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State Aid

Volume 572: debated on Wednesday 18 December 2013

The European Commission has today announced its decision to open an investigation into the state aid case for the proposed Hinkley Point C investment contract. I welcome the investigation and the consultation that will follow which will seek views to enable the Commission to make a legally robust decision. Such investigations on the part of the European Commission are a standard part of the process for interventions that are novel and complex and the raising of doubts, questions or concerns as part of this process is also to be expected. Indeed, this is what happened on the Royal Mail, property tax on telecommunications infrastructure and Nuclear Decommissioning Authority state aid cases, all of which were subject to investigations by the Commission and all of which were ultimately cleared by the Commission.

The European Commission’s decision represents another important step forward in progression of the state aid case for Hinkley. Alongside Royal Assent, today, of the Energy Bill and my Department’s publication tomorrow of the electricity market reform (EMR) delivery plan and revised version of the contracts for difference (CfDs) terms, this opening decision for Hinkley demonstrates excellent progress in delivering the Government’s EMR programme. Investment contracts, such as those proposed for Hinkley, are in effect early CfDs and, like CfDs, they are a market-oriented instrument designed to incentivise investment in new low-carbon generation while ensuring an appropriate allocation of risks between generators and consumers. This investment is needed at scale if the UK is to play its part in meeting the EU’s common security and diversity of supply and decarbonisation objectives, all at least cost to the consumer. EMR, taken together with our other energy interventions, for example in relation to energy efficiency and the pursuit of interconnectors with other member states, will help ensure that the UK is able to make its fullest contribution to achieving a single EU energy market.

The UK’s electricity market reforms are groundbreaking, with much of Europe following our progress with close interest. This is particularly so in the case of CfDs. CfDs are necessary given the current market failures and are an innovative intervention, with impacts on competition and trade limited to the very minimum required to ensure that security of supply and decarbonisation objectives can be achieved. For example, as set out in the commercial agreement on key terms for the proposed Hinkley Point C investment contract that I announced on 21 October this year, any contract awarded to EDF for Hinkley would include in-built mechanisms to prevent overcompensation. These include construction and refinancing gain shares and operating cost reviews taking place at 15 and 25 years into the contract term. Indeed, CfDs are less distortive and less generous to generators than some other interventions, which have previously been approved by the Commission.

We have already provided a substantial amount of information and evidence to the Commission to support its assessment of the Hinkley case and have been discussing the case and EMR more generally with the Commission for the past 18 months. I now look forward to considering the opening decision, and continued close engagement with the Commission on Hinkley and other EMR-related state aid cases. The Hinkley investigation will include a public consultation period during which third parties can provide views to the Commission and there will of course be opportunity for the UK Government to provide further evidence to the Commission on why the agreement we have reached with EDF is consistent with state aid rules under the European treaty.

I would encourage all interested stakeholders to participate in the consultation. Investment contracts and CfDs are a vital measure which the UK must implement in order to achieve its energy objectives and I have no doubt that we will be able to provide robust responses to any lines of inquiry which the Commission sets out as part of its opening decision on Hinkley.