market. In the light of the amendments that I have tabled, which achieve that objective, I hope that hon. Members will feel comfortable withdrawing their amendments.
New clause 2, with its amendment, would require the Secretary of State to publish a strategy to reduce a stated amount of electricity demand by 2020 and 2030 while requiring no use of the price mechanism to reduce demand. I welcome the principle behind the proposal. However, let me point out that as well as establishing the first ever Energy Efficiency Deployment Office within my Department, the Government have published a number of seminal documents, including the first ever comprehensive Government energy efficiency strategy, which will be updated again later this year. We have also published DECC’s energy and emissions projections and, most recently, the Government response to our EDR consultation. These documents provide a comprehensive view of the Government’s approach, which was encapsulated at the launch by the Prime Minister of the first ever energy efficiency mission earlier this year.
I want to push the Minister on that point. Will any of those documents address the opportunities for smart metering to play a role in the rapid reduction in energy use in domestic and other premises? Many of us believe that smart metering is the answer for a dramatic reduction. Moreover, the Minister will know that I have tabled new clause 16, which would require the installation of carbon monoxide detectors alongside smart meters. That would help reduce the 40 deaths and 4,000 admissions to A and E a year caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Indeed. I hope we will have time to discuss the hon. Gentleman’s amendment on carbon monoxide detectors, of which he is an unprecedented and unparalleled champion in this House. I am glad to say that his point about smart meters is fully recognised in the strategy documents. He is absolutely right to say that smart meters will give far better access, as well as information, to consumers to participate in this new, two-way energy efficiency economy and open up all sorts of opportunities. They will also be an essential part of our vision to build an electricity, internet and smart group in the UK. On the development of a demand reduction measure, we are clear that a financial incentive is the most appropriate way forward and that it should lie in a capacity market.
Climate change is, according to the vast majority of scientific experts, with whom I emphatically agree, a clear and present danger to our planet and our economy. Our measures reflect yet another example of the coalition’s determination to rise to this challenge and allow the UK to play an ambitious part in combating the worst excesses of dangerous, man-made climate change.
Hon. Members can be reassured that the measure is not an additional green burden on consumer bills. It will make energy policy greener and potentially cheaper—a genuine win-win situation. I therefore hope that hon. Members will withdraw new clause 2 and its amendment (a).
I now turn to the Opposition amendments—I am grateful to them for tabling them—on the important issues of distributed energy and route to market for independent renewable generators. Independent renewable generators are key to the Government’s ambitions for not just green energy, but the energy market as a whole—not just in helping us achieve secure, affordable and low-carbon electricity, but in delivering a more plural, competitive and dynamic market.
The Government agreed during the Bill’s Committee stage to consider an amendment similar to amendment 1, the intention of which is to increase the maximum generating capacity of feed-in tariff eligibility from 5 MW to 10 MW. I have a great deal of sympathy with the proposal. It continues to be under active consideration and I am committed to finding a workable solution. However, it is a complex issue, because not everyone agrees on this way forward. The Solar Trade Association has stated, for example, that it would be against such an increase. My Department is considering whether it could be delivered without destabilising the existing FITs and renewables obligation schemes or creating perverse incentives.
Will the Minister define more clearly what he means by “active consideration”? Those Members who support amendment 1 will be encouraged by his remarks, but they will also fear that the impetus of amendment 1 might be lost if it is not agreed to tonight.
I deem the raising of the FITs threshold to be very attractive and am personally driving the issue in the Department. However, when looking at the proposal in further detail, I have been made aware of potentially perverse consequences and impacts on the renewables obligation. I was slightly surprised by the views of the STA but have taken them on board. We need to unpack a number of issues and I currently have officials working on the matter. I am hopeful that we can find a way through or partially through, and land at an outcome that, while it might not be the one the hon. Gentleman exactly wants, he would find satisfactory. I cannot say any more on that because I have not come to the House in a position to make a commitment or statement, but I hope he takes from the tenor of my response that we are not just considering the matter; work is being done in the Department and we hope to bring further measures to the House. I reassure him that we hope to respond as the Bill continues its passage through Parliament—most likely, in the other place.
Amendment 46 seeks to increase the specified maximum capacity of the FITs scheme to 50 MW. I have considerable sympathy with that objective, which recognises the effective nature of the reformed FITs, but such an uplift could produce unintended consequences on FITs, budgets, the levy control framework and renewables obligation certificates. As things stand, we do not consider that such a large change offers the best value for money, because it could have significant impacts on the functioning of the renewables obligation and push up costs for energy bill payers.
Amendment 42 seeks to define distributed generation. I applaud the motive of the amendment, but having carefully considered it, and as sympathetic as I am to its intention, on balance, we do not consider it necessary. The reformed and highly successful FITs scheme already ensures that communities can generate their own electricity from a range of technologies. I am proud that, under the coalition, hundreds of thousands of people have decided to do so, and are now successfully self-generating electricity to meet some or all of their needs—in some cases, they export to the grid—on both community and domestic scales. Public buildings, particularly schools, are a popular choice.
Amendment 43 aims to implement a new support mechanism for generation attached to our electricity distribution network. I have led reforms on the FITs scheme to ensure that it remains not only open, but successful and increasingly ambitious, while delivering value for money. We are now closing in on half a million installations. Virtually all the installations supported by the FITs scheme are distributed generators. We therefore do not see the need for a new mechanism, which could confuse consumers and potential generators. The reformed FITs system is doing a good job and is increasingly popular.
Amendments 44 and 45 aim to require distribution companies to supply distributed generation—even if that does sound like a slight oxymoron. UK distribution network operators already ensure that electricity generated by distributed generation is transmitted to where it is needed, if it is not consumed locally. While I am sympathetic to the intent behind the amendments, I do not see that they are strictly necessary.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test for tabling amendment 47, which seeks to address an important issue: the independent renewable generators’ route to market. The amendment would create a duty on the Secretary of State to establish a green power auction market for renewable generation—GPAM, as it is often known. I hope the hon. Gentleman knows, and the House appreciates, that I am sympathetic to the intention behind the amendment. Bringing on board new, dynamic and disruptive new entrants is a key aim of the Bill. I am personally committed to breaking the grip of the big six and making our vision of a far more decentralised energy economy a reality.
Both, I hope. Certainly, it would not be satisfactory if the big six became the big seven or eight. Ultimately, we need the big 60,000. We want to extend the enthusiasm for micro-generation and community generation, and scale it up so that small-scale generators, who currently cater only for their own needs, begin to have the ambition to export electricity in their areas and create community interest companies. We also want entrepreneurial companies. The sector is ripe and rich for entrepreneurs. We want to see new disruptive players coming into the market and using new technologies or offering better services. There are already some good independents in existence. I have met a number of them and they are seeing their customer numbers grow considerably. As things stand, however, there is still a long way between them and the big six.
Does the Minister mean that a district such as Bromley in my constituency might have its own green power generation system, which would be designed specifically for that area and would provide for all its needs? Is that what we are going for?
That is a real possibility. A number of local authorities already have that ambition and are using a range of technologies. Woking is using gas-fired CHP, but renewable fuels such as woodchip can be used, too. Such processes can generate substantial amounts of reliable electricity, and if they are carried out locally, the heat generated can also be used constructively, with cheap affordable heat being sent into social housing and public buildings, or to private residents. This model is already starting to take shape in pioneer local authorities. The city of Nottingham has exciting plans for district heating networks on a scale not seen in this country for generations.
The irony is that this is not new technology. District heating by local generation companies is where this energy was born; it began on a distributed model. It was only in recent years that the Labour party nationalised the industry and created one big monopoly, and it was under the previous Labour Government that the number of energy companies shrank from 14 to six.
We are striving to put the “local” back into local energy provision, but we are not prescribing any one model; it could be rolled out in lots of different ways—there are exciting projects around the country, and we want to see a lot more of that—but it must be done in a way that, first and foremost, works for local people and is affordable. I return, however, to a point I made on the previous amendments: we have within our reach the opportunities to do that in a way that is not only green, but affordable—and sometimes even cheaper than the alternative.
I am extremely interested in what the Minister is saying. Is not one of the problems, however, that we do not have the infrastructure to do what he suggests? A few weeks ago, the Isle of Arran, in my constituency, was without electricity for a week. Even if it had its own generators, the substation is one-way traffic, and I understand that it would need a smart grid to use any energy created on the island. How will the Energy Bill help that island?
We are already embarked on a massive programme of grid renewal. The National Grid has published at length its proposals for how to roll it out. Obviously it cannot be done overnight, but we have made it clear that we are looking to build, with billions of pounds of investment, overwhelmingly from the private sector, a completely new grid that will do exactly as the hon. Lady says and permit a new relationship—a two-way, more equal one—between the consumer and the producer, and allow for the adoption of these diffuse new technologies. She is right that while the old grid is still there, there are certain barriers, but wherever possible and wherever it makes economic sense, we are keen to work with local communities and district network operators to help them overcome those barriers and to see what can be done within a reasonable economic cost. She is right that there are still barriers, but my Department is working proactively to try to overcome them.
I hope that the House appreciates that I am sympathetic to the intention behind amendment 47 to create a green power auction market—bringing onboard these disruptive new entrants is the key aim. GPAM is a means to an end, however, rather than an end itself. No one solution is inherently good; what matters is what it can deliver, and there are several ways of delivering the agreed outcome while navigating in slightly different directions. Our concerns stem from the fact that GPAM is effectively a fixed feed-in tariff, as it provides the generator with a guaranteed price for all the power it generates. As a result, the generator would have no incentive to manage its imbalance risks, as these would be taken away from it, which could work out more expensively for the consumer.
Although I welcome and fully appreciate the aims of GPAM, we have to be careful, despite having all the right motives, not to create an expensive, long-term solution to what might turn out to be a short-term problem. CFDs will undoubtedly improve conditions, which I know have been challenging, in the market for power purchase agreements, enabling independent renewables projects to get off the ground much more easily. They should not only help the smaller independents out there now and doing a great job, but attract—I hope—new entrepreneurs into the market. Although I have issues with GPAM, therefore, I want to make it clear to the House that I am not complacent and am not saying that we have all the answers.
I fully recognise that there is an issue at stake, which the GPAM amendment endeavours to address, but the route-to-market issue is complex. It is such a technical issue that we perhaps cannot do justice to it in a debate on the Floor of the House. However, it is an issue that my officials, with all their skill and expertise, are absolutely committed to tackling. At a political level, I am personally committed to finding a solution to it, albeit a solution that must be workable and not lead to greater costs for consumers.
We need to do more work on this issue. I am pleased to say that my Department is working constructively with those in the industry, who have been extremely responsible in their engagement with it. I am extremely grateful for their patience. With hindsight, perhaps we could have engaged with them a little earlier or more effectively earlier, but I am confident that the current level of engagement and the commitment on both sides will enable us to find a solution to the problem. I greatly welcome the constructive way in which the industry—this includes stakeholder groups and companies directly —is working with us.
I realise that that is less than satisfactory as a response at this point in time and that I am unable to provide a definitive response on the issue today, but I stress again that it remains under active consideration; I hope I have spelt out to the satisfaction of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test what active consideration means in this context. I can reassure the House that the Government will respond more fully on GPAM in the course of the Bill’s passage through Parliament. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press his amendment. I look forward to hearing the views of others in the House on these important issues.
This group also includes Government amendments 100 and 135, and new clauses 11 and 12. I encourage the hon. Members for Southampton, Test and for Brighton, Pavilion and my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) not to press their amendments and new clauses. The Government are actively considering the issues raised by amendments 1 and 47. Although it may be disappointing that there is no definitive answer at the moment, I encourage the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test not to press their amendments and to allow the Government to continue the active work stream that is already in hand.
Whether it is opening electricity markets to exciting new technologies, creating new dynamic markets for electricity demand reduction and demand response, welcoming in new and disruptive companies and entrepreneurs, or empowering communities and consumers to generate their own electricity, this Government are driving a decentralised energy revolution, one that I believe finds support right across the House.
The Minister raised a number of issues. I wish to focus on his points about demand reduction and community energy, before handing over to other hon. Members who wish to speak on this group of amendments.
Let me begin by saying how wonderful it is finally to hear what the Government propose to do about reducing demand for electricity. When the Bill was first published in May last year, many industry experts rightly observed that there was a gaping hole where the answer to that question should have been. We spent many hours in Committee and on Second Reading discussing and debating how we generate energy, but not how we could use less of it in the first place. A fortnight ago, the Government produced new clauses 11 and 12. I will come to their merits in a moment, but first I must tell the Minister that these proposals should have been brought forward much sooner. I know that the right hon. Gentleman agrees with me about that, because when we debated the need for demand-side measures in Committee at the end of January, he said:
“There can be no proper discussion and scrutiny of electricity strategy or really forward-looking ambitious Government energy policy without the inclusion of our plans for demand reduction.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 29 January 2013; c. 345.]
He was absolutely right. It was challenging, however, that the Government did not have any demand reduction plans in place at that time.
Has the hon. Lady not noticed the launch of the green deal, which is possibly the most significant energy efficiency initiative in British history? I have to say that, for those of us who remember the chaotic system of energy efficiency grants that existed under the last Government, it compares extremely favourably with them. I think she is being a little ungracious about this Government’s energy demand reduction strategy.
We wanted properly to scrutinise the Government’s plans in Committee. We have only recently had the opportunity to do so, and we have just heard what the Minister said. I remind the hon. Gentleman that pay-as-you-save efficiency scheme pilots were started under the last Government. We are waiting to see exactly how the green deal is doing. We await the Government’s figures, and we expect to see them at the end of June.
During pre-legislative scrutiny, the Energy and Climate Change Committee concluded that Ministers were failing to give enough priority to demand-side measures. As I have said, we still had no firm proposals on Second Reading. In Committee, the Minister would not confirm whether the Government would definitely seek to include demand reduction amendments in the Bill once his consultation had concluded. Now, at long last, we have the results. We received them two weeks before Third Reading and a year to the day since the Bill was first published.
The Minister has now said that he is minded to pilot measures to reduce electricity demand through the capacity market, and we welcome that step. However, the Government’s own response to their consultation accepted that that course of action still presented a number of uncertainties. A number of questions remain unanswered. I am sorry that the Minister will not have an opportunity to answer them, but I would be happy to give way if he would like to intervene on me. It would be helpful to know, for example, exactly how the pilots will work and by how much the proposals will reduce electricity demand. Those are currently complete unknowns.
The Government’s forecasts from before the new clauses were published showed that current policies would reduce electricity demand by 59 TWh in 2018 and by 68 TWh in 2030. That energy saving would be dwarfed, however, by an additional 92 TWh of untapped potential saving that could be achieved by 2030, according to analysis by McKinsey. That could be the equivalent of a 25% reduction in total electricity demand, representing a colossal saving. It is unfortunate that the Minister could not share with us the Government’s estimate of by how much the capacity market could reduce electricity demand over the same period.
Many people have also raised serious concerns about how effective the capacity markets can be in rewarding energy saving. In the United States, for example, a similar policy in Massachusetts resulted in energy efficiency projects receiving just 3% of total capacity payments. Despite complex design, 70% of capacity payments went to existing fossil fuel generation instead. Were the Government aware of that scheme? If so, what lessons have they learned from it?
The way in which new clauses 11 and 12 are drafted provides the mechanism for pilots to happen, but they do not offer any further detail. I listened carefully to the Minister’s remarks, but there were a lot of gaps. The proposals do not specify what measures will be piloted, or whether more than one measure will be trialled. We are no clearer, following his remarks, as to when the Government are planning to launch the pilot or when they expect the first capacity auction to take place.
I thank the Minister for his intervention, and hope he will lay before the House the rules governing those auctions so that we can properly scrutinise them. We hope they will be forthcoming.
I was disappointed by the Minister’s response to the amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead). I echo the Minister’s words that my hon. Friend, as the whole House will know, has long-standing expertise and considerable experience in this area. His amendment 35 would require the Secretary of State to establish
“a scheme…to make payments for the purpose of rewarding…energy saving measures”
and to do so “within one year” of this Bill becoming law. That would introduce clear, simple payments for households and businesses, and it could start immediately, with no wait for a capacity crunch to trigger an auction. I understand that the majority of respondents to the Government’s consultation favoured a premium payment option along those very lines, but we did not hear from the Minister the rationale behind the Government’s decision to reject that option and favour instead incentivising demand reduction through the capacity market.
Let me touch briefly on amendment 47, also proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test, which would establish a green power auction market, or GPAM. This would combat a significant issue. The UK needs to invest £75 billion in new renewable generation by 2020. Analysis of DECC’s own figures has shown that the Government are currently relying on 35% to 50% of this investment being delivered by independent renewable energy generators, or the “disruptive new entrants”, as the Minister referred to them on a number of occasions. Their current route to market is dependent on long-term purchase power agreements with the big six. A green power auction market of the kind my hon. Friend proposes could open up the market to new suppliers, increase competition and potentially deliver a cash saving to consumers of £2 billion. Although I welcome the Minister’s saying that he wants to address this sector and that a real issue is at stake, I sincerely hope that a viable solution, which he said would be forthcoming, is in place in time for the allocation of the first CFDs in 2014.
I conclude by dealing with our amendment 1 on community energy, which stands in my name and those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex). Speaking as a Labour and Co-operative Member, I am very proud to speak to this amendment. It would appear that the Minister and I agree that community energy schemes deliver enormous benefits to our country. They bring diversity, resilience and security to the energy market. They boost our economy by attracting new sources of investment, and they help to tackle fuel poverty through a strategy for generating and saving energy that is owned by local people.
I recently saw that first hand when I visited Brixton Energy, an award-winning solar project run by Repowering South London. It is the UK’s first inner-city co-operatively-owned energy project, and I urge hon. Members to pay it a visit if they have not already had the pleasure. As well as offsetting 28 tonnes of carbon every year, the project is providing invaluable work experience opportunities for young people. There are many other fantastic community energy projects throughout the country: Westmill wind farm co-operative in Oxfordshire, Neilston community wind farm near Glasgow and the Lochcarnan community wind farm—the list goes on. There is a risk, however, that as drafted the Bill could stop these types of larger community schemes ever happening again. That is why we need to amend it today.
The Secretary of State has said that he
“wants nothing less than a community energy revolution”,
but those words ring rather hollow when we examine how this Bill fails to address how community energy schemes can compete with large-scale commercial generation. The issues have been well summarised by Cornwall Energy, when it said that the high degree of technical knowledge needed to participate in the system is a barrier for many smaller generators, and that the proposed CFD system does not compensate smaller generators for the lower market prices they receive for their power. With the end of the renewables obligation, the Bill provides no incentive for suppliers to purchase renewable electricity from independent generators.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the way in which she is putting forward her case. She will be aware that many of the successful community generation projects—those that really laid down the way forward—were in Scotland, and particularly in the island communities where there is a very strong sense of community and a wish to have a sustainable future. If we look around Europe, we find that this is also very common—in Germany, Scandinavia and Greece, for example. Does my hon. Friend agree that we have fallen behind in this area?
We are considering the Bill without the benefit of having seen a Government community energy strategy. Both the energy Minister and the Secretary of State confirmed in Committee that a consultation paper on such a strategy would be published in March, but alas we are still waiting six months on. The delay was confirmed two weeks ago by the Minister in answer to a parliamentary question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, when he said that the community energy strategy would be published “later this year”. The matter will be of concern to all Members, not least the hon. Members for Hove (Mike Weatherley) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who have also tabled amendments on community energy.
Most notably, community energy groups have expressed the view that the threshold for the fixed feed-in tariff is not high enough. The current threshold is 5 MW. When we pressed the Secretary of State on the issue in January, he produced what was probably the most insightful piece of analysis that I heard during the Committee stage. He said:
“Let us be clear. In our discussions on that, the vast majority of community energy schemes that we are seeing are below that threshold.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 15 January 2013; c. 16, Q39.]
Yes, because that is what the threshold is. That is why it is called a threshold.
Let me be equally clear. Our amendment 1 would correct that flaw, and increase the feed-in tariff threshold from 5 MW to not less than 10 MW. That is the action that community energy projects throughout the country are crying out for.
I certainly support the amendment, but I wonder why the hon. Lady limited the threshold to 10 MW. The Energy and Climate Change Committee talked of 50 MW, and many non-governmental organisations have talked of more than 10. I think it would be useful to convey the idea that “community” means more than just “small”.
If the hon. Lady looks at the amendment, she will see that it refers to
“not less than 10 megawatts.”
It does not limit the threshold to that level.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said about his commitment to “active consideration”, a phrase that he used many times. He used the same phrase when we discussed a similar amendment in Committee four months ago. If the Government really want to deliver the community energy revolution to which the Secretary of State has referred, actions must speak louder than words. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) expressed his support for community energy, and I hope that he will join us in the Lobby to support amendment 1. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) is no longer in the Chamber, but I noted his aspirations for community-generated energy in Bromley, and I hope that he, too, will join us in the Lobby.
I urge Ministers to support our amendment, and I urge the House to divide on the issue if they will not do so.
I am normally a loyal Back Bencher. I sometimes skip merrily through the Division Lobbies behind my leaders, and at other times go through those Lobbies with a slightly heavier heart. I am afraid that this will be one of the occasions on which I back the Government, but do so with a certain amount of trepidation.
I listened with great interest to the Minister’s explanation of how he would reduce electricity demand, but one of the most important questions that can be asked from these Benches is not “how”, but “why”. Why is it necessary to do this in the first place? The Minister gave us a bit of an explanation by referring to climate change, which he described as a clear and present danger. Of course it is a clear and present danger. No one whom I know of has denied the reality of climate change, and I have certainly never done so. The point is that the climate has always been changing. That has been a clear and present danger for the last 4.5 billion years. The new clause, and indeed the entire Bill, was tabled on the basis that the 0.8° rise that we have seen over the last 300 years is somehow more of a danger than any of the other rises and falls that we have seen over the last 4.5 billion years.
I did a bit of scribbling as I was sitting here and listening with interest, and I worked something out. I have seen many graphs in the documents backing up these claims, and if we had a graph that showed every 100 years as 1 cm, in order to show how long the earth had been in existence, the graph would have to be 280 miles long, which is twice the length of the High Speed 2 rail route. If we really did have a graph that was that long and we were going to look at just 3 cm of it, would it be wise to put forward such far-reaching amendments and Bills based on changes that are not that far out of the ordinary over the course of the 280 miles that my imaginary graph stretches?
Despite my hon. Friend’s eloquence, I fear that he and I are never going to agree on his interpretation of the science of climate change or on the need to act. I will just say to him about energy efficiency measures, however, that even if there were not man-made climate change, there would still be a compelling reason to act, because saving money is always a good thing to do, and that is what these energy efficiency measures will deliver for hard-pressed consumers.
The Minister is right. He did not, however, mention the other reason that is sometimes put forward—that we are about to run out of carbon-based fuels and uranium—and as he did not mention it, I will not knock that argument back. Instead, let us address the point he made: that this may well lead in the longer term to cheaper energy.
I have no objection at all to many of the things the Government are doing: the smart meters, the decentralisation—which the Minister talked about—and the insulation, which was not mentioned, but which I assume is part of the same package. I get slightly more nervous when I hear him talking about negawatts rather than megawatts, however, as that suggests people will be paid for not producing things.
We have already had that situation in farming, where people have been paid not to produce food. I sometimes wonder whether the Minister—or, indeed, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas)—would like to pay me for not making speeches. I see much nodding of heads. I ask myself, however, whether this proposal is economically sensible. I am a keen student of economics, and it is my understanding that there are only two ways to reduce demand for anything. One way is to ration the goods that are in demand, and to some extent the Government are making provision for that, as they know there is a danger that we could run out of electricity over the next 10 to 15 years. My understanding is that there have been discussions as to how, if that were to happen, demand might be rationed in respect of certain high users of energy. The second way to reduce demand for any commodity is to increase prices.
Whatever the Minister says about negawatts and insulation and smart meters, the reality is that prices are going up partly in response to the policies this Government are putting forward. We have a system that now subsidises production of electricity that would otherwise be economic, in order to make it harder for people to get hold of it.
At the moment, the clear and present danger to all of us is the economy. The one thing the coalition was elected to do was sort the economy out.
I am still digesting what was said about the supply and demand curve. It is, of course, also possible to shift the demand curve, and my understanding is that, in terms of energy efficiency, we are seeking not to reduce demand down the curve through pricing or rationing, but to shift the entire demand curve so there is less need in the first place.
Well, I am going to have to think about that one for a few minutes before coming back with a substantive response. I will say, however, that it is not wise to talk about reducing people’s access to electricity at a time when we want to be saying to businesses across the world, “Come to the United Kingdom and invest.” We are not going to be able to compete with anyone on the basis of labour costs; indeed, we do not want to compete on that basis. We do, however, want to be able to say to business, “If you come here, you’re going to get a large and reliable source of electricity.”
Let us just be clear that we are not talking about reducing businesses’ access to electricity; we are talking about seeing energy as part of being in a resource-efficient, competitive, global economy, where businesses that can use less energy in creating their products or delivering their services will have a competitive edge.
I fear that within 20 or 30 years those who are now talking about the temperature changes we are seeing will find that they are not that out of the ordinary in the context of the past 8,000 years or 4.5 billion years. We may look back and ask, “Why did we suddenly decide to make it more expensive to generate electricity in this country? Why did we suddenly decide to decarbonise at a time when other nations, such as China and other places in south-east Asia, were doing quite the opposite?” We may look back from a point in the future when not only the GDPs of those countries, but their GDPs per head are much larger. Carbon emissions will not have stopped, temperatures will not have risen that much and those rises that do take place will be as much to do with things such as the Pacific decade, oscillation and the natural changes that go on in the Earth, and we will wonder whether we were right to go down this path.
I will not give way any further. I have made my point. I will be supporting the Government, as much as anything else because I look at some of the people who are not supporting them and I realise that being in coalition, even being in the same party as people whom one can respect and admire but not always agree with, is all about a bit of give as well as a bit of take. So I will support the Government tonight, but I hope that the Minister will think about what we say and consider whether these policies might need amending in the light of further evidence about the relevance of temperature rises in the future.
I think the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) will be going home tonight and throwing all the contents of his fridge out, because he knows that he can go down to the shop to buy some more food tomorrow. Perhaps he might think about the wider externalities of saving energy and saving demand, because, among other things, having a good demand-side reduction policy means that we do not have to produce the new capacity that otherwise we might have in stream to meet our energy demand, as we would be using energy across the board much more efficiently. Whether or not one believes—he plainly does not—that anthropogenic climate change is a real and pressing issue, using our energy far more efficiently and making sure that those possibly unfundable, difficult-to-organise increases in capacity can be averted by doing so is a prize in its own right. That is the case whether or not one thinks this is intimately bound up with climate change, and I wish to dwell briefly on that precise point.
The Minister showered me with kind words, so he would not expect me to say anything unkind in return. It would be churlish of me, and I was not intending to do so. [Interruption.] There is no “but”. Instead of advocating, at great length, the amendment that I was pursuing on demand-side reduction, I wish to see whether we can unpack a little of some of the consequences of the Government proposals that have now been introduced. I warmly welcome those, and I know that the Minister had quite a hard time getting them to the table in their current form. Therefore, I very much welcome both the effort that has gone into introducing these provisions and their content. Essentially, the amendments would produce, through the right mechanism of capacity payments rather than contracts for difference, a serious method of addressing the question of demand-side reduction over a long period, but I would place a little question mark against that demand-side reduction capacity or anti-capacity being auctioned through the general capacity auction system. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) has mentioned, we know from experience elsewhere in the world that demand-side auction participants tend to be squeezed out of wider auctions on capacity when they participate.
If we are left with a mechanism that merely introduces the ring, as it were, to would-be boxers in the demand-side reduction auction world but does not go further than that to ensure that they can compete in the ring properly, the outcome might look good on paper but will not produce much change over the next period. I am, however, encouraged by the idea that there will be pilot auctions for demand-side reduction measures. I do not know whether the word “pilot” is meant to propose alternative routes to auctioning, which could considerably advantage demand-side reduction measures if they stand outside the overall capacity auction market as far as is possible, or whether they will just be pilots that set out the parameters for arrangements and are therefore limited in their ambition.
I freely accept that among the reasons for tabling my amendments was a wish to ask the Government to table some amendments and to suggest some that might do the job if they did not do so. However, the amendments also try to work out how such a de-capacity market might work. They would draw forward not just the auction but payments taken from the general capacity payments at an early date, in advance of a capacity auction, to ensure that the demand-side payments were auctioned or allocated at an early stage and before such an auction. Although a capacity auction is pretty certain to take place, under the legislation as it stands there is no guarantee that the Government will hold such an auction. The Government must look forward to see what the capacity constraints are likely to be over the next period and declare an auction on that basis and if it happens that the capacity constraints are not what was thought, the Government might decide to have a capacity auction later or not to have one at all.
I would be concerned if the question of demand-side reduction measures was lost because a capacity auction for demand was delayed or removed entirely as a result of those exigencies. The idea of separating out as far as possible the idea of either auctioning or allocating demand-side reduction measures within the overall capacity measures seems to me to have quite a strong measure of sense about it. As for the future, I would like the pilots mentioned by the Minister to fledge into a longer running version of a parallel market for demand-side reduction measures rather than simply leading to the opportunity to take part in the wider auction market, which, for the reasons I have outlined, might not lead to the sort of success that we all want for those measures once they have been put into place.
I hope that when the Minister brings forward more details of the pilots, he will give us a better understanding of what they might look like and whether they might work in the way that I described. If that is the line of thinking, I would be happy not to press my amendment to a Division.
I have been following the argument closely. Although we are not in a position to announce details today, our thinking is very much in tune with that of the hon. Gentleman, and we recognise the issues that he raises. We expect the capacity market to run in 2014, but we expect that, separate from that, piloted projects for energy demand reduction will be funded to help scale up the market, and in future we expect ring-fenced auctions, at least for a transitional period, for specific demand response and demand reduction projects.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. I am encouraged by the thinking that clearly is beginning to be done on what these things might look like. I wish the Minister luck when the Treasury realises that the pilots taking place on capacity payments may have more substance to them than the Treasury might think. I should not have said that, in case someone there reads the Hansard transcript of this debate! I am encouraged by the Minister’s response.
The other matter that I want to raise relates to amendment 47, which calls for the establishment of a green power auction market arrangement in wholesale and retail sales of energy. I want to spend a moment establishing why something like GPAM is so important. My amendment attempts to resolve, or at least to go some way to resolving, a very serious issue: the drying-up of opportunities for independent generators to establish reliable markets for their low-carbon generation once the renewables obligation comes to an end in the spring of 2017.
Hitherto, those independent generators have been able to secure power purchase agreements on the back of renewables obligation certificates, and to use those agreements effectively to bank their investments, so that they have the sort of market certainty that enables those investments to be funded because it is known that there is a stream of sale coming forward that will ensure that the investment is made and works well, as far as both the independent generator and the bank are concerned. With the arrival of contracts for difference, that simply will not be the case. Indeed, power purchase agreements for those people still undertaking RO arrangements before the end of the renewables obligation have already dwindled to virtually zero. In fact, only one company, as far as I know, is presently providing power purchase agreements.
Most independent generators, whether we are talking about onshore, offshore, or other forms of low-carbon generation, are already thinking, when it comes to their investment decisions, about CFDs rather than ROs, simply because of the time period over which those investments have to be considered. They cannot go back to the bank and say, “Can we have that investment on the basis of what we can demonstrate to you, in the absence of other financial credit lines, is a known supply line for our energy product?”
The outcome could be quite perverse, with regard to what the Bill’s intentions have always been. It was always the intention, with the contracts for difference, to try to bring a lot of new, different investment into the energy market, as well as independent generators of different sizes. It was also the intention to ensure that the vertical integration seen in recent years did not become the enemy of investment, or of small, independent operators and others trying to get into the market, but rather became its friend, as other entrants came into the market alongside larger generators.
If the outcome is that as a result of the Bill we further consolidate the vertical integration of the market rather than the opposite, that will be a perverse outcome relative to everything that the Bill was supposed to bring about. If we can get a mechanism similar to the green power auction market—if it quacks a bit like GPAM and walks a bit like GPAM—I would be happy with that. We need some mechanism that can ensure that independent generators are not captured by the very large companies and that they do not have to enter into such disadvantageous contracts that they will fail to make a living from the energy that they are trying to put into the market in the future.
As I understand it, small generators in some parts of the world, particularly America, are increasingly looking at crowd funding in order to get started. That is a new opportunity for finance, which some people are calling a new form of democratic capitalism that empowers local communities.
My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, there are companies in the UK, such as Ecotricity, which have not exactly involved themselves in crowd funding, but have engaged in bond arrangements for the development of their low-carbon power. Even if such a source of funding is available, if the deal for the subsequent sale of the energy is so disadvantaged by a contract for purchase that shaves off the reference price or makes arrangements that are extremely disadvantageous to the ability of that company to sell its energy into the market—while at the same time those potential purchasing companies take advantage of their vertical integration by providing routes to market for their own generation at different costs and under different arrangements—the future market will be very distorted indeed.
I welcome the Minister’s saying that the issue is being actively considered, that he understands the problem at the heart of the GPAM proposals, and that he is actively in dialogue with industry on possible routes to solutions. I look forward to proposals in another place to address the issues. It is essential that they are addressed before the Bill completes its passage, so that the market that we produce as a result of CFDs is fair for those participating in it and produces the varied and pluralistic market that we want for electricity generation, particularly low-carbon energy generation, in the future.
I want to say a few words about the amendments in my name, starting with new clause 2, which deals with the strategy for electricity demand reduction. The clause sets a clear ambition for 2020 and 2030, using figures published by DECC, alongside the electricity demand reduction consultation, and requires the Secretary of State to have policies that get us there.
I was a little disappointed that, in response to the amendments that I have tabled, the Minister on many occasions indicated warm sympathy but not action to achieve the aims. Willing the ends but not the means creates a nice warm fuzzy feeling, but does not change the menu of targets and strategies before us. That particularly matters when it comes to electricity demand reduction, because there is so much scope for doing so much more in this area. No matter how sympathetic we feel to that aim, however, unless the legislation is in place, we do not have the clarity, certainty or confidence that action will be taken. We have seen all too often how, in the absence of firm targets and strategies, Governments fail to put in place adequate polices or resources to achieve things. My worry is that in many respects elements of the Bill are more like a wish list than a strategy.
The Government’s own analysis shows that the UK could reduce demand for electricity by 36% by 2030, but current policies will capture only 13% of that. In other words, about 100 TWh of potential demand reduction is simply not being accessed by efficiency policies. It is also disappointing to see Ministers revise down their estimate of demand reduction potential in the DECC response to the consultation on reducing electricity demand, so we are left with no target for demand reduction and certainly no world-leading ambition, just a rather unambitious pilot.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to a report by McKinsey on DECC’s website, which sets out exactly how we can reduce electricity demand by 36% by 2030. That potential figure was properly referenced and much work has gone into identifying it—indeed, others have used a higher figure—but we are not even getting anywhere close to that at the moment.
The focus of my new clause is to say that that is not enough, given that those on both sides of the House, with the possible exception of the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), appear to agree that the most effective way to tackle fuel poverty and high energy bills is to reduce the overall amount of energy we need to keep our homes warm and to cut energy waste. The new clause is straightforward and complementary to amendments 39 to 41 on demand reduction regulations.
While energy demand reduction is a bit of a no-brainer, the Government’s current approach is failing. The latest shocking example is last week’s news that the number of homes installing cavity wall insulation has crashed by 97% since the introduction of the green deal. Quite incredulously, I can say that a DECC spokesman is quoted as saying that the early signs are encouraging. I wonder what Ministers would consider discouraging and alarming if a drop from almost 40,000 cavity wall insulations in April last year to 1,138 this April is not precisely that.
For the sake of existing energy efficiency businesses that are struggling in Brighton, Pavilion and elsewhere, for the sake of families paying huge bills due to poorly insulated homes, and for the sake of the huge number of jobs that could be created in every constituency across the UK, we urgently need a serious approach with suitable ambition, a plan to get there, and that is exactly what new clause 2 would achieve.
I tried to get cavity wall insulation and I was told that because of my brickwork I could not have it, although I would have thought that my type of house was ideal for it. Is it not that the rules are now being adhered to by companies, whereas before they were putting it in and a lot of houses were suffering from damp as a result?
Obviously, I am not deeply acquainted with the brickwork of the hon. Gentleman home, but I find it slightly surprising that the justification that he advanced would be responsible for such a dramatic reduction. I cannot believe that quite so many cavity wall insulations, down from 40,000 last year to just over 1,000 this year, could be as a result of its having been done badly in the past. There might have been an element of that, but there are some real concerns about the take-up of the green deal and the way in which it replaced some pretty good schemes instead of building on them.
New clause 3 is about community rights to priority access to local power generation and local grid ownership.
I apologise, I thought they were all wrapped up together in one happy family.
I am delighted that amendments 42 to 46 are supported by the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), so in recognition of that I will call them the amendments from Brighton and Hove. They are basically about decentralised energy, which was another area where the Minister said that he appreciated the direction but did not feel that action was necessary. I quote from “Power to the People—the Decentralised Energy Revolution”, a document from the Prime Minister himself:
“In other countries low carbon energy sources have led a process of decentralisation—in the Netherlands, for instance, in little more than a decade, combined heat and power (CHP) became the single largest supplier of the country’s energy needs.
I want to see a similar revolution happen in Britain.”
I want that too, but I do not see it happening unless we put the means in place. It is a real shame that that vision has gone the same way as the abandoned huskies—once hugged, now hated. Distributed generation is about producing and using energy locally.
I am delighted to hear the Minister say that. All I want to do is build on that wonderful beginning and make it go even faster with even more ambition. That is why I so hoped that he would support the amendments that go in exactly that direction. Seriously, I know that the Minister is deeply committed to the issue; I simply think that we could get there faster and with a bit more ambition by having a clearer strategy and focus.
Decentralised energy is not even formally defined in Government policy. I would have thought that it would be simpler if it were; that is one of the issues that my amendments would address. Of course, decentralised energy is already used in hospitals, schools, small towns and so forth, but its untapped potential remains vast. I cannot help thinking that if Ministers spent a fraction of the time promoting decentralised renewables that they spend promoting the nuclear industry, we might have a different kind of energy system today.
The amendments would create a new feed-in tariff scheme for distributed generation, with a maximum capacity limit of 50 MW. I am glad that I now understand the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger); I am delighted that the 10 MW was a bottom line rather than a top limit. The 50 MW was the level recommended by the Energy and Climate Change Committee and we should be more ambitious than the 5 MW that the Government currently foresee or the 10 MW ballpark figure from the official Opposition.
Finally, the amendments would require distribution network licence holders to play their part in facilitating decentralised energy. It is worth pointing out that a distributed generation feed-in tariff would involve no additional cost for consumers or the Treasury; it would simply provide an effective way for small generators to invest in electricity generation and participate in the market.
Again, the new clause is complementary to amendment 47 on a green power auction market and to Opposition amendment 1. I hope that the amendments can be taken together as a positive contribution to moving to decentralised energy in a swifter fashion.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead).
A year ago, my hon. Friend and I, along with my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), wrote in a paper called “The Power Book” about the potential for community energy. We argued that as the new energy industrial revolution unfolds in this country, future technologies, new sources of renewables and low-carbon energy have huge scope to challenge the existing market, help reshape the relationships between people and power providers and create new agents of delivery. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test, who has been pioneering such work for some years—for example, he has championed the district heating project in Southampton as an MP and former local council leader.
I also want to mention such projects as the Baywind energy co-op in the Lake District, Watchfield in south Oxfordshire and Brixton Energy. There are increasing numbers of inner-city providers of community energy.
However, we have to be honest. The scale of such projects in this country is small compared with other countries. We should look to America, for example. Some 42 million American citizens, the equivalent of two thirds of the population of this country, are members of energy co-ops. The German example is even more impressive. Since 1990, German citizens have had a legal right to be producers and suppliers of electricity to their grid system. The big step change came a decade ago when their Government introduced a system of preferential feed-in tariffs. That transformed an energy sector that once had only four major suppliers into one that now has over 2 million contributors. It also created 400,000 jobs and has lowered prices, year on year, over the past five years.
Across the UK, local councils are rising to the challenge of transforming the energy sector. I have followed community energy projects around the country and I have profiled projects in Stoke, Stevenage, Kirklees and Sheffield. I am particularly pleased to welcome Electric Corby, which was launched in my constituency on Friday. It is a not-for-profit community interest company formed with the support of the borough council to establish the UK’s leading practical community-scale test centre for future low-carbon living and transportation and to redistribute the benefits of its labours to the Corby community. As the Minister will know, Electric Corby is funded via DECC’s Cheaper Energy Together switching competition. We welcome that support, but it is very much a local initiative.
The hon. Gentleman is energetically outlining the case for the community initiatives that are taking place across the whole United Kingdom. Does he feel that these community initiatives will enable people to see that this is not being foisted on them because they have an opportunity to control the situation? That is why they are good, and they should have had a great start.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, who hits on the key point that this is about shifting the power in energy supply to give ordinary people a chance to say to the big six, “If you won’t give us a fair deal we can do this for ourselves in our local communities.”
Electric Corby is partly about enabling people to switch their energy provider, but it is wider and more ambitious than that. For example, it will involve an electric vehicle charging point infrastructure. I recently welcomed the shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), to Corby to see those electric charging points and other innovations in my constituency. In Priors Hall, a major development of 5,000 new homes has just begun, and there is smart metering and electric charging points across the whole development.
We are trying to lead in Corby, but I am concerned about the potential impact of this Bill. I particularly support amendment 1, which has been ably championed by my hon. Friend the shadow Minister. In Committee, the Government indicated that they were supportive of the amendment. That was welcome, and it was on that basis that it was withdrawn at that stage. We have heard some very warm words from the Minister today. He and I have previously spoken in the Chamber about energy policy. I know that he tries to listen and respond to good debate, as in Committee, but it is disappointing to find that he cannot offer something more substantive to the House in respect of amendment 1.
The purpose of amendment 1 is to raise the feed-in tariff threshold to benefit co-operative and community energy suppliers. Currently, the feed-in tariff is for projects of under 5 MW. That means that renewable developments of over 5 MW have to participate in the new contracts for difference. I share the concern that contracts for difference will raise the barriers to entry for the community energy projects that Members in all parts of the House have said that they support. The need for a higher degree of technical knowledge is one such barrier to entry. The contracts will mean that smaller generators will receive lower market prices for their power. With the end of the renewables obligation, there will no longer be an incentive for suppliers to purchase renewable energy from independent suppliers.
For those reasons, the feed-in tariff threshold should be raised to above 5 MW. I agree with the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion that we should be ambitious and raise it further, but the amendment would allow us to raise it to apply to schemes of above 10 MW. That would give smaller renewables projects a clear and certain route to market and enable us to promote the community-owned renewables sector.
I have to inform the hon. Gentleman that had I been a representative of the Solar Trade Association I would have declared an interest. I am sure that he and I can both read the briefings it supplies to this House. Indeed, he may wish to enlighten us about this; I will gladly give way if he wishes to do so.
I was surprised to hear about that. I have a letter from 15 organisations involved in the championing of community energy provision in this country, including the Centre for Sustainable Energy, the Forum for the Future, the National Trust, the Low Carbon Communities Network, the Communities Carbon Action Alliance, the Co-operative, Co-operatives UK and, indeed, the Co-operative party, which I represent in Parliament. They all believe that the Energy Bill’s measures will make it much more difficult to achieve the step change in the provision of community energy that I hope we all want to see.
This has been a very thoughtful debate. I am sorry that I have not been able to deliver everything that Members have sought, but I think there has been an unusual degree of consensus on the direction we are taking, our objectives and the Bill’s overall intent.
It is clear that we need to do more on independent generators. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) and I assure him that we are working to come up with an acceptable proposition to address the real concerns of independents about the barriers to markets they face, but in a proportionate way that makes sense. The green power auction market, as has been said, is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and we believe that we can navigate our way to that destination in an effective, proportionate way.
On community energy, a great deal unites us throughout the House. I have been campaigning for it since 2006, so I am sympathetic to calls to raise the feed-in tariff threshold. Now that we have reformed the feed-in tariff scheme—in the teeth of the Opposition—we can consider going further. The hon. Member for Corby (Andy Sawford) should not infer from the fact that we are unable to support amendment 1 that we are in any way set against the proposal. We are actively looking at it, but we need to think about the impact on all of the technologies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) said, the Solar Trade Association is opposed to it. I was slightly surprised by that, but if we consider just how big a 5 MW solar array is, perhaps we will conclude that it makes sense. It is the size, I think, of several football pitches, so 5 MW of solar is a significant installation. Concerns about the potential siting of inappropriate large-scale solar on greenfield prime agricultural land before our sustainability criteria are in place, rather than on where we want to see it, namely rooftops, brownfield sites, industrial sites, factories, warehouses and supermarket car parks—basically, integrated into the built environment wherever possible and certainly on non-agricultural land—could present certain problems. We need to think through the unintended consequences that raising the tariff threshold would have. On the surface it seems extremely desirable, but it will have further impacts.
We also need to think about how that relates to the renewables obligation. In the short term—for the next few years, at least—the alternative for community schemes will not be contracts for difference, but renewables obligation certificates, which are now, finally, after a series of improvements, being used and understood by the small player. However, we believe that in the longer term, even for the smaller-scale independent, contracts for difference will be a significant improvement. We are determined to make them work for small-scale and community players.
I hope Opposition Members take on board that the coalition has an unprecedented commitment to rolling out a distributed model of generation, and that the Government are taking steps to put that vision into reality. I am sure the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) is right that there is always more to do. We have not finished yet—it will take two or probably three terms of government to achieve our ambition—but in the Bill we have the foundations of a new, exciting, dynamic, secure, low-cost and low-carbon energy economy. I urge colleagues to support the Government’s amendments and urge Opposition Members not to press their amendments to a Division.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 11 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 12
Pilot scheme for electricity demand reduction
‘There may be paid out of money provided by Parliament expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State in connection with arrangements made—
(a) for the purpose of reducing demand for electricity, and
(b) wholly or partly for the purpose of determining provision to be included in electricity capacity regulations.’.—(Gregory Barker.)
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.
Direction to offer contract
Amendment proposed: 1, page 8, line 8, at end insert—
‘( ) Section 41(4)(a) of the Energy Act 2008 (“specified maximum capacity”) is amended as follows: “Specified maximum capacity” means the capacity specified by the Secretary of State by order, which must not be less than 10 megawatts.’.—(Luciana Berger.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, 3 June).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).
Power to make electricity capacity regulations
Amendment made: 100, in page 13, line 4, at end insert—
‘(3A) The provision which may be made about the meaning of “reducing demand for electricity” includes provision that reducing the consumption of electricity reduces demand for electricity.’.—(Gregory Barker.)
Amendment made: 135, page 102, line 30, after ‘operator’ insert
‘, a person or body on whom a function is conferred by virtue of section [Provision about electricity demand reduction]’.—(Gregory Barker.)
Queen’s and Prince of Wales’s consent signified.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Let me begin by thanking those from all parts of this House and outside who have helped to strengthen this crucial Bill and bring it to this point. I thank the Energy and Climate Change Committee and its Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo), and the informal scrutiny group in the other place for conducting invaluable pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill. I also thank the individuals who gave oral evidence to the Committee, as well as the organisations that took the time to provide expert written evidence and recommendations.
In particular—I think you will agree with me, Mr Speaker—I could not allow the Bill to leave this place without thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) for skilfully guiding the Bill through Committee. I am told that at one point in Committee he managed to compare himself to Henry VIII and Indiana Jones in the same breath—I am not sure whether he has told his wife. I for one salute his unique style in promoting renewables.
I also want to thank the Ministers of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change for their hard work. It would be remiss of me if I did not also mention my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry).
On the Opposition Benches, the hon. Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) have been skilful and insightful. I am grateful that they have applied the principles of constructive opposition to the Bill’s scrutiny rather than the principles of destructive opportunism, which are all too often applied in politics generally—by people of all political colours—but which are all too often not in the national interest. Let me take this opportunity to remind the House why the passage of the Bill is so important and so firmly in the national interest.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for thanking everyone for contributing to making the Bill stronger, but I wonder how he thinks that it has been made stronger, given that, as far as I can see, not a single Opposition amendment has been accepted, either in Committee or on Report.
The hon. Lady might not have noticed that the Government have responded to a lot of the debates and tabled a lot of amendments on everything from electricity demand reduction to decarbonisation. I will come to those amendments shortly.
Electricity market reform, which is at the centre of the Energy Bill, is the result of four imperatives: the need to power the country; the need to protect the planet; the need to insulate consumers from rising energy bills; and the need to get the economy moving. With demand for electricity set to increase, and around a fifth of our power plants set to close, we will need to attract £110 billion of new investment in electricity and grid infrastructure in this decade alone to ensure that we have enough reliable capacity to meet demand. The Energy Bill will do that.
The Climate Change Act 2008 commits the United Kingdom to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, so we need specifically to encourage investment in low-carbon energy generation: renewables, carbon capture and storage, and nuclear. The Energy Bill will do that. With global demand driving wholesale prices higher, and with that in turn driving domestic energy bills higher, we need to create a more diverse and competitive energy market to help to cushion consumers from volatile fossil fuel prices. We also need to ensure that they are getting the best deal from suppliers. The Energy Bill will do that.
By facing up to the need to invest in low-carbon energy infrastructure, we will support economic recovery too. The trebling of support under the levy control framework will mean £7.6 billion a year by 2020 to support low-carbon technologies, including infrastructure projects that are ready to go now, supporting jobs, supporting communities and providing prosperity. Projects worth over £8 billion are already in the planning pipeline. Electricity market reform could support as many as 250,000 jobs in the energy sector. The Energy Bill will support green growth. That is why I am pleased that the Bill, as strengthened in Committee and on Report, benefits from a general level of cross-party support in the House.
I want to reflect on some of the ways in which the Bill has been further strengthened in this House. Let me start by dealing with the decarbonisation target head on. No party in this House—not the Liberal Democrats, not the Conservatives, not Labour, not the nationalists, not even the Greens—had a commitment in its 2010 manifesto to set a 2030 decarbonisation target during this Parliament. Nor has any other country yet set a power sector decarbonisation target for 2030.
I can understand the argument that an early decarbonisation target could provide extra certainty for large, long-term projects in the UK power sector, particularly in the supply chain. However, there is also logic in the consistency of setting the decarbonisation target for 2030 at the same time as the fifth carbon budget, which is scheduled for 2016—still 14 years ahead of the target date. By comparison, the 2020 renewables target was set in 2008, just 12 years from its target date.
If anyone still doubts my commitment, or that of this Government, to decarbonisation, they should consider the decision that we have just made on the UK’s position for the EU’s 2030 greenhouse gas target. In the context of winning an ambitious global climate change treaty, we will be arguing for a 50% reduction target in the EU. That is the most ambitious position of any member state, and I am proud that this Government are leading the way on climate change action.
Let me turn to other areas of the Bill—first, to contracts for difference. Long-term electricity price stability will be provided through CFDs and will be a key part of the new low-carbon electricity market. As such, the Commons Committee quite rightly looked at the nature of the CFD counterparty body and made a number of recommendations. In response, the Government have clarified the Bill’s drafting to make the policy intention more explicit.
I am listening closely to the Secretary of State, but does he not share my slight concern about the CFDs that, as the Bill presumably leaves this House tonight to go to the other place, we still do not know basic details such as the strike price? Although that information has been promised on several occasions, we are now told that the delivery document may be published next month. We do not seem to be getting any nearer to getting this information.
We always said we would publish the document in July 2013, and we are on track to publish it in July 2013.
Accompanying the CFDs, the capacity market will ensure that sufficient reliable generating capacity is available to meet electricity demand as it increases over the next decade, but we are also looking at reining in demand. We have added measures on electricity demand reduction that for the first time can allow energy-saving projects to be able to compete with power stations for new investment—negawatts. Delivering through the capacity market can incentivise permanent reductions in demand at times when electricity is most expensive, allowing for a more direct trade-off between generation capacity and demand reduction. This is a radical approach that has been shown to work in international examples such as in forward capacity markets in the United States, and it is a major advance for the UK.
We acknowledge that many consumers are “feeling the pinch”, and we remain committed to doing everything we can to help. Let me be clear, however, that the main reason for rising energy bills is rising wholesale gas prices, which make up around half a typical household dual fuel bill. These prices are set on global markets and changes are driven by global events. This Bill paves the way for increased UK production of energy, which will help to reduce price rises from global markets.
As well as providing a more stable pricing environment and helping consumers to reduce their electricity demand, we introduced in Committee new provisions on domestic tariffs to ensure that all households will be able to get the best deal for their gas and electricity. These provisions will ensure that energy companies provide consumers with clear information about their tariffs and put them on the cheapest tariff that meets their preferences. These provisions will also ensure that there are fewer and simpler tariffs so that it is easier for consumers to shop around for the best deals across the market. Last year, Ofgem estimated that there were approximately 900 open tariffs. Under these proposals, each supplier will be allowed to offer a customer a maximum of four core tariffs for each fuel and meter type. We want to see a competitive retail market, where suppliers have to work hard to retain their existing customers and attract new customers.
These measures complement the new consumer redress measures already in the Bill, which ensure fairer outcomes for consumers by giving a new enforcement power to Ofgem. This power will enable Ofgem to require energy companies that have breached regulatory requirements directly to compensate consumers where they might otherwise not have done so. This is another step forward for energy consumers.
We have listened to the concerns raised throughout the passage of the Bill. Opposition Members have raised questions about transparency and accountability, and we have responded by amending the Bill further to ensure that it aligns with the Government’s principles in this area.
We remain committed to encouraging a more diverse and competitive energy market, and there are a number of related areas within the Bill that we will hope to consider further in the other place. As indicated in Committee, we will continue actively to consider raising the threshold for the small-scale feed-in tariff scheme from 5 MW to 10 MW, and the Government hope to respond to this issue in the other place. We are taking backstop powers in the Bill to enable the Government to intervene in the generating market, if needed, to improve liquidity and competition.
I am grateful to the House for taking the time to scrutinise and contribute to this Bill. The wide cross-party consensus we have achieved sends a strong signal to investors in the UK and investors globally. The UK is the place in the world to invest in low-carbon energy. We now have the opportunity to deliver a lasting framework for investment in the country’s energy infrastructure: delivering green jobs and green growth, securing a low-carbon energy future, and ensuring that consumers get a fair deal. I commend the Bill to the House.
Let me begin by paying tribute to my hon. Friends the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), who, with just a fraction of the resources and staffing available to Ministers, have done a first-rate job in debating the Bill. They have not only scrutinised it, but improved it.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) and for Hyndburn (Graham Jones), who have provided invaluable support for those on the Opposition Front Bench; to my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) and for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), who served on the Bill Committee; and to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson). They have all brought a great deal of expertise and experience to bear.
I thank the Ministers and officers in the Department. There have been some personnel changes on both fronts, but we have managed to get through the process. I thank the Secretary of State for the briefings that he facilitated with officials in his Department, as well as the Clerks and the ever-helpful staff in the Library, who have advised us on some of the finer points of detail and parliamentary procedure.
I made it clear on Second Reading that we would not oppose purely for opposition’s sake, and on that basis we have sought to find areas of agreement with the Government when that has been possible. We have supported the provisions to establish an office for nuclear regulation, as well as those relating to the Government pipeline and storage system and to offshore transmission systems.
As the Secretary of State has just said, Ministers have accepted some of our amendments, including those concerning the transparency of investment contracts and the structure of the counterparty under contracts for difference, and I welcome that. We have not yet managed to persuade them to accept amendments relating to other issues, such as carbon capture and storage, support for community energy and access to the market for independent renewable generators, but we have noted their commitment to considering our proposals, and we hope that colleagues in the other place will return to them.
The Secretary of State referred to the redress framework. We are disappointed by the rejection of amendments that would have ensured that consumers were compensated pound for pound and that compensation was paid in respect of any breach of the rules that came to light, because that has left a massive loophole. The best way of protecting consumers is not to provide a redress framework—much though we need that—but to prevent companies from ripping people off in the first place, and I am afraid that on that count the Bill falls badly short.
The Prime Minister told the House 12 times that he would force the energy companies, by law, to put everyone on the cheapest tariff, but, although the Bill consists of nearly 200 pages, not a single one of them contains legislation to put every customer on the cheapest tariff automatically, which is what the Prime Minister promised. Ultimately, unless the energy market is genuinely reformed through the wholesale side—as we have proposed—there will be nothing to prevent the energy companies from raising all their tariffs in any event.
Whenever I meet investors, the single most important thing that they tell me they want is certainty. They should gain confidence from our support for the substance of the Bill. When it comes to contracts for difference, there are clearly many important details still to be worked out, but, in principle, if CFDs are executed correctly, they should provide investors with long-term certainty, and we will therefore support them.
There are also many important details still to be worked out in regard to the capacity market, but in principle we believe that it could work, and have supported it. We also support the principle of an emissions performance standard, and welcome the commitment to reviewing it in five years’ time. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North said yesterday, we are concerned about the particular standard that the Government have chosen to adopt, and we hope that the other place will scrutinise it carefully.
That is some of the good news, but I must also be candid about where the Bill fails, and how we would s