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Energy Bill

Volume 747: debated on Tuesday 16 July 2013

Committee (5th Day)

Amendment 51B

Moved by

51B: After Clause 136, insert the following new Clause—

“Long-term energy policyEnergy Investment Advisory Board

(1) There shall be body corporate known as the Energy Investment Advisory Board.

(2) The role of the Board shall be—

(a) to take a panoramic and long-term view of the country’s energy needs and opportunities;(b) to provide Parliament and Ministers in the department responsible for energy with advice in implementing Government policy objectives for energy, that advice based on the continuity and experience of its members.(3) The remit of the Board would include all energy matters including generation, distribution, energy storage, inter-connectors, and new energy sources and include implementation of the reformed energy market and early recognition of unforeseen problems.

(4) The Board should report annually to Parliament and the minutes of its meeting should be published.

(5) The Board should comprise four or five expert members appointed for their experience in or knowledge of the energy industries with the relevant Permanent Secretary in attendance; they should serve for staggered terms of five or seven years; and the Secretary of State and Minister of State for Energy may attend meetings of the Board at their discretion.”

My Lords, I think we can all agree that our energy system is a vital part of our infrastructure. It is a part that is technically and commercially complex, and it is long-term. It is slow to build but, when we have built it, it tends to last for 40, 50 or even 60 years.

Clearly it is for the Government to set objectives for energy infrastructure, but implementation strategy depends on expertise, experience and continuity at a high level within the department. Unfortunately, that is not something that is readily available at present. It is partly because there has been relatively quick changeover of Ministers in the past decade or so. Also, at a high level, among officials in the Civil Service, we have very capable people who move from department to department but are not specialists. This means that others in the department, who are working hard, lack a coherence of view that could come from an expert and experienced top-level group.

The complexity of an energy system is perhaps hard to explain to those who may not be fully familiar with it. However, in my judgment, it is probably more complicated than, for example, designing an aircraft engine. Who would like to fly in an aircraft whose engines had been designed by intelligent people working on the basis of consultants’ reports and public consultations but who had never done it before? This is, in essence, what we are doing with energy policy in general and, I might comment, with this Bill in particular.

I have suggested a solution to this problem. I will not elaborate on the problem, which I did at Second Reading. The solution I put forward may or may not be the right one, but I propose that we have an energy investment advisory board which, above all, brings continuity at a high level to departmental strategy. It would comprise people of commercial and technical experience and, most importantly, it would report to Parliament. This could be a very valuable resource for Ministers. It is the kind of body that could see problems coming ahead of time in a way that typically does not happen today. It could see implications across the system for a decision here and a consequence there. It could look at generation, transmission, interconnectors and energy storage right across the spectrum, not to mention the markets and market interactions. Reporting to Parliament would be extremely important because it would give Parliament confidence that this piece of infrastructure was being properly looked after.

Those who feel unable to support this proposal have three choices. One is to say that there is no problem. In that case, I refer them to Power Politics, the slim volume published in 2011 by the noble Lord, Lord Tombs. In it, he describes decades of struggling with bureaucracy over industrial strategies and the energy industry, and he is trenchant, indeed mordant, in his criticism of the present system. If people do not like that, they might look at the London School of Economics Growth Commission’s report on infrastructure, which comes to very similar conclusions. Alternatively, they might look no further than the pre-legislative scrutiny group of this House, which I had the honour to chair informally and which was extremely critical of the current situation. It is, therefore, hard to make a case for saying there is no problem.

A second option is to say, “Yes, there is a problem but we’re going to deal with it differently”. That would be great, as long as it is actually dealt with. However, it cannot be dealt with in the way that the Minister suggested in her reply to my Second Reading speech, in which she said that in the department there are lots of consultative groups helping the Government with EMR. That is not really what this is about; it is about something much more long-term and strategic.

Finally, it would be possible for the Government to say that they think that this, although perhaps not precisely right, is a possible way forward and that they are prepared to sit down and discuss ways of tackling the problem. Perhaps over the summer or before Report stage, an amendment could be introduced. It would need a degree of cross-party support and, indeed, there is significant expertise in this area—way beyond mine—on the Cross Benches.

This is an important area, and there is now an opportunity to deal with it. I am sure the Government would rather not deal with something such as this at the moment, but in one sense this is both the worst and the best of times, given that we face the problems arising from the lack of a body like this. I beg to move.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, who moved his amendment with great clarity and force, has discussed this with me, and I was a member of the informal group that he chaired on the draft Energy Bill.

I, too, at Second Reading reflected the increasing anxiety in this country over the security of supply over the next four to five years. Since then, the latest Ofgem capacity assessment report has confirmed the fears that we face several years of very low margins. This has been widely interpreted as posing a distinct risk of interruption to supplies. You need only two major power stations to go out of commission for even a few hours—as happened a few years ago with Sizewell B and Longannet—to create considerable alarm as to whether we have enough. If that happened again in a year or two years’ time, we would be in very serious difficulties.

This is what lies at the heart of the noble Lord’s amendment, to which I was very pleased to add my name: how on earth have we managed to get into such a perilous position? Is it something in the current structure of the electricity industry or in the current attitudes of the departments in charge? As the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, suggested, is it to do with the experience and expertise of those whose job it is to advise Ministers? Which of these has led to this difficult situation—or is it all of them?

I will draw a parallel. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, and I were both co-opted on to the Science and Technology Committee to look at the capacity of the nuclear industry in this country for research and development. It is not an overstatement to say that we were dismayed by the very poor level of understanding among DECC Ministers and most of the officials who gave evidence to us. Happily, they appear to have read our report but some of the solutions remain to be worked out. This is not the occasion to go into the details of that but the experience convinced me that something has to change if we are not to face similar failures in the future.

Last month, my attention was caught by an article in the Financial Times by Professor Anthony King, who is, I have to say, a good friend of mine, and for whom I have a great deal of admiration. His sub-headline was:

“British government is no Rolls-Royce. It is barely motorised”.

He went on:

“British government used to be regarded as one of the wonders of the world: intelligent, decisive and sensible, with democratically elected leaders supported by a Rolls-Royce civil service”.

A lot of people think it is still like that, but he said that the only possible response to that attitude is,

“that of John McEnroe addressing a harassed Wimbledon umpire: ‘You cannot be serious’.”.

He then analysed what has happened. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, mentioned some of that. I particularly want to draw attention to what Professor King called,

“the resulting loss of institutional memory”,

which he described as “immense”. It used to be said that the Civil Service is the memory of the Government, in many cases going back not just decades but centuries. I have a horrid feeling that that is no longer so. Perhaps that is why we are where we are.

Turning to the issues before us, tributes have been paid, quite rightly, to my noble friend the Minister and the Bill team for their strenuous efforts to help us to get to grips with this very complex piece of legislation. Without them, we would have been in some difficulty. Thanks to the work of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, to which my noble friend Lord Roper drew our attention at a previous sitting, we have now been given a glimpse of just how much of a policy that is supposed to be enshrined in the Bill is left to regulations, which are still being drafted or in many cases are still being worked out.

I spent part of the weekend reading the DPRRC memorandum on Part 2 of the Bill. It sets out the position in lurid detail: 60 pages of descriptive material, complex tables of content and timetables, and nine detailed annexes. It filled me with a dreadful sense of foreboding. How can anyone possibly be sure that that will all work or even that it will be ready in time?

My noble friend will no doubt, as she did at Second Reading, give a description—but I hope a fuller one on this occasion—of the plethora of consultants’ reports, advisory groups and expert panels on which the department relies for advice on developing the very complex electricity market reform that is embodied in the Bill. I will certainly listen very carefully to what she has to say but I must warn her that she faces an uphill task in persuading us that Ministers have all the advice that they need and ought to have. I ask again: how is it, after years of taking all this advice from consultants, panels and experts, that over the next two or three years we face the possibility of cuts? To put it crudely, this country is not replacing the generating capacity that is being closed down. I gave a list of the stations that have been closed since only last December when I spoke at Second Reading.

The other document that I studied over the weekend, and perhaps should have looked at earlier, is the one to which the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, referred: Investing in Prosperity, the report prepared jointly by the LSE Growth Commission and the Institute for Government. That is indeed a very interesting and authoritative document, and a number of our colleagues in this House were part of its preparation, notably the noble Lords, Lord Browne of Madingley and Lord Stern, as were a number of other distinguished names who may eventually turn up in this House. It is a very distinguished report and it covers the whole range of infrastructure investment that this country needs if it is to secure growth. Of course, it also pays attention to energy and just one sentence on page 23 reinforces what the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, has said. It states:

“Successive UK governments have failed to deliver stable, credible long term policy/regulatory environments that are capable of attracting private investment in the scale and manner required to meet these challenges”.

That is exactly the situation that we appear to be facing. Very few people are investing in anything at the moment—there may be a variety of reasons for that—and I have discussed this with some of the companies involved. What the commission therefore recommends is an infrastructure strategy board, which I have to say closely resembles the EIAB that is set out in the noble Lord’s amendment.

By drawing attention to it in this way, I do not want to be thought to be endorsing every proposal of the growth commission. However, three characteristics are absolutely essential. First, the board must be a top-level, expert, highly experienced body of people, whose views and authority will be unquestioned by the great majority of people. Secondly, it has to be advisory. It cannot be executive; a body of that sort, which is in no way accountable to Ministers, cannot actually run things. It is an advisory body; it must take a long-term perspective and it should report both to Parliament and to Ministers. Finally, decisions must be taken by Ministers, who are accountable to Parliament.

Those are the characteristics that we would have to have for the sort of authoritative advisory board that the amendment calls for. I hope my noble friend, with whom I discussed this briefly, will not dismiss this proposed new clause out of hand. I envisage that the opportunity offered by the Recess would allow for a full discussion between members of this group, and perhaps others, and the department, to see how we could get ourselves out of this situation that successive Governments over several years, perhaps decades, have landed us in. What is wrong with the system that must change? Does this offer a solution? I believe that it does.

As the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, has suggested, we would then be able to bring back an appropriate amendment on Report in October. We have plenty of time to do that. This does not need to be rejected immediately out of hand. If that is what my noble friend on the Front Bench is going to offer, she owes it to this Committee to answer the question of how we will get ourselves out of what seems to be a very perilous situation. That is what we are looking at. This may offer a solution and I warmly support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh.

My Lords, I support this amendment. I will not repeat the much more eloquently phrased words of my noble friend Lord Oxburgh and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. All that I should like to say is that power generation is a long-term game. From start to finish, a major power plant takes between seven and, let us say, 12 years to get from conception to being able to produce power. For instance, Hinkley Point C, which is in my county of Somerset, has already been on the planning board for 10 years and probably has another nine or 10 years to go before it takes off—if it does take off—and produces any power.

However, Parliaments last for five years and Ministers almost certainly last for even less time. I notice that the current Secretary of State seems to be saying that there will be no power cuts in 2016. It is extremely likely that he will not be there in 2016 to lose face if there are any power cuts, or not to lose face if there are none. Meanwhile, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has put much more eloquently than I could, civil servants seem to come and go, seemingly without the baton being passed between them. No one is playing the long-term game. Therefore, this amendment is much needed because never again must we find ourselves drifting into the abyss of potential power cuts.

My Lords, this is the first occasion on which I have spoken on this Bill, although during the Queen’s Speech debate, I made remarks very similar to those made by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, and others about the crisis that we face in the energy industry. On this occasion, I am prompted to rise for three reasons, all of which involve personal experience. The first has already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Jenkin. He served with me and the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, on the Science and Technology Committee, which looked at nuclear research and development. As he said, it was one of the most dismal experiences that many of us have had.

In our report, we spoke of the extraordinary discrepancy between, on the one hand, the view of some senior government officials and the Secretary of State and, on the other, the views of independent experts from academia, industry, nuclear agencies, the regulator and the Government’s own advisers. A fundamental change in the Government’s approach to nuclear R&D is needed. We went on to recommend an R&D road map and an R&D board. As my noble friend has already pointed out, it must be said that the Government went a good way to meeting a great many of our recommendations. Although they did not set up the advisory board in quite the way we proposed, as a quango, they did set up a body under the chief scientist armed with the advice of experts of just the kind that we were suggesting, with the power and duty to report in public and to make recommendations. On that particular issue, we have made progress. There is a considerable similarity between the recommendations that we made on that occasion and the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, has tabled: essentially, we need an independent expert body, not just to advise the Government but to advise them in public and on the record so that Parliament is aware of what is going on and can take some action accordingly.

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of advice given publicly. Reference has already been made to the plethora of consultancies. I have some knowledge about the work of these consultancies; I have good contacts with those who give advice in this field to the Government, and indeed to Governments around the world. One prominent firm says that it now dreads being asked to give advice to DECC because it realises that that will involve a great waste of time. What happens is something like this: the department is faced with difficult problems; there is a lack of long-term continuity and expertise, as well described by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh; and there is the agonised fear among the officials involved that they may be held responsible for any advice given to Ministers that turns out to be faulty, so they commission a consultancy. At long last and after due deliberation, the consultancy firm produces a report, which causes perhaps even greater consternation within the department because it actually gives advice and makes recommendations. Officials then think to themselves, “This is even more dangerous because this advice looks potentially extremely worrying, and we may be blamed even more for what we do”, and the whole thing goes on. Sometimes yet another consultancy is called in and the whole department gets bogged down in a sort of quagmire.

I know that the Government say that they are doing something about this. I am a member of the Constitution Committee and when the Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right honourable friend Francis Maude, came before us, I raised this issue with him. He said, Oh yes, of course we are aware that there has been a problem of this kind. We are aware that there are far too many consultancies and that the whole system is getting bogged down, but we are doing something about it. We are taking action, and it’s no longer going to happen. I wish I thought that was true, but I fear that it is not. It is therefore vital that we take steps to ensure that consultancy advice is given by real experts from outside the department, and given publicly.

In this context, I happened to notice in Country Life of 3 August an editorial on the setting up of the new arrangements for English Heritage and the so-called National Heritage Protection Service, which is taking over the principal advisory role to government. The leading article asks: who is effectively to argue its case? If heritage protection is to have any teeth at all, the article says, it now needs to return to the ministry. I cannot think of a more disastrous piece of advice. It is quite certain that if that happened, that would be the last that we heard of the advice, which would be lost for ever in the maw of government, and the work of English Heritage would be almost forgotten.

I have some personal experience of all this, because—it seems a long time ago—I was asked by Nick Ridley, an outstanding Secretary of State for the Environment, to set up the National Rivers Authority advisory committee to advise government on how the privatisation programme should go forward and the new regulatory system be set up. We worked for a year and then the committee that I had set up was transformed into the first board.

I had the huge privilege of chairing a committee of unrivalled expertise in its field. The quality of the advice that was given could not have been higher. In every aspect of the water environment, I had people on that board who knew infinitely more than any official and certainly more than any Ministers in the department. We gave that advice publicly and fearlessly. We understood perfectly well that Ministers might reject it. I wrote subsequently:

“Alongside these relationships with the public, I had to establish a new relationship with government. On the one hand, this involved presenting clear advice based on sound science and the best professional judgement, even if that advice might be uncomfortable for the government of the day, and on the other acknowledging that ministers answerable to Parliament have wider responsibilities which might lead them to overrule that advice or vary what we proposed. In the early years, we were much assisted by the way in which ministers encouraged this approach and respected our position”.

The only difficulty was that, even in that situation, the machinery of government ground exceeding slow. I give one example. It was government policy and part of the legislation that we should have statutory water quality objectives, and those were combined with the system of catchment management that we had designed. It was all agreed by government, but it took six years, longer than the duration of either of the world wars, for our first six pilot schemes to be approved by Ministers. That is probably fast progress compared with some of the progress made in recent years in the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

It is argued by some, just as it was argued in Country Life, that we would have greater influence on government policy-making if we submitted more of our advice in private. I wrote in the book in which I recorded the history of these events:

“I do not believe for one moment that is true, although certainly some ministers and officials might have found it a more comfortable approach. An agency that acts in that way will quickly lose the public respect and support that was such an important factor in our success. Ministers must have the final word because they have wider responsibilities than any agency; but it also takes two to tango. Ministers must be prepared to listen, whether the advice is given in public or in private. Most of the ministers with whom I had to deal as chairman welcomed our approach”.

That is an example and a precedent that the Minister and her colleagues in the department would be very wise to follow. It is a good precedent. Indeed, the precedent of the Nuclear Research and Development Advisory Board is another good precedent. Therefore, we are not breaking entirely new ground; we are merely saying that it needs to be done if we are to emerge with any sense of urgency from the real crisis that confronts us.

I hope that, as the my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding has said, the Government will therefore think very carefully about the amendment and not reject it out of hand. The only change that I would make to it would be to increase the numbers involved. I do not think that four or five members are sufficient to provide the breadth of expertise needed. Of course boards should not be too big to be manageable and effective; nobody knows that better than the noble Lord. However, four or five, when we are looking for expertise right across the energy field, including the economic aspects, is not enough. With that one exception, I warmly commend this amendment, and I hope the Government will listen very carefully to what is being said.

My Lords, I apologise to the Committee for missing the first couple of sentences of the introducer’s speech. I rise only to say that if the Minister were to suggest that there might be some contradiction between the work of the Committee on Climate Change—I declare my interest as its chair—and the work of this group, I would disagree. What is suggested here is an important part of the programme. One of the difficulties is that the Committee on Climate Change is asked to think forward to 2050, to ensure that Britain is able to reduce its emissions by 80%, and yet the necessary mechanisms for delivering that target often operate on a much shorter timescale. Indeed, the two most important proposals that are, or are likely to be, before this Committee, are both about that long-term timescale.

It is quite impossible to imagine a sensible parameter within which people can invest in the necessary improvements in our energy supply that does not go beyond 2020, which is why we propose a carbon intensity target for 2030. It is not possible, either, to continue with a situation in which we spend so little time thinking far enough ahead. My noble friend the Minister will not have had encouragement in this area, particularly from those concerned to ensure that there are no restrictions on what the Treasury may decide. The real problem is that that means the Treasury does not have a say in the long term, because in the long term these decisions are either made or they are not made at all.

My noble friend Lord Jenkin, who again contributed so much of value to this Committee, asked why—this may seem an unfair point, but I make it because it is burnt into me—in that terrible first energy White Paper of the previous Government, every single date was removed except 2050. In other words, every date to which any civil servant, or any Minister, could possibly have been held accountable, was removed—and we know that they were all in to start with. I remember that the White Paper answered none of our problems, because, for example, it would not even face up to the issue of nuclear generation.

If my noble friend looks for a reason, it is the whole of that White Paper and, above all, the attitudes that surrounded it. I do not blame the party opposite for that, although it might have put it right. I blame the whole atmosphere, which was that you must not nail your colours to any mast lest that ship did not sail in the hoped-for direction; you must never be tough about the decisions to be made because you might not turn out to be 100% right. This is the real issue my noble friend raised when he asked about the nature of the governmental process in Britain. Rolls-Royces work only when you have not only covered all the details and very small issues but forecast what the market will be like in five, 10 and 15 years’ time. It does not happen if you work on the basis of a day-to-day operation. I am afraid that we have become the kind of nation that finds it very hard to make long-term decisions. There is an awful phrase about selection, suggesting that we should not back particular solutions. If you do not back anything, you do not get anything in this long-term process. The reason that most people in government do not want to back things is because they are afraid that someone will hold them in some sense liable for it.

I therefore finish by expressing my deep concern that the British have become believers that if you do not do something, that is not a real decision—that real decisions mean doing things. It seems that we all have to learn again that not doing something can be just as serious a decision, with just as much of a long-term effect, as doing something. Yet we have built a system whereby the phrase, “Better not, Minister”, is heard more often than any other. I hope that when I was a Minister I made it clear that it was the one phrase that would never result in the response that was hoped for. My father taught me that there was no point in saying to him, “I want so-and-so because everyone else has it”. That meant I would never get it. I always wanted a cap-bomb, I remember, but I was never allowed it on the basis that I once said that everyone else at school had one. That meant I never had it. “Better not, Minister” is one of those phrases to which all Ministers ought to say, “That means we have to find a different answer from the one you are proposing”. I hope that my noble friend will take seriously the concerns that we all have about the fact that our system does not meet the demands of an energy programme that takes 20 years before anything comes to real fruition.

My Lords, I must first apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, for also having arrived a minute after he started. I admit that I am a sceptic about the amendment, but I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Crickhowell about consultants. For a very short period I was a consultant. Some of my best assignments were when we went into an organisation, they told us who to talk to—probably somewhere near the factory floor—we did so, they told us what we needed to do and then we told senior management what to do. They agreed, and it was a fantastic solution. All they really needed to do was talk to their own staff. They even knew that, but they did not have the credibility as management to do it. There are many lessons there.

There is another British disease, beyond what my noble friend Lord Deben and the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, have described: when there is a problem, you add another layer to the organisation without solving the fundamental problem. I have seen it in business and I have seen it in government. You do not have the guts, knowledge, determination and maybe the time to fix the real problem, so what do you do? You invent something else. When I used to deal with one of the world’s disasters, the common fisheries policy, they started off with quotas when they had a problem. They then started decommissioning, because that was not good enough. When decommissioning did not work, they introduced days at sea. When that did not work, they gave up for 10 years and finally decided to try another tack, which may give us the answer.

In Europe, when something is not quite right, they invent another body, such as the Committee of the Regions. That is an advisory committee, and I always get even more concerned when these organisations are advisory. If they have executive power, that means that you are putting your money where your mouth is: you are putting your belief behind an organisation and saying, “Yes, get on with it. We weren’t good enough. You go and do it”. At that point, you show commitment and it tends to prove that there is a real problem.

Perhaps I may remind the noble Lord of the regional advisory committees. Certainly, the North Sea RAC is probably one of the greatest successes of the common fisheries policy in the past 10 years. It really has worked.

The noble Lord was talking about the common fisheries policy. The North Sea regional advisory committee has been a huge success, and probably is the greatest success, of the common fisheries policy in the past 10 years.

I absolutely agree that there are places for advisory boards. There are examples of where that works and I am a member of some advisory boards. However, they tend not to do quite what I believe this body is around to do. I accept much, although not all, of the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. The issue is that we have to get a much better way of governing at department level. We probably have to reform how the Civil Service works in terms of corporate memory. I have spent much of my life in the private sector and my experience is that its corporate memory is probably far worse than that of government. Perhaps it is not true of some in the oil and energy industries, but certainly in many industries there is not a lot of corporate knowledge. Certainly, there is no more than there is in government departments.

It may have been more of an executive authority but in the rail industry, which perhaps has similar levels or timeframes for investment, the Strategic Rail Authority was brought into existence by the previous Government and abolished because it did not work in relation to departments. Ultimately, departments had to take control. Of course, we have now seen problems with franchising but I do not think that the SRA was the answer to that.

Another area in which I would criticise the detail of this amendment is that the list of areas it looks at avoids energy efficiency and demand management, which are fundamental parts of how we think about the economy. Although I agree that it could be varied in the way it is written, from the description of this committee, I worry that it will again look particularly at building or planning energy in terms of capacity and generating capacity. It is interesting and dispiriting that two weeks ago, when the National Grid asked for tenders for demand reduction and for the demand-side response to looking at the future possible energy crisis, there was generally a very negative reaction from the press and wider than that. That is exactly how we should look at this area. We should not necessarily look at planning for more and more plant, although that would be part of it, but look at the demand side as well.

As regards why we are in the situation we are, I suspect that we will get through it although I entirely accept that the margins are less than we would want them to be. Through the Climate Change Act and the whole area of the climate change challenge, we have changed direction quite substantially in what we expect our generating and our energy industries to do. With not a U-turn but certainly a 45-degree turn on what we expect from our generating industry, it does not necessarily surprise me that, through that policy change in areas where there are long gestation periods in investment and planning, we have this difficulty at the moment. That is not necessarily a function of the way in which government works—necessarily imperfect though it is.

My noble friend Lord Deben mentioned the climate change committee. To me, that is the most important committee in this area by far. It may not be a complete substitute and it clearly is not for the energy side, but the Government really need to take notice of it. On the broader agenda, the climate change committee as set up and put into legislation is a good way of doing it. In terms of infrastructure planning, the case is far from proven.

Before the noble Lord sits down, I am not clear from what he said whether or not thinks there is a problem. If he thinks there is, precisely what does he propose the Government do about it and on what timescale?

No, absolutely. First, this will not solve the problem that we have. There is not time to solve the problem that the noble Lord outlines to this Committee. As he said in his speech, given the timescales involved, we are already too late. What we are trying to do here is to mend the future. I think I said that what I felt should be done was not to add another layer but to fix the way in which the Government and the Civil Service work within departments. To me, that is the challenge, rather than putting a sticking plaster over the top.

My Lords, my noble friend knows that I do not agree with all the views that he has just put forward on this amendment; indeed, I have my name to the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, has already moved. As the Committee will know, unlike others present I have extremely little experience of this matter. However, I believe that this as an additional body would be value added to the way in which the decision was made.

I came to that conclusion three weeks ago. I was having lunch in the Home Room and found myself opposite the noble Lord, Lord Tombs. I was talking to him about the Energy Bill and indeed this Committee, and mentioned the proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. He said, “Yes, the reason I am not really taking any part in the Committee is that I have been trying to solve that problem for a very long time and have never got anywhere with it. I had a number of debates every year in this House from 2002 to 2009 in which I argued for something similar, but never got anywhere”.

He then recommended that I should read his book Power Politics, which I did the following weekend. Having read it, I realise the problem that the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, set out: the lack of any long-term understanding of the problem by Ministers who, on the whole, spend a relatively short period dealing with these issues; and the fact that it is in the nature of the Civil Service that there is no specialised knowledge of both the economic and technical aspects of the industry’s problems. I believe that, as the noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Jenkin have said, this would be a significant addition to the way in which the real problems to which my noble friend has referred would have a better chance of being solved. I therefore hope that the Minister will be able to give a favourable response to what I think is an important idea.

My Lords, I will not take very long. I do not have the remotest idea what the Minister is going to say. Whether or not she finds what I say encouraging remains to be seen.

I have a concern about the amendment. I find it very difficult to believe that there has not been an increasing awareness of this problem over the past 15 or 20 years—indeed, almost a crescendo, rising nowadays to virtually a scream—on just this subject. It has been there all the time. Now we are talking about putting in another body that would be publishing its advice in public and so on. In the end, though, only one thing will matter and that is decision. No one has suggested anything that will take the decision away from the relevant Ministers. They have to face that fact.

If this were happening in the commercial world, a good many people in this field would have lost their jobs long ago. Unfortunately, that does not happen to Ministers. Still, that is what is going to have to happen. In the end, the Ministers in the department will have to make their minds up.

I have almost got to the point where I do not care what they decide so long as they decide something. If they make a wrong decision you can do something about it, but the one thing you can never do anything about is no decision at all—it is impossible—and that is what we have been forced to live with for a very long time.

As I was so impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, on this issue at Second Reading, I feel emboldened to speak to his amendment even though I did not hear how he introduced it and I apologise for having come late. As an ex-Permanent Secretary, I strongly disagree with the advice just offered. My watchword was from Hilaire Belloc, who wrote:

“Decisive action in the hour of need

Denotes the hero but does not succeed”.

It is often a very good idea to take no decision, particularly if you think your Minister is about to take a silly decision.

I support the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, in his definition of the problem, as in his Second Reading speech. The inability to take the long view and the discontinuities between energy policy, environmental policy and policy on public expenditure and investment in infrastructure are such that these have come together to make a very real problem. I think that some sort of advisory board might be part of the answer. However, I cannot support the wording of the amendment put forward here because it has limited it. It talks of advice in implementing government policy objectives for energy. You have to go wider than that and you have to allow your advisers to advise you on what policy should be. If they are limited to advising purely on the execution of the policy that the Ministers have already announced, you are still stuck in the short term.

As an ex-Permanent Secretary, I also find it very odd that the amendment should state that although the board shall consist of,

“expert members appointed for their experience in or knowledge of the energy industries”,

the “relevant Permanent Secretary” shall be “in attendance”. What is he supposed to do? If the Permanent Secretary disagrees with his Minister, one of his prime jobs is to disagree with his Minister. He should do that in private. He cannot speak in public against the then policy of the Government. So he is in attendance, spending days sitting there listening to these guys. He cannot speak because the minutes will be published—he could not speak against the views of his Minister anyway. This is neither flesh nor fowl. I fear there is a danger that it might turn into a red herring. If we need independent advice, it should be independent. We do not want the presence of the Permanent Secretary and we do not want the remit of the board limited to advice on the execution of policy. We want it to tell us what policy should be.

I would put a long-term element into this as well, by putting five or 10 years somewhere in there, so that it is clear that the board is looking over the horizon. This would ease its relationship with government, because it would be clear that the timescale was not limited by the period of the then present Parliament. Therefore, I support the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, as he has correctly identified a very important problem, but I cannot support the wording of his amendment.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, for tabling this amendment and to the other noble Lords who have lent their name to it. It has been a springboard for a good and necessary debate this afternoon. In response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, on how we got here, I point out that under the previous Government, between 1997 and 2010, we saw 26 gigawatts of new capacity added to the grid. In the previous three years—2008 to 2010—we saw 7.8 gigawatts added. There was clearly a healthy investment system under the previous Government. What happened next is old news. We had a decision to reform the electricity market and in that process, which, let us face it, has been going on almost since 2010, there have been a lot of conflicting messages coming out of government. This has created an investment hiatus and an uncertainty that have led us to where we are today.

Let us not be overly dramatic. In 2010, we had historically high capacity levels. That has partly contributed to the hiatus and it needs to be cleared out for there to be a signal to the market to reinvest. Against the 26 gigawatts or 7.8 gigawatts that were added in the last few years of the previous Government, we have lost since then only 8 gigawatts of old coal. Much mention is made of this, but the LCPD—the large combustion plant directive—took out 8 gigawatts. That 8 gigawatts has already shut and the lights are still on. We must put this in perspective. I am convinced that there is an issue of long-term planning, but right now let us keep it in perspective. We are at the tail end of this Bill process, which has been going on an inordinately long time. Things, I am sure, should get better soon, but for that to happen we have to get this Bill right. I think that all noble Lords who have spoken today would agree that the key to get out of this now is to have a clear regulatory framework that will do the job of restarting investment in our energy infrastructure.

The other factors that have contributed to the hiatus, which I think it is fair to say no Government could have been fully aware of or on top of, were issues outside our control. One example is high gas prices. We have gigawatts of consented gas capacity in this country. Why is no one building it? They simply cannot afford to take that decision. Boards in energy companies all around the country are asking: “Will this pay back?”. They cannot give a definitive answer, because the price of gas is uncertain. They will also say: “We’re in the middle of an Energy Bill process. We’d be mad to commission something now. Wait until the dust has settled”. The Bill is partly in the Government’s control, but the price of gas is an unexpected issue that has arisen quite recently.

The second thing that has gone wrong, for which my party has some responsibility, is that we have dropped the CCS ball. We have been utterly hopeless at getting CCS away and demonstrated. That is partly because—and this where I have some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh—we have been relying on civil servants to devise a strategy for picking winners to develop CCS in this country. Quite frankly, we have failed. A succession of wrong calls has been made. Our first call was that it should be post-combustion coal, because somehow we were going to help China. Well, it turns out that that is not what we need, so, understandably, those projects have not gone forward. There is a great need to address the future of CCS and to have more market-based commentary on that and less control from the Civil Service.

The third thing to have happened, which, again, has been outside any Government’s control, is that the economics of nuclear have changed. Fukushima was a disaster that happened on the other side of the planet and public attitudes towards nuclear remained remarkably resilient, but in Germany it was a completely different story, with the phasing-out of nuclear. That obviously has an impact here because we have two large German utility companies in this county. Having pulled out of nuclear in Germany, quite quickly, they pulled out of nuclear in the UK. That could not have been predicted, but it definitely contributes to the situation that we are in today, where we are reliant on only one nuclear project, certain aspects of which have proven difficult.

It is fine just to look back and to try to explain why we are where we are today, so I go back to my statement that the way out of this is to get this Bill right. The way to do that is to think about the regulatory framework that it creates. I have some sympathy with the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, because there are echoes of it in the way in which we govern other aspects of our society. Perhaps the most obvious one is the Monetary Policy Committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, pointed out, we also have the Committee on Climate Change. The creation of that independent body of experts, able to advise the Government publicly and to publish reports, was a major aspect of the Climate Change Act and one of its most successful components. It has depoliticised an issue that I am sure would otherwise have been more debated and undermined than perhaps would be appropriate.

There are, therefore, examples of how the creation of an independent advisory body can work, but I would argue that, if you are going to create such a body, you would want to give it clear parameters within which to advise. Advising on the totality of energy investment is a large task and I defy any group of experts, no matter how many are on the board, to get their heads around every aspect. Setting clear parameters within which you would require independent advice would help to give the body a purpose in providing the right level of scrutiny and advice for the Government.

The levers that the Bill creates are clear. We will have a capacity market, in which the Government will have to make decisions about the levels of capacity that they will try to secure through auctions. That could certainly benefit from advice. We have the decarbonisation obligation, which, I think it is fair to say, has not to date been handled in a suitable or effective way. The hard part has been put off, which is not what we want. I have great sympathy with noble Lords who have said that the tendency in government is to put things off; it is much easier simply to shrug your shoulders and wait for the next person to come and take the hard decisions. Unfortunately, that is what has happened with the decarbonisation obligation.

Another key parameter within which the Bill operates is the levy control framework and the amount of money that the Treasury has put aside. Again, that could do with some external scrutiny. It might be necessary for a body of experts to advise both the Treasury and DECC to depoliticise the issue and to create unity. The last parameter in the Bill, which we will discuss in more detail shortly, is the energy performance standard, which could also benefit from external advice to depoliticise it and underpin it with independent scrutiny and analysis.

Many noble Lords have commented on what such a body might look like and how it might operate. The key themes were that it should be independent, it should have a long-term view, it should issue its advice in public to both Parliament and Ministers and it should address energy efficiency—the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, spotted that that was missing from the list. I am sure that, as the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, would say, the amendment will stimulate debate and cause the Government to come forward with something more complete.

I think that the Government recognise that they need advice. They would not have created three specialist advisory groups commenting on aspects of the EMR and a technical advisory group to see them through this process if they thought that they had all the answers themselves or if they could go to Ofgem, the National Grid or any of the other agencies for advice. Clearly a deficit was recognised.

I hope that the Government will come forward with positive words about considering this proposal in greater detail, as we have heard eloquent arguments about why something such as this might be necessary. I hope that they will at least concede that they have created bodies to advise them. Those bodies have been doing a short-term task, but we are asking for the creation of a body that takes a slightly longer-term view, working within parameters. Perhaps they could also consider whether the bodies that they have created already need to be converted into something more permanent. If a clear process is established for what they will do, how they will advise us and the parameters within which they will operate, that would go a long way towards answering many of the concerns that have been raised today. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, and all noble Lords who have spoken to the amendment, which proposes the establishment of an energy investment advisory board within DECC. We already have a number of advisory boards and I would like to go through my speaking notes and lay out why we think that, at this moment in time, this could add another layer, as my noble friend Lord Teverson said. I will also respond to some of the questions and points raised.

First and foremost, we attach great importance to ensuring that we consider the long-term views of the UK’s energy needs. DECC therefore has many forums for industry and energy experts to contribute and scrutinise policy on energy and climate change. I will highlight some of these to noble Lords. The main forum that DECC has with industry is the energy leaders forum. This is a quarterly event that brings the DECC Secretary of State, Ministers and senior officials, including the Permanent Secretary, together with the CEOs of vertically integrated and independent generators and suppliers. It is jointly organised by DECC and Energy UK, whose members make up the industry attendance. The high-level and wide-ranging discussions help government and industry to anticipate and respond to existing and future issues in energy policy. Importantly, the forum also discusses how industry and government can attract investment to the UK to ensure that we have secure low-carbon and affordable sources of energy now and tomorrow.

We have a flexible structure of academic and industry experts who are also able to advise the department on a much wider range of topics, including our major programmes from the Green Deal to the electricity market reform. For example, there are EMR expert groups for each policy area and we have set up an independent panel of technical experts to provide the Secretary of State with specific technical advice on the national system operator’s analysis. The Infrastructure UK unit within the Treasury exists to develop the UK’s long-term infrastructure priorities and secure private sector investment. Other important forums include the Science Advisory Group, which is a group of external academic and industry experts who challenge and support the Chief Scientific Adviser and DECC. It also helps to guide the department’s scientific priorities and strategy.

I welcome the noble Lord’s point about skills in the department. We are actively strengthening our systems for prioritisation of resources. We are developing key specialist skills, including ensuring that the department has sufficient corporate memory and leveraging the capability of our delivery partners. As set out in DECC’s annual report, we consider delivery skills essential as the department moves to implementation and delivery as well as policy development.

In addition, we have an internal governance structure. We have a departmental board whose role is to monitor performance and delivery of DECC’s work and to provide strategic and operational leadership for the department. The board has non-executive members who provide advice, support and challenge to the department. The board is supported by sub-committees, most notably the executive committee that closely monitors departmental strategy and delivery of objectives. In light of the existing structures that have proven successful, I do not believe that it is necessary or desirable to set up a new advisory panel.

I am also concerned that the introduction of a board with explicit responsibility for long-term energy strategy could reduce ministerial accountability. The department regularly reports to Parliament on the progress that it is making on energy and climate change. As we have discussed previously, the coalition agreement states that we will give an annual energy statement to Parliament to set strategic energy policy and guide investment. This must be laid before Parliament by 31 December each year. The statement provides a clear, succinct description of the Government’s energy policy within the context of DECC’s overall strategy. We also report to Parliament specifically on security with the statutory security of supply report and, on Report in the other place, we introduced a statutory annual update on EMR.

We report on climate change via the government response to the Committee on Climate Change’s annual report. The Committee on Climate Change consists of independent experts and is a statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008. Its purpose is to advise the Government on emissions targets and to report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change. I therefore reassure noble Lords that we already have in place forums and structures to deliver the significant changes that we need in the energy system.

A couple of points were raised during the debate. My noble friend Lord Jenkin asked whether we had enough capacity to keep the lights on over the next few years. My noble friend also asked about investment. I can reassure him and other noble Lords that through this Bill we are seeing the biggest reform of the electricity market in recent years and greater confidence from investors than ever before. Even with Ofgem’s new estimates, the risk of the lights going out is low and steps are being taken to ensure that sufficient reserves are in place in the short and medium term. Essentially the short-term measures are an extension of tools that National Grid and Ofgem have already used to contract additional short-term capacity in order to balance supply and demand.

My noble friend Lord Crickhowell said that these days Ministers take advice from officials rather than making up their own minds about policy issues and are not often able to say no to officials.

With great respect, I do not believe that I said anything of the kind. However, I will read the text of what I really said tomorrow with interest, to discover how I was interpreted as saying that.

I stand corrected by my noble friend. I would, however, reassure my noble friend that decisions on policy are taken by Ministers; we have to take advice from officials, as well as other experts, but ultimately we will be responsible for those decisions.

That was the point that I dealt with in my speech, based on my own experience. I was going to intervene to say that I did not understand my noble friend’s comment that she feared that following the suggestions of this advisory committee might reduce ministerial responsibility. We already have the precedent of the nuclear advisory board; we also have the precedent that I described of the advice that my National Rivers Authority advisory board gave to the Government and then the National Rivers Authority itself. In none of those cases was there the slightest reduction in ministerial responsibility and I cannot conceive that a committee of the kind suggested could possibly have that outcome.

My Lords, if I choose to slightly disagree with my noble friend, that is perhaps a position that I will stand corrected on. However, given that we have so many forums and advisory groups in place, I do not believe that we need a further one. If I am allowed to get to the end of my speaking notes, noble Lords may be relieved to know that, having noted the significance attributed to this advisory group by noble Lords, I may go back and reflect on what has been said in Hansard. I see that the noble Baroness wishes to intervene at this point.

It is just a small point, which is that part of the problem is the plethora of advisory boards. People are asking for a sense of cohesion to be created and a hierarchy, so that you pull one expert body together. Also, you try to create something with independence, because many of the advisory boards that you rely on today are, by necessity, made up of people with vested interests. Something more transparent, more publicly accountable and at a higher level would be beneficial.

The important thing is that noble Lords know how the governance of existing structures works as a whole. Rather than trying to explain the role of each forum now, I will, if the Committee allows, write to noble Lords on how each forum, advisory group and committee works to support one another in advising government. We have these forums under review all the time. We work to ensure that all views are taken into account. As I said, I have taken on board the seriousness of what the Committee has said and would like to go away and reflect on today’s debate, perhaps responding to noble Lords in writing. With those remarks, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, will withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I add my thanks to all who have taken part in this debate. I shall reply very briefly indeed.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, missed the beginning of the debate, when I made the point that this was simply a cock-shy to stimulate discussion. The precise wording—the precise form that the body would take— was all for discussion. The noble Lord asked what the Permanent Secretary might get from attending meetings of this board. I would say simply: education. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, was concerned about an added layer. Of course, he speaks as a consultant who has probably added layers in the past. This is not an added layer.

The Minister started with, I think, a total misapprehension. She said that the proposal was for a body to be established within DECC. That is precisely the point. It would not be within DECC. It would be outside DECC. It would be a parallel and complementary body to the climate change committee. It would in fact monitor and report on DECC’s performance, as well as giving advice. I agree that there is an immense amount of advice from a series of committees within the department. On the other hand, they do not have long-term continuity. They do not meet the strategic challenges that I and many noble Lords feel that we face.

The Minister has kindly said that she will take this away and think about it. If in 2015 or 2016 there is an electricity supply problem, it might be sensible for the Government to have said, “We saw that there might be a problem and we have begun to fix the long-term strategy”. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 51B withdrawn.

Amendment 51C

Moved by

51C: After Clause 136, insert the following new Clause—

Gas capacityPower to make gas capacity regulations

(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for the purpose of providing capacity to meet the demands of consumers for the supply of gas in Great Britain.

(2) Regulations under this section are referred to in this Chapter as “gas capacity regulations”.

(3) In subsection (1) “providing capacity” means facilitating and promoting the provision and use of gas storage infrastructure to secure the availability of gas at prices which are lower and more stable insofar as is reasonably practicable and mitigating the consequences of gas supply interruption.

(4) The provision that may be made in gas capacity regulations includes, but is not limited to, the provision described in this Chapter.”

My Lords, I hope that we can deal with this amendment a little more expeditiously, and that it will be more attractive to the Government.

I listened very carefully to the responses given by the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, in our previous Committee session. I think he used the expression “We put consumers first” no fewer than five times on that occasion. That is a sentiment to which we can all subscribe and this is precisely what this amendment attempts to do. Furthermore, it does not necessarily involve any expense, nor does it compel any Minister to do anything. In that sense, it is innocuous. It seeks to give Ministers the power to leverage the annual swings in gas price to consumer advantage; in other words, to facilitate the purchase of gas when prices are low in summer and to release when prices are high in winter.

I will give a little background. This is a new situation for DECC—and the country—because of two factors: first, the growth of the liquefied natural gas market internationally and its increase in importance means that today there is effectively a spot market, as there is in oil; and secondly, our increasing dependence on that spot market. I cannot remember the exact figures; I think it is around 40% that we need to buy of LNG, and that will progressively increase as the availability of North Sea gas declines. So there have been two changes.

As far as we are concerned, these have a good consequence and a bad consequence. The good consequence is that we shall probably never get really short of gas. We have two important gas terminals in the UK and should be able to import what we need. The down side is that we are exposed to the vacillation of global prices. For example, when Fukushima happened there was a massive spoke in global gas prices because people realised that Japan would require a great deal more gas. We would be exposed to other international pressures of that kind, as well as the seasonal variation of the surplus in the summer and the inadequacy of supply in winter.

I do not think that it is worth going into the economic detail of this at all today. However, one or more companies are interested in exploring this from a commercial point of view. I have discussed this with DECC officials, who were extremely helpful. It is clear that DECC, Ofgem and the national grid have been very concerned about supply availability. That has been their main concern, rather than the question of price, which has really come in in a big way recently. The first of two comments from DECC officials was, “We do not think that this will be commercial”. With respect, that is not their decision. If a business thinks that it might be commercial, that is what we should test. The other comment was, “We think we might be able to do this without an amendment anyway, with existing powers”, but I could not get a definitive decision on that.

The important thing is that we know from discussions with at least one company that, if there was something in the Bill which allowed the Secretary of State at his or her discretion to use the capacity mechanism or the contract-for-difference mechanism within the Bill to purchase gas under prescribed circumstances, that would be sufficient for the companies concerned to approach potential investors again with a better proposition, with a view to coming to the Minister to explore what might be arranged. It is not clear that this will be feasible, or that it will make sense to use this mechanism. It is simply a little bit of insurance.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that if the Government do not take this initiative, no one else will. Gas suppliers do not care. They simply pass on any fluctuations in the international gas price to consumers. This is therefore something that the Government could do to smooth and lower prices for consumers. I beg to move.

My Lords, I was happy to add my name to the amendment. I see it more as a vehicle for promoting a short discussion, which I think we shall have, rather than something that ought to be added to the Bill; I think the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, has made that clear.

I have in the past debated in successive energy Bills the need for the United Kingdom to increase its storage capacity. We have far less than other countries. I have always been met with the argument, to which the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, referred, that we have so many different sources of supply that we do not need the same levels of storage as other countries. The mistake that we have been making, and I certainly plead guilty to this, is that we have seen it in terms of security of supply, whereas—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, makes clear and I would argue—we are really arguing about price, not supply.

If one looks at the UK gas market over the past two years, 2011-12 and 2012-13, it is pretty level for most of the season. The price rises slightly towards the autumn, and then in December, February and March there are sudden spikes and it goes up to sometimes two and a half times the normal rate. That is what happens to world gas markets during the winter: the demand substantially exceeds the supply and the result is that the price goes shooting up—not for long but it does—and the companies have no option but to pay it and immediately pass it on to the consumers in higher prices.

If you had a level of storage whereby you could build up the supplies during the summer and release them during the winter so that you are not dependent on the huge spikes in world gas prices, it would protect consumers. I see this whole question of storage as being much more about protecting the consumer market against sudden spikes in prices, rather than any shortage of supply. I do not see any risk of there being a shortage of supply but it is perfectly clear that we have had very substantial spikes in prices.

I took the advice of somebody who is very much involved in all this. I will quote what he said to me:

“If we had had sufficient gas storage last winter to maintain gas prices close to average winter prices (~70p/therm) rather than seeing prices spike to over £1.50/therm it would have saved costs to the UK economy of between £300-400 million. This is the sort of saving/protection that should be foremost in the Government’s mind”.

This is something that should not be ignored. I am not suggesting that there is any particular solution to this. If the market could be persuaded that this is a proper thing to do—I have heard of a project involving storage in a depleted offshore gas field; I think it is called Deborah—that could provide the vehicle for the kind of storage that we are talking about, which would save consumers the kind of price hikes that they have had to face in the past.

There is another interesting point. A very interesting study was published this morning—there may have been reference to it in the press—by a very well known academic, Nick Pidgeon at Cardiff University, who looked at public attitudes to all this. His synthesis report is called Transforming the UK Energy System: Public Values, Attitudes and Acceptability. It is a long report and I do not propose to read more than one sentence of the executive summary—well, two sentences—but it has relevance to the discussion we are having. The report says:

“While ‘energy security’ as a term was not salient to people, the range of concerns that it encompassed (geopolitical issues, energy shortages, black outs, unaffordable prices) did evoke strong reactions. Energy security is particularly closely linked in public perceptions to affordability because it relates to concerns about personally not being able to access energy services, while concern about national level insecurity in supplies of fossil fuels was seen as a symptom of the problems of fossil fuel dependency”.

In other words, security is not seen primarily as “We are going to run out” but as an issue of affordability. This is spelt out at some length in Nick Pidgeon’s report. It is the product of more than a year’s work by him and a team of academics, and it is something to which we should give some attention.

So, in addition to the general point that the question of storage relates to price rather than to capacity or the question of running out, so it is also associated in the public mind with affordability. That is why, if we can level out the prices by encouraging the industry to invest in more storage, we would find it valuable on both accounts: it would be valuable in terms of reducing cost but also in reconciling public opinion to some of the difficulties that we have faced in the past of sudden spikes in energy prices.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Oxburgh and Lord Jenkin, for tabling this amendment. I confess that this is not an area where I have a great deal of expertise, so really I just have some questions to add to the debate. I am sympathetic to the desire for government oversight to ensure that gas prices can be levelled out. Demand seems to be very seasonal and storage is an obvious way of helping to smooth out prices. I suppose my question is: to what extent has the department done any analysis of why the private sector is not doing this? It should be in its interests to secure cheaper prices, so you would expect there to be an incentive to invest in more storage.

My second question, which is related to that, is: to what degree do the powers of the regulator—our party’s views on the regulator are well known, but this is a genuine question—extend upstream? Does Ofgem have a power to look at fairness of pricing in the supply of gas, meaning before it reaches the distribution network? There is a high degree of vertical integration in the energy sector, and there are some companies that control the extractive processes, the distribution and then the use of the product. When you have that degree of vertical integration, there is the potential for unfair pricing, or self-serving that could lead to less transparent pricing. That is a genuine question. Does the regulator consider the potential for those vertically integrated companies, right the way up to extractive? Does it cover that? If it does not, it should. I look forward to the answer on that.

I am increasingly being exposed to ideas around renewable gas, by which I mean syngas, which is generated from other carbon sources than the hydrocarbons found in natural gas. This area seems to have been overlooked by successive Governments. It would be helpful to hear the latest thinking on renewable gas, particularly its role in helping to hedge against high natural gas prices. My understanding is that gasification technology and pyrolysis in particular are now maturing as technologies and helping to deliver alternative sources of heating gases for the variety of uses that you can use gas for. Those are my questions.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, and my noble friend Lord Jenkin for prompting the debate on gas storage. The noble Lords’ proposal is timely, coming precisely as the Government are thinking about these issues. The GB gas market is one of the best functioning and most liquid in the world, and has brought forward significant investment in the past decade. This has expended our infrastructure to the point where our input capacity alone can meet 189% of our annual needs, and it has spare capacity to respond flexibly to price signals to deliver gas to our market from a diverse range of sources and routes. It has also increased storage in terms of overall capacity, where we have seen a 25% increase in the past decade, and even more so in terms of deliverability—the amount of gas that can be delivered to the grid each day to cope with volatile demand. Once two recently completed fast-cycling storage projects are counted, along with a further two projects under construction, storage deliverability has doubled in the past 10 years. The growth in input, capacity and flexible storage delivered by the market provides the additional flexibility we will need to help meet variable demand for heating requirements on peak winter days in severe weather conditions, or for the power sector, where gas is likely to be called on to respond flexibly to intermittent generation sources such as wind.

The Government are not complacent or averse to making appropriate legislative changes to improve our gas security. Indeed, it was part of our coalition agreement to do so. In relation to gas security, the Energy Act 2011 conferred on Ofgem new powers to sharpen the incentives on gas market participants to secure gas supplies. Ofgem has been consulting on potential reforms and is due to announce its final proposals very shortly. We are also working within the EU to ensure adoption and implementation of a variety of measures to enhance gas security through a well functioning, integrated and transparent European gas market. For example, the implementation of the third energy package has already improved market integration across the EU, so that storage in other countries such as Germany can respond to price signals sent by our own market. In addition, the development of common gas codes provided for by the third package will facilitate further gas trading across borders according to pricing signals. The EU regulation on security of gas supply requires member states to undertake regular assessments of their gas security and prepare plans to mitigate the risks they face, as well as meeting supply and infrastructure standards.

New investments in physical infrastructure are being made available to enable gas to flow more freely around the EU. In addition, DECC is working to maximise sustainable gas production from our North Sea and unconventional gas resources. Furthermore, the Government have been conducting a detailed review of whether further reforms—in addition to those being considered by Ofgem—might be appropriate and we intend to announce our decision in the coming weeks. In reaching a decision, the Government will consider the physical and price security arguments for intervening in the markets and whether any of the potential interventions provide a cost-effective means of improving the security of our supply. Therefore, the Government may conclude that the interests of consumers are best served by not intervening in the market.

However, our assessment is that all measures being considered—these include the measures to promote gas storage envisaged by this amendment—can already be implemented using existing powers. In particular, Ofgem has powers under Section 7B(4)(a) of the Gas Act 1986 to introduce such licence conditions as it considers necessary or expedient, having regard to Ofgem’s duties, which include the promotion of the security of supply. It would also be possible for the Secretary of State to make a direction under Section 7B(5)(a) of the Gas Act 1986 setting out licenceholder obligations. Additionally, Ofgem can apply for an order to be made by the Secretary of State under Section 41C of the Gas Act 1986 to make a new activity such as gas storage a licence activity. Such an order made by the Secretary of State may also provide any consequential changes to primary and secondary legislation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, asked about the role of renewable gas. The Government have plans to maximise the production of gas from all sources: conventional, shale and renewable. She also asked whether the regulator considers vertical integration and impacts on pricing. Yes, Ofgem considers the impact on pricing in all its regulatory functions. Therefore, the Government do not consider these amendments necessary and I hope that, having found my explanation reassuring, the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, will withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I waited to intervene until I heard the Minister’s reply because this was a point raised in Sub-Committee D’s report No Country is an Energy Island: Security Investment for the EU’s Future. In paragraph 188, one of our recommendations was for the UK Government to examine the potential for a regulatory framework to increase gas storage. The Government’s written reply and what the Minister has said indicate that a lot of thought has gone into this, but for the whole of the energy sector it is about improving the flow and interconnectivity of supplies of all sorts of energy across the EU. Can my noble friend give us any further information from the Commission about what the EU is doing on this? I know that I am rather bouncing my noble friend—if she would prefer to write to me, I would be very happy for her to do so—but interconnectivity was a point that our committee was concerned about. Perhaps I could move from the storage of gas to the storage of electricity. Will my noble friend drop the Committee a line on that? If we could store electricity, there would be a much greater total energy supply and less need for the storage of gas.

I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for allowing me to write to him and to the Committee, because inspiration is slightly slow in coming forward.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken on this. I am certainly gratified to hear from the Minister how much effort and concern the department has put into the question of gas supply. However, we were more concerned about price security than about supply security. That is the important point to emphasise. The Minister said that she thought that additional powers were not necessary to achieve this, but I am not entirely clear from what she said whether that is the case.

In effect, we are proposing a mechanism by which the private sector can come to the Government and say, “Look, we can guarantee a certain amount of gas at a particular price over a particular period”. That would in fact be achieved by gas storage, but I do not think that the Government need to get involved in it; all that they need to do is make a deal with a company or group of companies to supply gas in particular quantities at particular times. That is why the capacity mechanism or the CFD mechanism would be extremely useful. I am not clear that the Minister has the power to use those mechanisms under the legislation as it is currently drafted, which is why I tabled this amendment.

A practical amendment could be extremely simple—probably much simpler than this one. If the Minister is concerned about the resource needed in DECC to draft an amendment properly, I have no doubt that industry would be willing to make legal help available to work under DECC officials to draft something acceptable. I am not entirely sure that the assurances that she gave me were quite relevant to this case but, that said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 51C withdrawn.

Amendments 51D to 51H not moved.

Amendment 51J

Moved by

51J: After Clause 136, insert the following new Clause—

“Part 6AGeothermal energyLicensing system

(1) Within eighteen months of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State shall, after a period of consultation with industry, geological experts, the devolved administrations, local authorities, energy producers and other interested parties, put into place for the United Kingdom a licensing system and supporting regulations for the exploitation of heat from deep geothermal sources for both direct use and for the generation of electricity.

(2) The licences shall relate to—

(a) individual, geographically delineated areas of land; and(b) the heat held by rocks greater than 500 metres below the local surface level.(3) The licences shall confer exclusive exploration and production rights for the purpose of energy production to the licensee for that area, for a specific period of time for both direct heat and electricity generation.

(4) The Secretary of State shall put in place regulations governing the allocation of licences and the conduct of holders of licences.

(5) The Secretary of State shall undertake the first round of allocations within six months of the licensing system being put in place.

(6) Any organisation already in possession of—

(a) a water abstraction licence for the purpose of developing deep geothermal energy resources;(b) planning permission for the development of deep geothermal energy resources,at the time the licensing regime comes into force, shall be entitled to preferential bidding rights to that licence area and any licence fee or other consideration for that licence area as a part of the licensing regime will then be determined by arbitration under rules determined by the Secretary of State reflecting the fees or other consideration paid for licences deemed to have similar potential.(7) The holding of a licence for the exploration or exploitation (or both) of deep geothermal heat shall not convey any automatic rights to planning permission for surface development or surface access.”

My Lords, I have a sense of déjà vu about this amendment. With every energy Bill in which I have been involved since I was honoured to become a Member of the House in 2006, I have tried something similar. Each time I refine it slightly more until I think that it is perfect, but of course perfection is no use if there is no application. However, we will see.

I thank the Minister for the support that the department has given geothermal energy recently. It has been slow and difficult but it is getting on to the agenda, particularly in terms of the industrial renewable heat initiative and the contracts-for-difference strike prices. It is starting to appear far more regularly than previously without prompting, which is very good. Geothermal is a technology that works and I will not take a long time describing it because I am sure that Members are all well aware of it. Globally, it is a very important source of energy for hot water, direct heating and electricity generation. As we mentioned in a previous sitting of this Grand Committee, there have been discussions between Britain and Iceland over the use of geothermal energy from that area.

However, it is a lot easier when hot water comes to the surface of its own accord, as it does in many parts of the world, such as New Zealand and Iceland. It is different when one has to drill down five kilometres, 10 kilometres and sometimes a very long way in order to circulate it and bring it up. In the UK, there are examples of shallow geothermal energy but not much deep geothermal energy yet. This technology is credible and possible. It is a source of renewable heat that has a small footprint and acts as a base load rather than being intermittent, which is why it can be particularly attractive. Again, there is a choice between hot water and heating or electricity generation.

Why is this amendment necessary? It is because this issue is a bit like the oil industry. There are noble Lords here who know far more about the petroleum industry than me. However, basically, when you have put a major investment into drilling, as soon as you make your strike on a viable geothermal hot water well, you do not want someone 100 yards along buying the plot next door, extracting the water and then leaving you with all the exploration costs and only half the benefit. That is why a credible regulation infrastructure includes having a licensing regime over a suitable area of land. I particularly emphasise that this does not of its own right mean that there would be planning permission or surface access. That would all have to be sorted out by the exploration companies.

This is a major area where Britain, particularly the south-west but other areas of the UK as well, could benefit by building up its renewable energy resources of heat and electricity. For that to move forward, we must have a licensing system. I do not believe that there will be a great cost to producing this. It has already happened in Ireland and other parts of the world. In the past, we have had positive discussions with Ministers about this but they have never got far—hence this amendment. In due course, I look forward to hearing the Government’s thinking on this from the Minister. In the mean time, I beg to move.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, is to be congratulated on his persistence in tabling amendments on geothermal energy. He correctly identifies the huge contribution that this could make to the UK’s energy mix. I think this may be the third time that he has come forward with his amendment. The last time was in February 2011 during Committee on the previous Energy Bill. At that time, the Government had just slashed the remaining £2 million of a £6 million allocation for research from Labour’s time in office by 50%—plus ça change. Also at the time, the then Energy Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Marland, explained that two ROCs already in place were available for geothermal, which his department deemed to be sufficient to bring forward investment. However, of course, he rightly identified that it is not the ROCs that are important but the regulations to maintain the returns for the investor. At that time, the Minister spoke positively about this power source while saying that DECC would continue to work on the complexities of introducing a licensing system. That was well over two years ago. Perhaps the Minister will update the Committee today on how those regulations are proceeding.

My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Teverson has said, he has a longstanding interest in geothermal technologies. The Government share much of his enthusiasm and recognise that deep geothermal will have a part to play in the UK’s energy mix. We are keen to explore and to help realise this overall potential, both deep geothermal for direct heat use and those projects that are primarily about power generation.

Geothermal energy for direct heat use is a clear strategic fit with the Government’s planned transition to low-carbon heating. The Government’s heat strategy identified heat networks as having an important role to play in providing low-carbon heat to dense urban areas. Heat networks can have multiple sources of heat supply. Cities such as Manchester and Newcastle have identified deep geothermal as a possible future heat source for their networks. DECC is helping those cities to develop their heat network plans, including grant support for feasibility work and by creating a new heat networks delivery unit to add capacity and expertise to project teams in individual local authorities. The Government are also proposing a higher renewable heat incentive tariff for deep geothermal heat projects to support such developments.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, and my noble friend Lord Teverson will recall that in 2011 the Environment Agency introduced changes to the abstraction licence procedures to provide greater certainty to deep geothermal investors for those projects accessing groundwater resources. This light-touch amendment to existing regulations was welcomed by the industry.

The department has been considering what additional support might be possible for deep geothermal power to help explore and test the resource for power generation. However, despite grant awards and eligibility for the renewables obligation, no deep geothermal power projects have commenced in the UK.

In response to this, the department has initiated a two-stage process to try to move the deep geothermal power sector forward. The first phase is an expert feasibility study to draw together all the evidence to explore and test the case for additional government support. Subject to the outcome of this first step, and taking into account value-for-money considerations, the various options for further support will be then analysed. The feasibility study, which is being undertaken by Atkins, will conclude shortly. We will need further analysis to help gauge the realisable potential of deep geothermal power and the extent of any support it may need.

My noble friend and, I know, many in industry argue that a licensing regime is required to underpin the expansion of this technology and to ensure that it can approach its full potential in the UK. At present the UK sector is at an early stage of development, which makes it difficult to gauge the impact of a licensing regime. The Government accept my noble friend’s argument that the impact is likely to be positive. The question is one of proportionality. At present, all parts of UK law are essentially silent on the subject of heat from deep below the earth’s surface. Any legislation would therefore proceed from a blank page, and full licensing regimes are complex to create. The legislation to do this in the Australian state of Queensland runs to more than 500 pages of primary legislation, which suggests that the call on the time of this House would not be trivial. The Atkins report will guide the Government’s position on how best we may be able to help support the geothermal sector, which will help to steer a future position on any new regulatory approaches.

I hope that my noble friend will agree with me that we must be guided by the Atkins report’s outputs and recommendations to help inform the Government’s position and next steps. I hope that on that basis my noble friend will feel reassured and withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very positive response. There are two things that I would like to say. First, in the county of Cornwall we actually have two planning permissions for deep geothermal projects, which were obtained with no local resistance of any significance, which was a very positive sign. Indeed, one of them received a grant from the regional growth fund but was unable to find the matching funding.

Secondly, I very much welcomed the Atkins report. When I was in a meeting with my right honourable friend Greg Barker, the Minister of State, the timetable was rather quicker than it is turning out to be. It is very important to keep the momentum going. I know this is nothing to do with Ministers but I get the impression that it has been rather tough going within the department. Let us get it to a conclusion and if the feasibility study says, “Let’s get to the next stage”, we should move it on. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment 51J withdrawn.

Clause 47 : Duty not to exceed annual carbon dioxide emissions limit

Amendment 51JA

Moved by

51JA*: Clause 47, page 46, line 27, at end insert—

“( ) Section 47(1) does not apply to CCS plant until completion of the commissioning and proving period that shall last no longer than 3 years.”

We are now discussing the part of the Bill that concerns the emissions performance standard. By way of background, I thought it would be useful to recount where these provisions arise from. It was in response to the Kingsnorth demonstrations, which were a green group response to the threat of a new unabated coal plant being built by E.ON. At that time, climate change concerns meant that there was a great deal of public opposition to the idea that we would be locking ourselves into many decades of unabated coal if a new plant were to be built.

The then Labour Government responded with a new planning restriction that meant that all new coal plants would have to fit at least 300 megawatts of carbon capture and storage, essentially closing the door on unabated coal. The then Opposition stated that they would move to rule out new unabated coal through the introduction of an emissions performance standard. That was prompted in part by a visit by one of the shadow Ministers to California, which is one of a number of US states that already have emissions performance standards in place. When he became Prime Minister, David Cameron stated that he would legislate—he would put an EPS into an energy Bill—and consultation on that began, in conjunction with the rest of the energy market reform package, in December 2010. Here we are today, talking about the detail of that proposal.

The Government did not get everything right in their first draft proposals. One loophole that was quickly identified was that the plan was to give exemptions to any plant fitting CCS. The fear was that this would mean that large plants could be built with only a small portion of the capacity being fitted with CCS. Representations were made. The Government did listen and have closed the loophole so CCS plants will now be caught by the EPS.

We have tabled a number of amendments concerning the EPS. This amendment addresses the concerns of the Carbon Capture & Storage Association. While accepting that plants with CCS will need to be compliant with the EPS, there is a fear that if the industry were required to meet those standards from day one, that would be unduly burdensome and could deter investors. The association has asked that a period of grace of three years be introduced during the commissioning and testing of the new plant, when there would be a derogation of the EPS. This amendment has been tabled to achieve that. We see that very much as part of a package of measures, in conjunction with the EPS. I will shortly talk to two more amendments that we support strongly, and I know that my noble friend Lord Hanworth is going to speak to his amendments too. There is much more to be said about the EPS, but this is a specific amendment and I beg to move.

My Lords, I declare an interest as honorary president of the Carbon Capture & Storage Association. This is an extremely important amendment if CCS is to go forward. It has not been easy to attract investment to this area; the investment required is heavy. This amendment simply minimises the risk for those who are introducing a new technology. As noble Lords will be aware, the Government’s decarbonisation plan is probably unachievable without CCS, so it is important that this kind of reassurance is given to the industry. I strongly support the amendment.

The Committee on Climate Change has made it clear that CCS is an essential part of the matters that we have to address if we are to meet our statutory responsibilities. I doubt if anyone on any side of the House would not agree with that, and I thought it generous of the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, to say what she said about the past history of CCS.

That has been a pretty universal thing; we have not got it right. It is very difficult to get right, and I would not blame the Government for the difficulties. However, we have to solve those difficulties, and this amendment is a most useful way of making it that much more certain for the industry. If we want to use the resources that may be at our disposal—fracked gas, for example—we have to have CCS to meet our 2050 demands.

In a sense, that is less important to the British picture than to the world picture. The biggest contribution that we could make to the world picture is in the development of CCS because that would break through in a series of countries—the mechanism by which we can have the energy we need as well as protecting ourselves against dangerous climate change.

I hope my noble friend the Minister will understand that for us this is a central area, and if the Government are not able to agree to this perhaps they will come forward with some alternative mechanism to make sure that the ends put forward here will be met. I am sure that she will want to know that this issue has been widely tweeted, because it is seen as so important by so many different people across the field. It is very important that we give a proper response to the noble Baroness’s request.

It is comforting to know that the tweets are flowing. The trouble is that CCS has not yet been made to work. I support this amendment. I supported the efforts of the previous Government and the present Government, in partnership with the private sector, to make CCS work. I supported the £1 billion that was on offer from both Governments. I supported the EU competition, which added yet more prizes that no one has managed to win. I was involved with two companies that tried very hard. No one anywhere in the world has yet made CCS work economically.

I understand the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben, but I think it is important not to make this a central part of the answer when we do not yet know if we can make it work. We have to find other ways of achieving the objectives that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has concerns about. Let us hope that this is made to work, and if these amendments increase the chances that it does, then fine. I am certainly not against the amendments and I think it is the answer. In fact, it has been the answer that people have seen coming for a long time, at least 10 to 15 years. I fear that it is still 10 to 15 years away, but by all means let us go on trying.

I say this with some hesitation and with great respect to the noble Lord who has just spoken. It is not right to say that there is no place in the world where CCS is working. A couple of years ago, some of us paid a visit to the BP research centre at Sunbury, where we were given a very interesting demonstration of their plant in Algeria. BP is extracting gas from very widespread gas deposits, stretching over perhaps 20 to 25 miles in various pockets. There is a substantial refining operation that includes CCS, and the resultant CO2 that is extracted is then pumped straight back into the gas reservoirs from which the gas has been extracted. The gas supplied for the market is then piped to the coast and goes across the Mediterranean. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, will perhaps be able to explain his gestures. It is a single plant, I accept that, but it has been made to work and it is economic for the company that operates that gas field in Algeria.

BP also made the point that there are CCS plants in the Far East. One does not know what the circumstances are, commercial or otherwise, but there is a lot of work going on internationally on this. I started by being sceptical about the Government’s competition and the £1 billion that they have put up. I have become persuaded that, although it has taken an incredibly long time to get underway, they now have two very firm takers that are going to develop CCS. I think therefore that the noble Lord’s guess of 15 years may be unduly pessimistic.

I absolutely agree with my noble friend Lord Deben that CCS must be an essential part of our armoury if we are going to get anywhere near our 2050 target. Anything that can encourage this must be right, and for that reason I, too, support this amendment.

My Lords, I support the amendment. CCS is very important. While most of us here—I am happy to note that there have been some notable exceptions in previous Committee sessions—are in favour of decarbonisation and the UK becoming a leader of the world in renewable energy, I think we would all hope that we can become leaders in the world in CCS because, frankly, there are huge economic possibilities if we can pull it off. China is a very good example; contrary to the often-put theories of the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, China is deeply concerned about climate change. The Chinese actually produce a new nuclear power station every week but still have more energy produced by wind than nuclear energy, and they are concerned.

Did the noble Lord notice today’s announcement by the Chinese that they were considerably upping their investment in photovoltaics in order to make sure that there would be a great deal more sun power? This runs entirely contrary to the claims made by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, when he spoke to us on that particular issue.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Deben, for endorsing my point. I was going to say that, unfortunately, China’s ravenous need for more and more power means that it has found it difficult to produce that power without building more and more coal-fired power stations in the short term. China will be a really big marketplace for CCS if we can pull it off.

As I understand it, one of the future supplies of gas, underground coal gas, could be the cheapest way of removing the carbon dioxide—although, again, as the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said, these techniques have yet to be proven on a large scale. Before the fuel is burnt, it becomes a largely hydrogen mix, which, as noble Lords will know, produces an effluent made up mostly of water. UCG—underground coal gas—could be a fuel of the future. If we can get CCS involved in UCG, it would be an economically beneficial project for the UK to carry off. We must support CCS to the best of our ability in terms not only of adequate funding but of latitude in the regulations to allow it to overcome its teething problems.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, for introducing this chapter of the Bill. I hope that noble Lords will understand that when I first studied the Bill and saw that Clause 47 opens with a formula, I was rather bothered. Providing that we can all keep to layman’s language, I will try my best, but if we go into formulae, I may need more advice.

I thank the noble Baroness also for tabling this amendment, which seeks to provide carbon capture and storage projects with an exemption from the emissions performance standard during their commissioning and proving period, with any exemption limited to a maximum period of three years. I am grateful, too, to all noble Lords for their contributions to this interesting debate at the beginning of this part of the Bill. I continue to learn a great deal.

The Government believe that CCS will have a critical role to play in reducing emissions in our country, allowing coal and gas, including that produced from indigenous sources, to continue to be part of our future low-carbon energy mix. The Government share the noble Baroness’s enthusiasm for CCS and want to see it deployed at scale in the 2020s, competing on cost with other low-carbon technologies. Our CCS programme is designed to drive forward the rapid commercialisation of CCS and includes £1 billion of capital funding for the first projects under the CCS competition. I note that we have two preferred bidders, Peterhead and White Rose; obviously, we will need to consider their progress.

My noble friend Lord Jenkin talked about CCS working abroad. It is advancing particularly in America and Canada. Those projects are combined with enhanced oil recovery, which improves the economics of the projects. Some of the circumstances of Europe and this country may be different, but those examples suggest that progress is being made around the world.

The noble Baroness will no doubt be aware that the original draft Bill contained provision for giving CCS projects supported under our CCS competition an exemption from the EPS. The purpose was to provide CCS projects with some flexibility in relation to the limits imposed on the operation of a plant by the EPS in order to help manage the inherent risks associated with trials of a first-of-a-kind technology. However, during pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, concerns were raised around the scope of the exemption provisions, in that the use of broad exemptions could undermine the purpose of the EPS. The Government looked at this again and decided, on balance, that these concerns could be addressed by managing any EPS-related risk through the CCS project-funding contract issued to a project under our CCS competition.

However, there have been a number of developments since last year with our CCS competition, which has stimulated industry to bring a number of proposals for CCS projects. The Government are therefore keen to encourage the development and deployment of CCS, irrespective of whether it is part of the CCS competition, so we have already been considering options for how we might provide CCS projects with some flexibility under the EPS during the early commissioning phase.

The noble Baroness’s amendment is tightly prescribed and would limit the duration of the exemption so that it was explicitly consistent with the overall purpose of the EPS. Undoubtedly there are positive advantages to the approach reflected in the amendment. As I understand the way of things, therefore, I would like to give much further consideration to the amendment ahead of Report. I repeat my thanks to the noble Baroness and ask her if she will consider withdrawing her amendment.

I thank the Minister for his encouraging response and for saying that he will take the amendment away. Today’s contributions have underlined the importance of CCS. Here we stand a chance of the UK really capitalising on our natural assets, in terms of both the storage capability that we have in the North Sea and our engineering prowess and experience in offshore matters. I am hopeful that we will see CCS projects coming forward in the UK very soon.

In response to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, about whether or not CCS has been demonstrated anywhere, I refer him to the helpful report that the Government produced on CCS. Every three years the Government are legally bound to report on CCS developments. This Bill will actually repeal that but my noble friend Lord Grantchester is suggesting that the report should stay. In that helpful report we learn that investment is indeed going on today in CCS in the UK, and it details two plants that are very close to being commissioned in the US, due to come on stream in 2014. I am hopeful that then, at least, we will be able to put the lie to the idea to that CCS cannot be commercialised. If the US shows the way, I am sure that many others will quickly follow, including China, which, as we know, is investing in a number of CCS projects and, I am sure, is racing to get there too.

We need to up our game and get on with it, and this amendment is designed to ensure that there are no unnecessary hurdles in the way. I am encouraged by the Minister’s response so I am happy to withdraw.

Before the noble Baroness does so, the Minister mentioned 2020 in terms of commercialisation. Given the current stage of the tendering process, when might we perhaps predict that the first full-scale CCS demonstration project will be operating? Do we have a date for that now? I think we are all concerned. We all want this technology to win. We are aware, as the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, has said, that it has taken a huge amount of time to get momentum, despite all the good will that there is for it.

Amendment 51JA withdrawn.

Amendment 51JB

Moved by

51JB: Clause 47, page 46, line 28, leave out “2044” and insert “2029”

This amendment would also amend the EPS regulations. The consultation document issued on the EPS back in December 2010 started out with an important premise that we could all support, which was:

“The objective of the EPS is to ensure that while coal continues to make an important contribution to security of supply, it does so in a manner consistent with the UK’s decarbonisation objectives”.

It is important to remind ourselves of that because it was a very good starting point for this process. I note that it mentions decarbonisation “objectives”, and the plural there is very important. We are not faced with a legal requirement to decarbonise in a rush by 2050. A series of legally binding carbon budgets is set for us 15 years in advance. We know that that is the primary framework by which the Government are bound to deliver a decarbonised energy system.

When the July 2011 White Paper, Planning Our Electric Future, came out, the issue of grandfathering the EPS—meaning that the limits created in law should be allowed to be unchanged for plants below those limits—was discussed. It was proposed that the grandfathering should last for 20 years. I am grateful for a briefing from the think tank E3G, which pointed out that at that time the regulators said that 20 years of payback for a gas-fired power station was actually quite a long time and that 10 years was usual for payback on investment. They therefore suggested that a 15-year window for grandfathering would be more appropriate.

Fast-forward to Saturday 17 March 2012 and the surprise joint Statement by Secretary of State Ed Davey and the Chancellor, where it was announced that the EPS limit would remain unchanged at 450 grams per kilowatt hour, all the way until 2025—a considerable increase on that level of grandfathering, against what the regulator proposed and what was initially proposed in the White Paper. Why was this? What had happened in the intervening months? Quite clearly a grand bargain had been struck between the department and the Treasury, and that grand bargain has been the cause of a great deal of uncertainty. Essentially, it has allowed for two competing philosophies and energy strategies to emerge. One strategy is a dash for gas—unabated gas—which is obviously the Chancellor’s preferred option, and the other is much more sensible: the department’s policy of a mix of low-carbon generation. Somewhere along the line, though, the department clearly lost out in the arguments, and now we have an EPS that allows for unabated gas all the way to 2045.

The amendment seeks to change that by reducing the excessively long grandfathering period to the year 2029. We believe that this is consistent with the decarbonisation trajectory that we need to be on, and indeed with the Bill, which, we are told, is supposed to be setting a decarbonisation objective—it is not clear that that will be done, but we anticipate that it will— in 2016. How that can be set with gas being allowed to operate unabated all the way until 2045 is quite unclear to me.

The length of the grandfathering period seems to go against the existing requirement that all new thermal plants over 300 megawatts should be carbon capture and storage-ready. That provision was put in there for a reason: we anticipate meeting our targets through the application of CCS on thermal plants. If a completely unabated dash for gas is allowed to operate unimpeded until 2045, why should plants be made CCS-ready? It seems illogical to have that requirement but then not to use it.

I am sure that the Minister will come back with lots of arguments about this being a backstop measure and other policies being in place essentially to prevent us from exceeding our budgets, but I will speak to those when we come to the final amendment in this group. Those arguments, which I am sure will be around security of supply, costs and the like, do not stack up. As I said before, the amendments that we are proposing to the EPS clauses act as a package. We have been very encouraged by the warm words and the acceptance of the logic behind the CCS amendment that we have just discussed, and this is a part of that process. It is not just about allowing CCS to have a grace period and a proving period; CCS needs to have a market, and the market drivers are going to be these regulations.

Left to their own devices, generators will continue to build unabated plants. That is the cheapest thing that they can do. They will fit abatement equipment only when they are required to do so. The quickest, cheapest, most efficient way of doing that is through these regulations. These are an essential component in the Government’s armoury to ensure that we meet our carbon budgets and our legally binding carbon targets. I hope that the Minister will see that this is part of a package, and might be similarly receptive to this amendment and the thinking behind it. I beg to move.

My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for his response to the previous debate, which was measured and extremely encouraging. My problem with the issue that the noble Baroness has raised is simply that were the late date to produce a very considerable amount of gas-fired generation set at so late a date, we are seriously suggesting that in six years we are going to meet an 80% reduction in our emissions; that is what we are statutorily required to do. I say to my noble friend that I have not yet seen any evidence that this helps the other. This, after all, is a statement by the Government. It is not a statutory requirement. We have a statutory requirement. I hope that my noble friend takes this opportunity to explain to the Committee how this particular date can possibly sit side by side with all the other commitments of the Government.

That is the issue. It is a very simple, quietly put, but absolute issue. If you look at all the other things that the Government intend to do, and insist that they are doing, they do not, could not and will not stand alongside this date of 2044. That is six years before we have to achieve a statutory requirement.

It is hugely valuable to have the opportunity of raising this question with the Minister. I recognise that he will not agree with the amendment; I know perfectly well that that is not what is on his lists. His problem is that the Government have so far been unable to explain the disconnect between these two. I would not like to follow the noble Baroness in her attempts to describe how this came about. The fact is that it ain’t gonna stand up. The great thing about the Bill is that we are trying to ensure that we have a real future basis for action in order to meet our statutory requirements and the increasing threat of climate change. Therefore, we ought to highlight to the Government that this is not a matter of passing interest—a day or two out, a year or two different. This is a fundamental flaw in the present circumstances. The Minister will regret his position, because the discussions should not be taking place here. This discussion should have happened when it was announced. Many of us remember that no discussion could have taken place because of the way in which the announcement was made.

Any policy which was consistent with a grandfathering situation leading to 2044 could not be consistent with the statutory requirements for the reduction in emissions. Any policy consistent with the statutory requirements for 2050’s reduction of 80% could not be consistent with this statement about gas grandfathering. Because I have a great desire that the coalition Government shall succeed in their claim to be the greenest Government ever—a desire which I have independently and as chairman of the climate change committee because I want any Government to reach that goal—I say to the Minister that we shall have to listen very carefully to what he says. So far no Minister who has attempted to answer this question has been able to make these two things consistent. As long as they are not consistent, Ministers cannot blame industry outside. They have to ask themselves whether there is a consistent policy or whether the policy is in fact right at its centre.

My Lords, I support this amendment and the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Deben. It would be very interesting if the Minister could tell the Committee what he regards the implications of sticking to 2044 as a date would be, because it has totally excruciating consequences for the generation pattern in other parts of the system if our legal obligations are to be met.

My Lords, I, too, support this amendment. I will not repeat all the arguments that I and others have already given for the 2030 decarbonisation target. I seem to remember the Government’s response to that was, “Yes, probably a good idea but not yet”. Frankly, their emissions target of 450 grams per kilowatt hour in 2044 is just laughable. Bearing in mind that even if all our electricity is produced at that time by unabated gas, in 2044 our emissions would be around 300 grams per kilowatt hour. I cannot understand why this figure has been put in the Bill. It is absurd to set such a target for 2044.

To save me jumping to my feet on the next amendment we will discuss, I would like to say that I would prefer to see a target of 300 grams in 2029. I prefer to combine the two amendments, which would make a lot more sense. As the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, has said, we have to keep driving this CCS agenda. As I said in the previous debate, we have to be economically ambitious here, so I very much support this agenda and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I, too, have great concern about the very late date here. It seems that this, perhaps ironically, is the one area where I would hope to put a maximum, which might be 450, in primary legislation but give the Secretary of State discretion to tighten that standard through secondary legislation as years go by. I would expect to do that in most other areas of life, perhaps through European legislation for car emissions, white goods and all those things where we expect to tighten emission and efficiency limits over time. If a number is put in the Bill for the next 31 years, obviously it could be changed by primary legislation but that would take time and would be difficult. Rather than mess around with an EPS, we might as well just say, “We want to stop any coal generating after 2020 and we will let the rest of it do what we want”. That is the effect of writing the Bill as it stands.

Does my noble friend find it rather curious that we are prepared to put a date 31 years from now on this issue when we find it so difficult to give any long-term assurance that we need on any issue relating to reducing our emissions? In other words, it seems that we will do this for something that manifestly undermines our aims but we will not do it, even to the point of 2030, on things that might support our aims.

Indeed, although we have the situation, as I understand it—my noble friend will be closer to this—whereby the Government have to agree carbon budgets as they go along, this is contradictory to that same thing. I agree with him completely on that. I hope we can find a way to follow this amendment or to take out this very late date for a fixed emissions limit as high as that. In any other area of machinery or equipment, we would not accept this level of longevity for an emissions target.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling this amendment, which has prompted a further debate on this additional aspect of EPS. During our debate so far, there has been a good deal of consensus among noble Lords on ensuring that the UK remains an attractive option for those looking to invest in a low-carbon electricity sector, and on the importance of gas generation. Noble Lords have also noted that the key to meeting that objective is providing investors with certainty about the regulatory environment that will govern their assets.

The Government’s gas generation strategy, published in December, set out our view that, along with low-carbon generation, we expect gas generation to continue to play a major role in our electricity mix over the coming decades as we decarbonise our electricity system, providing flexible back-up to increasing levels of intermittent generation. It also said that we are likely to need significant investment in new gas plants, in part to replace older coal, gas and nuclear plants as they are retired from the system, with much of that investment likely to be in the 2020s. It is therefore vital that we provide investors in new gas plants with the degree of certainty needed to ensure investment comes forward. Certainty over the EPS is part of that, and grandfathering the EPS limit until the end of 2044 will—

A gas power station produces emissions of 300 grams per kilowatt hour, coal 600 grams. Hence we have the target of 450 grams. So, if we are trying to encourage more gas, why must we have an emissions target of 150 grams per kilowatt hour more than the 300 that gas emits?

Perhaps there is something I misunderstand here in the argument. This is not just about grandfathering, as I read it, it is about new plants in 2044. It will still only be 450. To get investor certainty, yes, we need the grandfathering, because once you have built the plants, as with cars, you are stuck with that. I would accept that once you have built them you would expect them to go through their normal life before any major refurbishment; you would expect that to stay at the emissions limit applying when that plant was first operated. However, this includes new plants, as I understand it, right up to 2044. That is not related to investor certainty, because plants at the moment would have grandfathering rights, but if we moved this date later on we could have different rules, and that would not affect investor certainty.

I thank noble Lords for their interventions. I think all will be revealed in due course.

I want to return to the matter of investors and business, because certainty over the EPS is part of that. The grandfathering of the EPS limit until the end of 2044 will, we believe, give investors in new gas plants certainty that the operation of their assets will not be constrained by the EPS for a period considered sufficient to make a return on their investment.

I am particularly mindful of what my noble friend Lord Deben said about business. It is important to note that business has made it clear that these grandfathering provisions are essential if the EPS is not to deter or increase the cost of investment in new gas plants.

On that point, will my noble friend give way? I still do not understand the difference of view. The Government refuse to have a carbon intensity target for 2030 in order to give confidence to business to invest in low-carbon generation, but they insist that we have the equivalent for 2049, or whenever it is, because otherwise we will not get investment in gas. At least one of those arguments must be untrue. I cannot understand this utter conflict. They are two different arguments; my noble friend gave the one on the one occasion and now gives the opposite on this. We cannot really accept this argument on the basis of logic.

Let me quote the CBI, which is particularly supportive of the Bill’s proposals:

“The current EPS proposal should remain unchanged … It has been set at a level that will allow new gas plants to be built … and it contains strong grandfathering proposals out to 2045 which will give investors confidence”.

I say to my noble friend that this is what the CBI believes is necessary for business investment, which I think all noble Lords would agree we desperately need.

Most of the members of the CBI have also asked for that on the question of carbon intensity in 2030, but there the Government have said, “It doesn’t matter what they say on this because we know best”. Yet when it comes to this issue, they quote the CBI and other industry bodies in favour of it. I come back to my point: we must have this approach either for both cases or for neither. If we are to have it for gas, surely we do not need it as far ahead as this. I come back to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron: we need it not at this level but only at 300 grams, as no one has suggested that gas will produce emissions of 450 grams. Where is that extra 150 grams coming from? What is it for?

As I say, I am quoting the CBI specifically on this matter, and it cites the year 2045. Although I understand what my noble friend is saying, I cannot renege on the fact that the CBI is specifically citing that particular year in the quote that I wanted to mention to the Committee.

There has also been a query, although we are going to discuss the 300 grams in further amendments, about the 450 grams. That figure represents a significant reduction in the emissions of a new coal plant. This level builds on and supports the planning requirement for any new coal plant to be equipped with CCS while being above the level of carbon emissions for a new gas plant. The 450-gram limit also provides some flexibility for CCS projects to help manage the uncertainties associated with first-of-kind technology. As I say, though, we will have a separate debate on this matter with the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth.

If I may continue, I say to noble Lords who may be concerned that we are locking in high levels of unabated gas generation well into the future, while grandfathering will give investor certainty over the regulatory regime under which their assets will operate in relation to EPS, it does not permit a right to emit. This is because as levels of low-carbon generation increase, with its use effectively prioritised due to its low generation cost, unabated gas generation will increasingly be displaced. The role of gas will therefore be to balance an energy system that includes greater amounts of inflexible and intermittent generation. Analysis for our gas generation strategy shows average overall load factors for gas plants at around 27% in 2030, based on achieving 100-grams-per-kilowatt-hour grid average emissions intensity.

The role of government is to strike a balance between the three objectives of energy policy: to decarbonise our electricity system, to maintain security of energy supply to the country and to keep costs to consumers to a minimum. I understand that the intention behind this amendment is to provide greater certainty for decarbonisation but, for the reasons I have set out, I believe that shortening the grandfathering period of the EPS would introduce uncertainty and risk to the new gas plants we will need to build up to 2030, and that the better way to balance these three objectives is through the approach that we are taking in the Bill.

I will study the references that have been made during this short debate, particularly my exchanges with my noble friend Lord Deben. As this is a technical matter, it would probably be better if I wrote to him and other noble Lords on this. I appreciate that the noble Baroness will be disappointed by my reply but I hope she understands that the Government cannot support her proposed approach because of the three objectives that we need to balance. On that basis, I hope that she will withdraw her amendment.

I know that I am stretching the patience of my noble friend but I want to get this clear in my mind. Does the legislation mean that in 2043 I can build a completely new gas plant as long as it emits under 450 grams per kilowatt hour, and operate it thereafter?

Perhaps I might suggest to my noble friend that there is a way out of this, which is that we put into the Bill a statement that all this applies to plants built before 2025. The Government can then have all that they want but we do not have the ridiculous situation in which I can build a gas plant in 2043, seven years before we have to reduce our emissions by 80%, which would drive a wedge totally through that. Is my noble friend prepared to consult on whether the Government will accept an amendment put forward on that basis, which has been suggested to me by my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith, who has made a very sensible proposal?

I have said that I will study everything that all noble Lords have said. The point is that you would not have certainty, building in 2043, that the EPS level would stay the same beyond 2044. I think that probably helps to clarify that. However, I will consider all the points that my noble friend has made.

I thank the Minister for his comments. It is incorrect to say that this amendment would introduce more uncertainty. It would introduce certainty of a different kind, one that is compatible with our legally binding targets on climate change. It is not introducing uncertainty because it is still primary legislation that tells the investor the framework within which they need to operate.

Are investors living on a different planet? Do they not know about the climate change targets that have been set for us, the legally binding carbon budgets and the planning requirements on the very plants that they will be building—that they should be carbon capture and storage-ready? Do they think that we are simply going to give up on climate change and ignore all this and that they can be merrily emitting for ever? It beggars belief that investors are saying that this is an absolute necessity for them to invest. Twenty years is ample to get a return on investment.

As I pointed out, when this was first being mooted, a 20-year grandfathering was suggested. Where this 31-year grandfathering came from, who knows? But it is not good enough for the Government to be quoting the CBI as if it is somehow the world’s expert on this. We know that it is not the CBI that has demanded this; we know it is the Treasury, and it comes back to the very point that I have been making throughout these proceedings, that there are two strategies at play in government on energy. There is uncertainty and a lack of clarity because of that. To argue that this amendment somehow introduces more uncertainty is quite rich, frankly, and completely inaccurate.

As your Lordships can tell, I am very disappointed that the Government cannot see the logic of this. As the noble Lord, Lord Deben, has pointed out, these two factors are incompatible. You cannot have unabated gas being built right the way out to 2044 and then suddenly meet your carbon targets. It is simply not possible.

You are creating a legal framework which lacks credibility. There is nothing more uncertain than that; if you ask any investor they will say that. This will be challenged and changed. Investors know that because they are not stupid and live in the real world where climate change is increasingly an issue that we need to tackle and we have a legally binding framework that insists that we do so.

I suggest that this is taken away and looked at again. The suggestion that came in at the end of perhaps putting a clause in which stipulates that this applies to plant built before a certain date is potentially a good way. However, I would say that this amendment is a perfectly good way of doing it, too. I am very disappointed to be withdrawing the amendment, and it is almost certainly something that we will come back to on Report.

Amendment 51JB withdrawn.

Amendment 51JC

Moved by

51JC: Clause 47, page 46, line 28, leave out “450” and insert “300”

My Lords, with the leave of the Committee, I will also speak to Amendment 51KA and to the other proposed amendments to Clause 47. In the process of doing this, I am sure that I will be echoing some of the things which have already been said. It has been revealed that the Bill is utterly inconsistent in this connection. It has been revealed that it is schizophrenic because there seem to be two opposing factions driving the Bill.

I will begin by examining the implications of Clause 47. It declares a formula for calculating an emissions limit for electricity generating stations that is the product of three factors. The first factor is the rate of CO2 emissions in the grams per kilowatt hour of a station running efficiently and at full capacity. The second factor is the maximum capacity of the station. The third factor represents the assumption that the plant will be operating for 85% of the available hours.

In the discussion of these matters, attention has been concentrated on the emissions rate but it is clear that this does not tell the full story. The other assumptions also bear some examining. It seems unlikely that, whenever it is running, the station will be operating at full capacity. It is also unlikely that it will be in operation for 7,746 hours in the year out of the total of 8,760 hours—that is, for 85 percent of the time. The Committee can imagine a host of stations operating for much less than 85% of the available time, all of which fulfil their statutory limits as defined in the Bill, and all of which have actual emission rates far in excess of the statutory rate. The consequence would be an average rate of emissions that, likewise, exceeds by far the so-called statutory rate.

The statutory rate of 450 grams may be compared with the emissions rate of coal-fired stations and of stations employing combined-cycle gas turbines. A DECC press release of March 2012 estimates the former at 800 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour and the latter at 400 grams per kilowatt hour. It follows that, whereas unabated coal-fired stations fall foul of the limits, the combined cycle gas turbine will fall well within them. Unabated coal-fired power stations also fall foul of European Union standards for limiting the emissions of nitrates and of sulphate particles.

In this country, the majority of these stations are reaching the ends of their lives. Therefore, we can assume that they have no future in their present form. Nevertheless, it will be essential to monitor the process by which these noxious stations are decommissioned. For that reason, Amendment 51KA asks the Secretary of State to publish and lay before Parliament the strategy for phasing out unabated coal.

It is estimated that, currently, the power sector has an emissions intensity of just over 500 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour. The conclusion is that, after the demise of the coal and oil stations, nothing would need to be done to fulfil the emissions performance standard that is declared in the Bill. Therefore, the way is open for a second instalment of the so-called “dash for gas”, which would see virtually all new electricity generating plant taking the form of combined cycle gas turbine equipment. Moreover, it has been widely recognised that this is precisely the scenario envisaged by a powerful faction within the Conservative Government, which is led by the Chancellor, George Osborne.

There are other factors that would intrude on this scenario that ought to be mentioned. The first is the existence of a carbon floor price, which is a levy to be imposed on industries if the market price of carbon falls below a certain level. Originally, coal was the only carbon source in question, but now oil and gas also fall within the definition. If the floor price were to be used at a later stage as a mechanism for achieving the decarbonisation of Britain’s electricity-generating industry, an industry based on gas would bear a heavy burden.

The second factor to be considered is the EU emissions trading scheme. At present this is barely operative, with the prices of the permits far below a level that would impose an effective restraint on emissions. If the scheme were to become fully operative, a heavy burden would fall on the gas-powered electricity-generating industry; and this could be at a time when international gas prices were escalating hugely.

Of course, as has been thoroughly emphasised, we must also consider our obligation under the Climate Change Act to cut emissions by 80% by 2050. Clause 47, which declares a statutory rate of emissions of 450 grams per kilowatt hour, effective until 2044, suggests that this obligation can be utterly disregarded. If there is to be any chance of meeting the obligations of the Climate Change Act, something far more stringent is required, as many speakers have indicated.

The amendments to Clause 47 propose that the allowable emissions rate should be reduced to 300 grams per kilowatt hour and that the allowance should extend no further than 2029. What is required is a sequence of limits that become progressively more stringent as time elapses. Such a regime of tightening limits is also required if we are to send signals to encourage investment in renewable energy and in carbon sequestration—assuming, of course, that the latter will become an available and effective technology, which it is reasonable to doubt.

At present, there is a hiatus in the investment in renewable energy. Later, the Committee will have the opportunity to discuss the causes of this failure. For the present, we might look at the adjacent page of the Bill, where Clause 48 deals with the suspension of the emissions limits in exceptional circumstances. The circumstances in question are an electricity shortfall or a significant risk of an electricity shortfall. As we all know, there is already a significant risk of a shortfall. The impression given by Clause 48 is that the Government are readily contemplating the abandonment of the emissions standards. In accepting the amendment to Clause 47, they have the opportunity to allay that suspicion, and I hope we will hear something to reassure us.

My Lords, I suggest that there is much here for the Government to think about seriously. We need a policy that is clearly consistent in its detail as well as in its broad thrust, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, has rightly suggested that this is an area in which consistency is not readily obvious. We are looking to make clear to everyone the internal consistency that I am sure there is.

My noble friend rightly said that the key issue, as we have been arguing right the way through, is certainty for the future. Surely, if we are going to meet the obligations laid before us under the Climate Change Act, we need to make it possible for people to proceed along a sensible path. We have carbon budgets that take us all the way to 2027—that is where we are—yet we appear to have none of the underpinning activity to ensure that, side by side with that, the energy industry is able to meet the requirements of those carbon budgets. However, Parliament has passed those carbon budgets; they are part of the law of the land, as part of a structure that Parliament decided upon. We ought to make the point in this Committee that Parliament decided that as Parliament. It was not the Government who decided on the Climate Change Act but Parliament. Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Scottish nationalists, Welsh nationalists, Irish Protestants and Labour Members together said, “This is a non-party issue. We as Parliament want this to happen”. I am sure that my noble friend will know that in the House of Commons there were but five votes against that Act, including the two tellers.

I am not by any means saying that the noble Viscount has exactly the right answer to this, but I say to my noble friend that we have to recognise that unless we do something in this area, as in the previous amendment, we stand challenged in defending the claim that we are keeping to the law of the land. That is the issue for this Committee. Our job is to ensure that we obey the law of the land, and the law is very clear here. It has targets and budgets up to 2027, and I do not see how you can meet those if at the same time you are continuing and creating energy sources that are manifestly not in line with that. I hope my noble friend will be able to say at least that he will take this away and look at it again. Any other answer puts this Committee into the real difficulty of having to remind the House of Lords that we have responsibilities in terms of our legal needs to meet the decisions that Parliament as a whole has already come to.

My Lords, I have hesitated to intervene in this section for some time, but I feel that I should follow my noble friend Lord Deben in this matter. The truth is that the 2050 target for the electricity generating industry is zero. That is the reality of the economy that we have to head into. To assume that we can have gas plants running at this level five years short of that is perhaps acceptable if they are constructed in the next short timescale, with a view to them going out of use in 2045, but it will not be acceptable for something constructed in 2040. It is as simple and basic as that.

The purpose of having a discussion in a Committee like this on a Bill like this is to enable Members to raise these types of inconsistencies and for the Government to say, and I hope that the Minister will: “There is actually a point here. We will go away and think very seriously about this”. If gas generation is to continue past 2050, it will have to have CCS fitted to it and will have to work pretty well perfectly. My opinion—I think I said this at Second Reading—is that we should stop messing about with CCS in coal because it is not going to get us there. It may get us there with gas, or we have to have other forms of generation. That is now the law of the land and we are not going to set that aside. Frankly, one would have to say to our noble friends speaking for the department that if they flatly reject this, they are asking for amendments to be brought forward on Report that will then have to be voted on, and I would rather they did not do that. They ought to be able to arrive at a more reasoned approach.

My Lords, in speaking to the amendments tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, I will not go over what I have previously said. I feel strongly that this aspect of the Bill has not had the degree of scrutiny that it deserves. Our Committee has gone through it in far greater detail than was achieved in the Commons, where only a cursory debate was had. With the number of noble Lords who have spoken, we clearly have expressed concern that the Government have not quite got it right in their current formulation.

One of the problems is that this is primary legislation with an equation, numbers and dates written into it. That makes it an incredibly inflexible tool that would need more primary legislation to change. I do not believe that the levels here were the product of a great deal of consideration, analysis and thought; I believe that they came out of a hurried meeting between two departments with different views, and to have them enshrined in primary legislation seems reckless. I encourage the Government to think carefully before pushing for these matters to stay unamended in primary legislation. Perhaps it would be better for them to be dealt with in regulation.

Given the wide-ranging powers that the Government have given themselves on everything else with very little detail, it is odd that this rather unhelpful set of prescriptions is in primary legislation. There are lots of things here to be taken back and thought about. I will speak more on the coal issue when we come to those amendments as there are considerable issues about unabated coal in the future, but there is definitely merit in taking this away.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for his amendments, which have given us a further opportunity to consider these matters. As I have said, with my noble friend the Minister I will obviously consider what has been reported in Hansard. That is the important part of what we are doing in Committee.

The EPS focuses on helping us to meet our commitment to preventing new unabated coal-fired power stations being built by limiting the emissions of any new coal plant to around half of what they would otherwise be. The EPS supports the planning requirement that any new coal-fired power station must be equipped with CCS on at least 300 megawatts of its generating capacity, and will ensure that any new coal plant is constructed and operated in a way consistent with our decarbonisation objectives. Setting the limit at 450 grams per kilowatt hour will allow some flexibility to assist the economic optimisation of CCS demonstration projects and to manage the uncertainties associated with first-of-a-kind CCS projects.

We are concerned about going to a limit level of 300, which is below the emissions level of even the most efficient and cleanest new gas plant operating at base load, as proposed by this amendment, because of the major implications it may have for this country’s security of supply and impact on consumers’ bills. The 300 limit would restrict the running hours of new and cleaner gas plant that are needed to replace ageing capacity retiring over the next decade, impacting on the commercial viability of new gas plant and so deterring the much needed investment we need or increasing the costs of those investments.

In addition to introducing a significant risk to investors, the 300 limit could, under certain scenarios, lead to increased emissions and costs. For example, if new gas plants were restricted in their operating hours by the 300 limit, that could lead to the need to use less efficient coal or gas plants to make up the shortfall in operating hours in order to provide power for the country. This is a scenario that I am sure the noble Viscount does not intend to create through his amendment, but I think that there is a danger of that. Setting the EPS at 300 would also increase performance risk for CCS projects and, as a result, would increase the costs of projects that are currently coming forward now under the Government’s £1 billion CCS competition.

The noble Viscount’s Amendment 51KA would insert a provision into Clause 47 that would place a duty on the Secretary of State to publish and lay before Parliament a strategy for the phase-out of unabated coal generation within six months of Royal Assent. The measures in the Bill form part of a suite of policies designed to deliver the Government’s strategy for reducing carbon emissions, as set out in the Government’s carbon plan published in December 2011.

The Government have also published a number of low-carbon technology-specific plans, including road maps for carbon capture and storage and renewables. A reduction in unabated coal generation is therefore strongly implicit in these plans and policies, so I remain to be convinced that a strategy of the type proposed by the amendment is required.

My noble friend Lord Deben asked whether the emissions target of 450 grams per kilowatt hour until 2044 is consistent with decarbonisation. The EPS is not a target but a limit on emissions from individual plants. Our EMR policies, CFDs and carbon pricing will determine the level of fossil fuel generation. The EPS is a backstop to our policy of no new coal without CCS.

We want to remove risk around investments in CCS and new gas, rather than introducing risk. Similarly, we want to reduce carbon emissions and not create a risk that more emissions will result at greater cost to consumers, which I fear the amendment would lead to. I therefore have concerns about the noble Viscount’s first amendment as well. As I have said, I shall look at Hansard because, given some of the detail that is being discussed, it is important to make sure that I fully understand it. However, for the reasons that I have outlined, I hope that the noble Viscount will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

I regret that the Minister has been placed in a position of having to defend the indefensible. Nevertheless, I am pleased that he appears to have understood the fallacy inherent in the formula that is written into the Bill, which would indeed allow the rate of emissions to exceed anything that is reasonable if we presuppose, as we seem to be doing, that there is no role for renewables in this future scenario.

I shall indeed withdraw the amendment, but I give notice that I shall raise the issue again on Report. In fact, I do not think that I really need to make that assertion because I am pretty convinced that the same issues will be raised by many other people. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 51JC withdrawn.

Amendment 51K

Moved by

51K: Clause 47, page 47, line 30, at end insert—

“( ) for determining how the duty imposed by subsection (1) should apply to carbon dioxide emissions associated with the lifecycle of production and use of biomass fuels in all generating stations”

My Lords, I move into an area that on the whole is pretty contentious. I do so almost reluctantly because I am a great supporter of biomass. The question is: what should the characteristic of that biomass be? What is the truth behind the sustainability of that biomass? What does it mean in terms of major changes in the way in which we produce electricity, particularly from existing fossil fuel plants in the UK, in the context of the Bill?

We have already seen some of the effects of burning biomass. The major effect of course is in deforestation in developing countries. It was previously estimated that some 20% of global emission were produced by deforestation—by burning trees while they were standing in forests. That figure has been reduced to something like 10% to 12%, but it remains a major amount, and that is clearly adding to the stock of carbon in the atmosphere. More than half of it is accounted for by Brazil and Indonesia.

The low-carbon route map for our generation suggests that by about 2017 we will have some 6 gigawatts of biomass generation within the UK. Most of that will be around the use of coal plants as they are at the moment, co-firing or moving on to dedicated biomass generators instead. This is a major change to make while we are still trying to understand the whole-carbon cycle effect of that change. The amount of biomass required to feed that capacity of some 6 gigawatts is of course much larger than our own harvest of wood within the UK.

I do not necessarily oppose importing by ship from abroad. That is a very efficient and low-carbon way of bringing fuel into the UK, depending on where it comes from and on its road routes at either end. What concerns me is to understand the thinking of the Government on looking at the whole life cycle of biomass, in terms of it being used on that scale, within the United Kingdom. As I understand it, there is a rule before the ROCs can apply—and future financial benefits for renewable energy—stating that the biomass must be at least 60 % of emissions, as previously.

How are the Government looking at this now? Can the Minister describe the situation with European legislation, as I understand there are moves in this area to restrict or reduce the amount of fuel or biomass that can be used towards renewable targets? I want to understand how this Bill will fit within that potential scenario. Unfortunately, in many ways I am now convinced that it is not quite as straightforward as it was and that burning biomass is not a zero-carbon sum. If you reduce the stock of wood in the world, it will take some time to replace it. If that is within the current forestry limits or within the current limits in cutting down and using that wood, then that is sustainable. However, if we are going to increase it beyond that amount, then that sustainability becomes questionable. We need to pay rather more attention to these factors than we have done in the past, and I look forward to the Minister’s explanation of how the Government are looking at this and how we can ensure that this harvest is sustainable over its whole life rather than necessarily looking at it as a carbon-free, completely renewable resource for electricity generation. I beg to move.

I should say to my noble friend Lord Teverson that having not perhaps been easy in my comments up to now, on this I say to him that this is a real and very difficult issue that I am sure the Government are thinking about very hard. This is because levels of sustainability differ in different circumstances. The Committee on Climate Change discusses this on a regular basis because it is extremely hard to keep up with the developing circumstances. What we do not want is to think that we have changed to a low-carbon alternative and discover that actually it is nothing of the sort. That is the worry that people have.

There is a second worry, which is that we are facing ever greater shortages of food. The one thing we do not want is to have a situation in which our battle against climate change—climate change itself causes some of the shortages of food—is then seen as a kind of competition with the provision of food. That is of course why biomass in those circumstances is so complex a matter. However, I say to my noble friend that no one has a simple answer to this and I am sure he is not going to give us one today; we would not expect one.

No one has a simple answer because we all started off on the wrong basis. For example, the green movement was very much in favour of biomass. It was therefore almost unquestionably a good thing until they began to recognise the potential downside. That meant there was a huge swing to the opposite direction. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves in extremes rather than finding some sensible place for the pendulum to stop.

It is also true that there are many vested interests in this area. The farming industry saw it as a wonderful way in which it could increase its opportunities of reaching markets because this was a new area that farmers could exploit. Of course, as food prices go up and their returns from food production become greater, it is a real issue for them too. While in the United States, I have to declare that I had a visit from the representatives of the so-called—“so-called” because I cannot prove this, as I will explain shortly—sustainable forestry industry. They came to explain to me, as chair of the Committee on Climate Change, that they were unhappy about what we had said about these issues. I said, “Do you have forests that are independently certified?”. “No,” they said, “but we know it’s all right”. I cannot accept that as a reasonable response. In the world out there, we must be careful about how we change our energy supplies and do not undermine the truth of what we are saying.

So I say to my noble friend: this is a difficult area. None of us expects him to have an easy answer, because no one else has. However, I hope he understands that we will have to look at this during the Bill and to come back to it on Report, simply because things are moving so fast that we need to be sure that we have done everything we can to protect the Government from later assertions that they have encouraged the substitution of one form of emission creation with another form of emission creation. That is what we have to guard against.

My Lords, I, too, have been following this issue carefully. Before my noble friend Lord Ridley had a very provocative article published in The Times three or four weeks ago, I had quite an argument with him. He told me what he was going to write and I said it was rubbish. He duly wrote his article, and there were letters, including one from my noble friend the Minister, and from a number of other sources, which said that he was talking rubbish.

I am sorry that my noble friend is not here today: perhaps there will be another opportunity for him to defend his view here. However, I do not think I am doing him an injustice when I say that his view is based on the proposition that a biomass that depends on the growing of trees cannot in any way be regarded as a renewable source. I said to him that they grow again and that if forests are properly managed—and many of them are, not least by the Forestry Commission in this country but also in Scandinavia and so on—the turnaround is about 30 years. He said no, it is 90 years. He may well know a great deal more about this than I do. I have so far subscribed to the view that when a biomass source is used as a fuel for energy, if it can reproduce itself over a period—and of course, as they grow, trees reabsorb the carbon dioxide that they emit during combustion—then it is a renewable source.

I was worried at one point about the importation of timber and its threat to the health of our forestry, against the background of ash dieback. I arranged an interview with the head of the trade association in America that exports manufactured wood pellets, a large quantity of which come to this country. I have also talked to the companies that burn them, notably Drax, which is converting part of its coal-burning to biomass, as is Eggborough, a different kind of company but one also in the process of a substantial conversion to biomass. They base it entirely on the import of manufactured wood pellets from reputable sources in America or Scandinavia. I was completely satisfied that the manufacturing process totally eliminates the possibility of the importation of any funguses or other diseases that affect timber here. I have not heard any suggestion that if it is properly handled there is any risk in that direction.

Of course, the other thing they have to ensure is that in the course of transportation the wood pellets never get wet; otherwise, they have to use a great deal of energy getting them dry again. Indeed, if one studies the export arrangements in America, the import arrangements here and the transport arrangements by rail to the power stations, a great deal of effort is made to ensure that they are always under cover and never get wet, because it destroys the efficacy of the fuel source.

I see absolutely no objection to deriving some of our energy supply from that source. Indeed, the Government have accepted that, because they are going along with—and indeed providing subsidies for—the conversion of coal-fired power stations to burning biomass. That was the basis of my argument with the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, on this. Of course, he was very sharply answered by both companies that replied to his article in the Times, along with my noble friend.

My noble friend Lord Teverson may well be right that we need to come back to this, to look at it overall. As my noble friend Lord Deben said, it is not as simple as it was thought to be at first glance and opinion has swung violently from one way to the other; quite a lot of the environmental bodies are now campaigning passionately against any form of biomass. That cannot be right but nevertheless we need to keep a very careful eye on this.

From what I have discovered so far, the major uses of biomass as a renewable source in this country are unexceptional. If they are properly managed and properly replanted and so on, these trees are fine. I have tabled an amendment, of which I have given my noble friend notice, concerning the problem of people substituting a subsidised energy use for normal wood products manufacture. We will come to that when we reach Clause 21. That is a separate issue. It is not an environmental issue; it is a question of fair trading and fair competition. Nevertheless, there are these issues and we need to keep a very careful eye on them.

The question of importation of wood chips is a very different matter. There you can have the importation of the kind of diseases from which our forestry may well suffer. That has to be very carefully monitored. We cannot have a repeat of Dutch elm disease or ash dieback, and now there is the threat to oak trees. If this country is anything, it is a country where we have long basked in the glory of our wonderful trees and that really has to be a top priority. I agree with my noble friend Lord Teverson that this is something that we need to keep an eye on.

I am reasonably confident that my noble friend will repeat the view that she expressed in her reply in the Times, that she is satisfied that as a form of renewable energy, biomass is perfectly acceptable—if it is properly regulated and properly sourced.

I had a marvellous meeting with a member of the Aitken family. They have a very small business which promotes power generation for individual factories and distilleries based entirely on the wood that is left behind after the forest has been commercially felled and taken away. There is always a mass of stuff left behind that can be gathered up and used to generate fuel. I am sure that that is a great deal easier than replanting the forest once the rubbish has been removed. Their business is based entirely on removing the rubbish and burning it. That seems to me an admirable thing to do, and it is another example of how biomass can contribute to helping us solve our energy problems.

My Lords, my name is attached to the amendment. I was not going to speak because of time, but the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has reminded me of a presentation that I had some years ago. I may have got the town wrong but I think it was Barnsley. It was in a coalfield area. The local authority there used coal for the district heating in its blocks of flats. I will always remember the description of the terrible mess that the coal dust made everywhere; the women who lived in the flats hated it because they always got coal dust in their curtains. The story is that they changed over to local biomass, which was interesting biomass because it was entirely what they gleaned from trimming and pruning trees and shrubs in the local area. Enough was produced, so it did not have to travel a long way but was enough to replace the coal in these blocks of flats, and the ladies with their curtains were delighted because they did not get soot any more. That has stayed in my mind.

When people first started looking at biomass, that is the sort of thing that they were thinking about. However, when you start to go into some of the ideas about bringing all sorts of things from America—we have just heard that they do not certify their wood either—then it is a completely different issue that we need to look at more carefully. Still, I thought the Barnsley system was pretty good.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, we agree that biomass could make a significant and important contribution to the UK’s renewable energy thorough the use of sustainable feed stocks from waste. Again like the noble Lord, we agree that biomass should be sustainable.

The current plans would result in a rapid expansion of large-scale biomass electricity generation, principally through the full or part-conversion of existing coal-fired power stations. The EPS establishes a maximum level of emissions for electricity generated by a power station over a year. However, the only emissions that it recognises are those from fossil fuels, while biomass emissions are counted as zero.

As other noble Lords have argued, emissions from biomass can be interpreted as being quite substantial, as they should include emissions associated with the planting, growing, harvesting, processing and transport of biomass. This is in addition to the increase in emissions as a result of carbon debt—that is, the time it takes for tree regrowth and recovery of carbon stocks. Indeed, the sources of the stocks are also to be taken into account in sustainability requirements.

Many coal-powered plants are planned to be converted partially or entirely to biomass to extend their operating lifetimes and to benefit from the substantial subsidies available under the renewable obligations. A conversion to biomass under these amendments would trigger the EPS to cover the whole power station, including the life-cycle emissions from biomass. The amendments would complement the Government’s own proposals for sustainability standards for biomass generators, which include a life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions standard for emissions from harvesting and processing. We entirely support the intention that the EPS is triggered should any generation from biomass take place. If that is not to be the case, there is a danger that a plant close to breaching its limit might convert to a small amount of biomass in an attempt to remain under the threshold.

My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend for tabling the amendment, and all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. Whether it is for energy or, more particularly, their beauty, this country has a strong bond with trees. Although this is going off the subject, the tree diseases we have are particularly alarming and we need to do something about them.

I appreciate entirely the intention behind my noble friend’s amendments. They raise the issue of biomass for power generation and the need for appropriate measures to ensure that the sourcing and use of biomass are environmentally sustainable. The Government share my noble friend’s wishes in this respect and are taking steps to ensure that biomass can continue to play a sustainable role in a low-carbon energy mix.

Sustainability reporting is already applied to biomass plants under the renewables obligation. Generators using solid biomass and biogas feedstocks are asked to report on their performance against sustainability criteria, including a greenhouse gas life cycle target of 285 grams per kilowatt hour. The sustainability reports are published by Ofgem. However, under the current regime, if a generator does not meet the target, the consequence is solely one of reputational risk.

The Government have therefore consulted on proposals to enhance the existing sustainability criteria under the renewables obligation. The consultation includes proposals to: bring in a tightening trajectory so that the current target of a 60% greenhouse emissions saving compared to fossil fuel gets tougher over time in a series of steps; bring in new sustainable forest management criteria that consider a range of forestry issues, including biodiversity, land use rights, and sustainable harvesting rates; require generators to provide an independent audit of their sustainability report; and link eligibility for financial support with demonstrating meeting the improved criteria. We are planning to publish the Government’s response to the consultation later this month.

My noble friend also mentioned what the EU is doing in terms of sustainability under the renewables target. The European Commission expects to publish an updated report on sustainability criteria for solid biomass and biogas later this year. The current approach is voluntary and the Commission is considering if a mandatory approach is needed for solid biomass and biogas, and for biofuels and bioliquid. Some progress is being made there.

Given the incentive created by linking financial support to sustainability criteria, we believe that the renewables obligation is the most appropriate mechanism for delivering these improvements. Biomass projects supported under a contract for difference are also intended to be subjected to sustainability controls, and Clauses 6 and 10 of the Bill provide the necessary powers. Although no final decision has been taken on the details of these controls under contracts for difference, it would seem sensible for consistency and clarity that these will be consistent with those under the renewables obligation.

Given that the Government are already proposing to strengthen the renewables obligation, and that powers exist for CFDs to include terms relating to sustainability, I hope that my noble friend will understand the concern that the thrust of these amendments to the EPS is covered elsewhere and may risk creating undue complexity and uncertainty for investors. The purpose of the EPS is to place a limit on the carbon emissions from fossil fuel power plants. In addition to the reasons I have set out, installations which use biomass exclusively as their fuel are specifically excluded from the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. Consequently, choosing not to cover biomass under the EPS treats it in a manner consistent with the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

While I am wholly sympathetic to the intent behind my noble friend’s amendments, I hope that he will be sufficiently reassured that the Government are taking appropriate steps to strengthen further existing sustainability requirements in respect of the use of biomass. On that basis, I hope he might withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Deben. I have often said that this is the one issue on which the pendulum swings from one extreme to the other—from being the silver bullet, it becomes the devil incarnate. With the sort of issues being looked at at the moment, perhaps at some point it will swing back again. I very much appreciate the Minister going through the thoughts and processes that the Government are having. It is very appropriate that we will have the response to the consultation at the end of this month, which will be well ahead of Report stage. I look forward to that, as well as to how the European situation starts to move forward. We can come back to that area later. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 51K withdrawn.

Amendment 51KA not moved.

Clause 47 agreed.

Schedule 4 : Application and modification of emissions limit duty

Amendment 51L not moved.

Amendment 51M

Moved by

51M: Schedule 4, page 125, line 3, at end insert—

“(iii) substantial pollution abatement equipment dealing with oxides of sulphur, oxides of nitrogen, heavy metal emissions or particles is fitted to the generating station”

My Lords, I take the emissions performance standard very seriously, as I did at Second Reading. An astounding fact, if we have one in terms of energy generation, is the resurgence of coal to its position of dominance of electricity generation in the UK. During 2012, 43% of electricity was generated by coal; gas, the previous number one, went down to 28%; and nuclear was at 20%. When the Climate Change Bill was passed into an Act, I do not believe that any of us would ever have expected that, as part of this programme towards a 2050 decarbonisation of our economy as a whole, in a few years’ time we would be looking at coal being so important to us in terms of our electricity generation and our economy. That concerned me greatly but we have had assurance that, due largely to the large combustion plant directive, coal will disappear over the next few years as the remaining coal plants in the United Kingdom have to close down, as a large number already have. We all felt very secure in that knowledge and in the fact that that would happen.

However, there is a significant concern if the price of coal stays very low in comparison with gas. I see no reason why gas prices should come down in the short term. Whatever happens with shale or whatever else, it seems pretty likely that gas prices will continue to go up. There will then be incentives for generating companies that own coal plants to modify them to comply with the large combustion plant directive through getting rid of their sulphurous and nitrous gases. Of course, that directive does not deal with carbon emissions. They are completely separate. But there is an avenue, and now a potentially economic avenue, for those coal plants to comply with that directive. They can continue under this Bill to generate coal well into the future until finally they need to have their boilers replaced, at which point the Bill very effectively says that you have to comply with 450 grams until 2044. Therefore, we have had a pathway. The way out of that was meant to be carbon capture and storage. If we had abated coal and it went below that emissions limit, that was a way forward and coal was legitimate within that context. Therefore, I am very concerned that this potential loophole—or gap, or pathway—for coal generation to continue needs to be sealed once and for all.

I was very pleased indeed that my noble friend the Minister, if I could quote him from a couple of amendments ago, said, “No more coal without CCS”. Absolutely—that is what we are here for. For some reason we cannot put that plain language in the Bill. We could just say that, could we not? But we are not; we are giving it a fair chance but trying to make it impossible. I am asking the Minister if he would doubly make sure that that is impossible by looking favourably on this amendment. I beg to move.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for tabling this amendment, to which I have added my name.

I have previously described the measures that have been put down as a package. This is an essential component of that. I go so far as to say that I would be less concerned about the gas grandfathering if this amendment was accepted. This amendment addresses a very real risk and need. My worry about our current policy on coal is that a degree of complacency has started to take root, based on the idea that all the old coal is simply going to shut up shop and quietly disappear from the grid. Having worked for a power company that owns coal-fired power stations, I can tell your Lordships that these are incredibly profitable assets and the companies will do all they can to keep them operating for as long as they can.

A lot has been said, in the media and elsewhere, and in statements from the Government, about the lights going out and about this terrible problem of coal-fired power stations closing. Actually, as I have said before, the 8 gigawatts of coal that was required to close under the large combustion plant directive has already gone so we do not have a problem in the short term. In fact, we have 20 gigawatts of old coal carrying on. That is made up of 12 plants—the dirty dozen—that will be carrying on.

When the process of the Bill started, the premise was that new coal was the greatest threat. In fact, it says that in the consultation document. But that is fundamentally wrong. When it comes to managing carbon, old coal is far and away the worst source of emissions. These plants were built in the late 1960s and early 1970s—some of them are older than I am—and they have well paid back their initial investments. They have made the successive companies that have owned them a lot of money and it really is time to let them retire gracefully.

Does the noble Baroness agree that the reporting of the dangers of the lights not being kept on is much encouraged by those who would wish to continue to use very old, very highly emitting generating plants? Will she remind everyone that those emissions are changing our climate as we speak and that the quicker they are phased out, the safer it is for our children?

I could not agree more. These dirty dozen plants have very low efficiency and very high carbon intensity. They have been made more carbon-intensive by the fitting of scrubbing equipment to meet the requirements of the large combustion plant directive, so these are some of the worst possible sources of electricity when it comes to carbon.

The assumption was that those plants would be closing under the next round of air quality standards. However, the world is moving quite quickly and gas prices are at such a level and coal prices so low that it is now increasingly likely that these plants will refurbish, fit filters and seek to carry on.

I am sure there will be many arguments in the Minister’s notes that will tell him that closing the plants is something that the Government could not possibly do and there are too many risk associated with it. The first will probably be, “Oh, well, the lights will go out”. That would absolutely and categorically not be a result of the amendment. The amendment would merely place a carbon constraint on plants that are seeking a significant life extension beyond the period for which we currently anticipate them to operate. This would put us much more in line with the Californian legislation that we have based the EPS on. The Californian provisions apply if a company makes a significant investment in an existing plant that would seek to extend its life beyond five years. That is an important provision that is missing here, in our interpretation of the EPS.

It is not a question of the lights going out. As we have discussed, the EPS is drafted in such a way as to allow flexibility. It is an annual limit that is averaged out, so these plants would not necessarily close but they would not be able to base-load. That is the significant difference. Plants investing in life extensions today must accept that they cannot base-load indefinitely through the 2020s and into the 2030s.

Another note that I am sure the Minister will receive will say: “Well, they’re old plants; they’re reaching the end of their lives”. I would just point out that Uskmouth power station, owned by SSE and built in 1961, will be 60 years old in 2020. These plants can and do operate for very long periods, and they do not need boiler replacements in order to do so. They could replace every other element of the station and still be allowed to operate without being required to reduce emissions under the EPS.

I am sure that the other question that will be raised is that the amendment is not needed: “We do not need this to apply to old coal because we have other mechanisms designed to force coal off the system”, and among them I am sure the carbon price will be listed. I would just say that the carbon price is not a credible policy when it comes to investors making decisions on the lives of their coal plants, for a number of reasons: it is a financial Bill measure, it has no longevity and it has no future path beyond two years. I have heard from former generators that they cannot even sell their power on a PPA two years in advance from thermal plant because of the degree of uncertainty about carbon pricing. That is not going to force these plants to close.

Even if the price were maintained, the reason why they will not close is that these dirty dozen are equally distributed among the existing vertically integrated companies. The reason why that is significant is that if one of them opts one plant in, they may as well all opt them in because the companies can all just pass the cost of carbon through to their customers. As we have previously discussed, there is no genuine competition, so as soon as one opts in the other five may as well follow. Actually, it is five out of the six; Centrica has no coal. The other five, though, can all safely opt in a plant and pass on the costs without fear of competitive distortion. So, even with a price, that is not going to work with regard to ensuring that they are constrained.

People will say, “Well, you’re simply going to push up the costs to the consumer. Coal is cheap and we need to keep it running”. Actually, this is the cheapest way of staying within our carbon budgets. I have mentioned it before but the climate change committee has identified that we can save between 200 grams and 250 grams per kilowatt hour by doing nothing other than reversing the merit order of gas and coal. That is exactly what we are seeking to do. People say this will push the costs up but it in fact it is much cheaper than overinvesting in new capacity if it is not necessary.

It is also true that the carbon floor price is already pushing up the price. The difference between the two is that with the carbon floor price you have to pay the money irrespective of what happens; there is no guarantee that the carbon floor price will deliver any new investment or indeed any switch in the merit order. With the EPS, though, the price would go up only if coal was being driven off, so you would pay only if something was actually being delivered.

I am sure that there will be notes saying, “Well, the regulatory risk that this will create means that investors will never invest in Britain again because the rules have changed”. I am afraid that if you own one of these dirty power stations and you have been sweating this asset for so long, and then you think that you will never invest in Britain again because you are asked to comply with a carbon constraint, you are not living on the same planet as I am, or indeed as the majority of people are.

You must expect to face a constraint on carbon. You cannot operate these inefficient coal stations and expect to be immune from carbon regulations. This back-stop power is exactly what you would expect to be introduced, especially as this is how it is currently enforced in America, where this idea came from originally.

As I have said before, these clauses were not really discussed in detail in the Commons. What little the Minister, John Hayes, did say included that we did not want to discourage investment in air-quality filters, and that this would effectively do that. However, Britain is well behind in its compliance with air quality. The best way of meeting air quality standards would be to see these stations closed. Fitting of filters is just a temporary measure. It takes emissions down but it does not remove them altogether.

Didcot power station, one of our most iconic power stations and perhaps our most readily seen, just outside Oxford, has closed. The people around Oxfordshire are delighted. Not only has the microclimate around it changed, but the air quality has now improved. Not only do coal stations produce NOx, SOx, particulates and carbon, they are also a source of low-level ionising radiation. These stations should not feature in a modern power system, certainly not in a country with legally binding carbon targets which we have to meet. Every one of these stations which stays open displaces two gas stations. They are twice as emitting as gas, if not more. If you want a future with a greater role for gas, you have to accept that you cannot have that and have, certainly, around 8 gigawatts and up to 15 gigawatts of coal, depending on the decisions that are made; the numbers range, and there is no certainty at all as to how many coal-fired power stations will carry on.

Finally, the amendment would introduce greater certainty to this market. As an investor, if you have a question mark over 7, 8, 9 or 10 gigawatts of coal carrying on—which may not carry on, because you simply do not know what they are going to do—that increases risk and pushes up the cost of capital. It is not a good way of going forward. That uncertainty has been created by the Government. Under the IED regulations we are required to report in our transitional national plan what these stations are going to do. We have not done that. We are failing to comply. It is likely that the Commission will reject our plan because the certainty is not provided. This is a known unknown that could easily be sorted out. If the amendment were accepted, and if the Government were to comply properly with the IED and provide information to the market about who was closing and when, we could all move forward with greater certainty that investment in low carbon, including gas, has a much greater role to play in the market.

On that basis, I strongly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I hope that the Minister will have something positive to say, or I might be as disappointed as I was about the earlier rejection of the gas amendment.

I hope the noble Baroness knows that I do not like anyone being disappointed, bur it is the realities. I want to acknowledge straight away the concerns that my noble friend and the noble Baroness seek to address through the amendment, and the need for future levels of carbon emissions from coal generation to be consistent with our decarbonisation objectives. However, to plan the EPS in the way proposed by the amendment has certain difficulties.

The amendment would extend the EPS to existing coal plants, which currently—I emphasise “currently”—make up a significant and reliable proportion of our generation capacity, and are needed to play a continuing and important role in the transition to a low-carbon electricity system, which we all wish for. However, the role of coal over the coming years needs to be consistent not only with our decarbonisation objectives but with ensuring that our electricity supplies are secure and affordable. That is why I am happy to repeat for my noble friend that we have a policy of no new coal without CCS, which the EPS reaffirms.

The measures under our electricity market reforms are designed to achieve these objectives. The introduction of contracts for difference will bring forward investment in increasing amounts of low-carbon capacity, with the carbon price floor improving the economics of gas generation relative to coal. The effect of this will be that we see a gradual decline in generation from unabated coal as it is displaced by lower-carbon forms of generation, including renewables and new gas.

The noble Baroness mentioned the 12 existing coal plants. Our gas generation strategy analysis has shown that no more than two of the existing coal power stations will operate beyond 2025, and none by 2030. It also shows that total generation from coal will be 3% by 2025. That indicates what our direction of travel needs to be.

However, by linking the EPS directly to operators’ decisions in respect of the industrial emissions directive, we risk deterring investment in equipment to reduce harmful pollution and undermining the purpose behind the directive; that is, the reduction in harmful emissions.

I tried to cut that off in my comments to stop the Minister using it. It is illogical to say that you want plants to fit filters to get lower emissions. If the plant closes, those emissions go to zero. If it fits filters, some of the units might be down at 100; others will be at 300. You will have more emissions if you allow old coal to continue operating, so I am afraid that the Minister cannot pray in aid the air quality excuse. It is clear in the IED that member states are at liberty to go further than the directive in pursuit of lower emissions and, specifically, low carbon emissions. Therefore, you would be in compliance and you would have better air quality.

Surely, even if a few coal plants carried on until 2025 or 2030, would it not be a good idea to reduce their emissions from existing levels so that we could improve air quality while those coal stations were in being? Whether one likes it or not, they will be in being for a little longer.

There is also the question of investor confidence—I know that the noble Baroness has mentioned this as well and we may have to take differing views. Imposing the EPS on existing plants in a way which is detrimental to those assets is likely to have negative consequences for wider investor perceptions of the UK. I know that that will not please the noble Baroness, but I think that those are points that other people think are important.

Furthermore, under the national policy statements for planning, a “significant extension” to an existing coal-fired power station triggers a requirement that the station be equipped with CCS. That prevents developers circumnavigating the CCS requirement by building additional or replacement capacity on an existing power station.

Schedule 4 will therefore allow the EPS to be applied to an existing coal station in the event it is upgraded in a way that extends its technical lifetime for a period comparable to that of a new plant, but it does not trigger application of the EPS by way of the planning regime.

The Government are working to reduce the country’s reliance on unabated coal in a way which is cost effective for both industry and consumers. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, is not in his place, but in the balance that we are seeking for the new technologies and the way forward for low-carbon technology we have also to be mindful of consumers. That is why consumers should have priority alongside the other matters that the noble Baroness and my noble friend have articulated so strongly. However, I hope that in this circumstance my noble friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned in his reply that under the gas strategy only two plants would be operating. I am rather dismayed to hear that. I am not a great fan of the gas strategy at any time but that has made me even less confident in its analysis. It is absolutely clear that already four plants have opted in to fit, to be compliant with the IED regulations. That is considerably more than two. Once they have fitted that filtration equipment, they will have a capital cost that they will want to see returned. They are not going to suddenly decide to shut up shop in 2025. There is a high degree of complacency, based on the fact that the analysis and the modelling that were done did not take into account the following important factors. Coal prices are low and are going to stay low. If you own a coal-fired power station today, you can see pound signs ringing in your register for many years to come and that is a huge incentive to comply and go forward with the air quality standards. Also, the filtration equipment is very likely to come down in cost, making that equation even more favourable. Finally, with capacity market payments coming—we will have a chance to debate that on Thursday—that is another financial incentive to keep these plants running. The Government are being complacent and I urge the Minister to think again.

I thank the noble Baroness for her expert comments on this amendment. I admit I am perplexed by my noble friend’s response and I will go through it in a very moderate way. All this amendment would do is to put everything back to where the Government actually want it to be, where the large combustion plant directive, conveniently, gradually but fairly imminently shuts down unabated coal. It seems that that has always been a government assumption. However, because of the high price of gas to coal, suddenly being compliant with that directive becomes economic and so we have a different situation. All this is doing is putting it back to where we thought it was, probably when this Energy Bill started out in its long course through the department and stages of consultation and into Parliament.

It also seems to me that ironically, in this area, it is a win for the Treasury and a win for DECC. From the Treasury’s point of view, if there is certainty about coal going out, there is much more certainty for gas investors coming in—far more than probably a 2044 guarantee on investment. From a DECC point of view, we are actually making sure that those high carbon emissions that come out of old coal and that we were not expecting at least fall out of the system pretty quickly. Therefore, we have a win for all those sides as well as for climate change and we get back to what the Government’s policy originally seemed to be.

As the noble Baroness mentioned, we have the added benefit that in terms of energy security, because of the way that the EPS works, these plants can still be available over short periods of time, but not base load, to meet potential blackouts or brownouts within the electricity markets. So we have a win there as well. While I understand my noble friend’s arguments, I just think that they do not actually reflect government policy—not Treasury policy, DECC policy or the coalition agreement policy. Somehow we need to get out of that. However I am very keen to continue discussions, particularly in this area. In the mean time, in anticipation of that, I withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 51M withdrawn.

Schedule 4 agreed.

Clauses 48 and 49 agreed.

Schedule 5 agreed.

Clauses 50 and 51 agreed.

Committee adjourned at 7.44 pm.