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Capacity Market Auctions

Volume 605: debated on Thursday 11 February 2016

3. What changes she plans to make to the structure of capacity market auctions before the next auction round. (903586)

Security of supply is my No. 1 priority. The capacity market was put in place to ensure sufficient security of electricity supply. It supports existing technically reliable plants to remain in the market and, as coal and other ageing plants retire, it will enable new plants to be financed and built, securing our energy supplies for the future. Following the capacity market auction conducted at the end of last year, I have been considering whether any changes are needed, and I hope to be able to announce my conclusions shortly and to undertake any consultation quickly if we decide that any regulatory changes are needed.

Is the Secretary of State concerned that the latest capacity market option is having the unintended consequence of undermining capacity, as unfavoured power stations are mothballed or closed? Can the Government be certain that they can maintain security of electricity supply while reducing investment in the solar industry?

I do not share the hon. Lady’s views. The whole purpose of the capacity market is to guarantee security three or four years out and that is exactly what we are delivering. As I said earlier, however, having had two capacity auctions so far, we will be reviewing how we can improve so that the third delivers even more certain security going forward.

I am pleased to hear that the Secretary of State is willing to look again at the way the capacity market works to encourage cleaner forms of energy rather than a reliance on fuels such as diesel, which, sadly, was a large beneficiary of the latest round. Will she give us a timescale for when the new proposals will come forward?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question, which gives me the opportunity to point out that diesel was in fact 1.5% of the capacity market—a very small amount. However, it is absolutely essential to make sure that we have no risk at all to security, which is why diesel was included at that stage. I cannot give him an exact timeline, but I can say we are working on it intently at the moment and will be coming forward with proposals shortly.

Will the right hon. Lady look to make changes to the capacity market, so that battery energy storage can compete and provide an alternative to thermal generation? Will she also look at final consumption levies that are affecting battery storage, because battery storage is not, of course, final consumption? It is just storage.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and share his enthusiasm for storage. We are at the moment working with Ofgem to address how we can best encourage it within a secure regulatory environment. I cannot at this point say whether it will be within the capacity market, but that is certainly one of the considerations we will be looking at.

It is with sadness that I stand here without Harry Harpham in his familiar place. He was my Parliamentary Private Secretary and a much-loved and valued member of the shadow Energy team. Owing to his background, Harry never let us forget that energy is about people. Last month, he told the Yorkshire Post that he would be the last deep coalminer elected to this place. Our promise to Harry is to ensure that the voice of working people remains at the heart of the energy debate. I will miss him enormously. We will never, ever forget him.

The capacity market was supposed to bring forward new investment in gas power stations and ensure that we have enough back-up power stations in case of a power crunch. We know that it has failed on the first count. Now, one of the companies contracted to provide back-up capacity, SSE, has pulled the Fiddlers Ferry power station out of the scheme, throwing the Government’s entire policy into doubt. Will the Secretary of State give the House a guarantee that no other power stations will pull out?

Before I answer that question, I join the hon. Lady in sharing our condolences from the Conservative Benches on the sad loss of Harry, her friend and able Labour Member of Parliament.

On the capacity market, I reassure the hon. Lady that we are looking at it again to ensure that it delivers the mix of sources. As far as losing old power stations is concerned, she is as aware as I am that these are very old power stations and that it is not surprising that some of them are closing. In our plans for capacity and in our discussions to ensure security, we always plan for a certain amount of closures. We do not feel it is a threat to security of supply, but we take nothing for granted and will never be complacent. We will always make sure we have a secure supply.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Unfortunately, it is not the answer to the question I asked her. No new gas stations have come on stream since the Prime Minister took office. The final investment decision on Hinkley has been delayed yet again. Analysts said recently that renewables investment is about to fall off a cliff. I ask the Secretary of State again: can she confirm that no other power stations will pull out of this scheme?

I simply do not recognise the picture the hon. Lady portrays. It is, of course, a bit rich for Labour to point that out when it has absolutely no record of planning for the future. We are the Government who are delivering the first nuclear power station. We are the Government who are taking the difficult choices for the next 10 to 15 years. I remind the hon. Lady that the Carrington closed cycle is going to start this year.

The hon. Gentleman says one. That is, of course, more than the zero to which his hon. Friend referred. This is exactly why we will be looking at the capacity market again, to ensure it delivers new gas.