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Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations (Amendment) Order 2015

Volume 759: debated on Tuesday 24 February 2015

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligations (Amendment) Order 2015.

Relevant documents: 20th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 25th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, the order follows a good deal of consultation and makes some relatively small but important changes to the renewable transport fuel obligation scheme—the RTFO. The changes would improve consistency in the way the RTFO treats two different types of biodiesel, and would encourage investment in renewable gaseous fuels. The RTFO is a certificate trading scheme that places an obligation on suppliers of fossil fuels in the UK to ensure that certain amounts of sustainable biofuel are supplied. The obligation can be met by redeeming renewable transport fuel certificates known as RTFCs. Their value is determined by the market, and trading them provides a financial reward for those supplying renewable transport fuel.

The RTFO order was amended in 2011 to ensure that only biofuels meeting mandatory sustainability criteria were rewarded with RTFCs. The 2011 amendment also introduced new requirements on suppliers to report on the sustainability of the biofuel being supplied and for this to be assured through independent verification. In April last year we published our response to a call for evidence on additional support mechanisms for advanced and more sustainable fuels. At the same time, we concluded a post-implementation review of the RTFO scheme. The review considered the extent to which the RTFO had achieved its objectives to support the supply of sustainable biofuels in the UK. The review also noted the significant achievements made by the UK biofuel industry to date.

Since the RTFO was introduced in 2008, savings in greenhouse gas emissions, excluding impacts from indirect land use change, have increased from 46% to reach 69% in 2013-14. The most recent statistics also showed that 46% of biofuels supplied in the UK were made from a waste or residue such as used cooking oil, which does not compete for land with food crops. A further public consultation on the proposed changes to the RTFO order we are considering today ran in the summer of 2014.

This small group of amendments aims to build on the RTFO scheme’s success and deliver two important commitments. The amendments will, first, provide consistency in respect of how we treat renewable fuels under the RTFO by aligning the treatment of two particular types of biodiesel; and, secondly, encourage investment in the development of emerging renewable transport technologies such as sustainable renewable gaseous fuels, by adjusting the reward provided to reflect their higher energy content relative to liquid biofuels.

Hydotreated vegetable oil, or HVO, and fatty acid methyl ester, or FAME, are both renewable fuels that can be blended with diesel. The biological feedstocks used in the HVO process are similar to those used for FAME: for example, vegetable or plant oils and waste animal fats. In both the FAME and HVO processes, a secondary, non-biological feedstock is used and incorporated into the final fuel. For FAME, this is methanol derived from natural gas, while for HVO it is hydrogen produced from natural gas. However, although FAME is deemed to be 100% renewable in calculating the reward of RTFCs, HVO is currently not. The effect of the order would be to provide for HVO to be treated in the same way as FAME. This is in line with our emerging understanding of how HVO should be treated under the renewable energy directive and is consistent with the approach in other EU member states to these two types of biodiesel.

Our policy aim for gaseous fuels is to level the playing field for renewable gaseous and liquid fuels. Doing so provides a clear signal that the UK Government will provide a positive investment climate for those looking to supply renewable gaseous fuels in the HGV and other sectors. Renewable gaseous fuels are currently rewarded at one RTFC per kilogram of fuel supplied, and liquid renewable fuels at one RTFC per litre. However, the energy contained in a kilogram of gaseous fuel is generally higher than the energy found in a litre of liquid fuel. The draft order would provide that 1.9 RTFCs per kilogram would be rewarded for biomethane and 1.75 RTFCs per kilogram for both biopropane and biobutane. As is the case now, double the amount of RTFCs would be awarded where the fuel is produced from wastes or residues.

I am aware that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has reasonably advised the House that the order may imperfectly deliver the policy, due to uncertainties highlighted by the department in our cost-benefit analysis. I will address the concern that has been raised. The range of costs and benefits is essentially determined by which sort of biodiesel will be displaced by extra RTFCs going to renewable gaseous fuel. We are estimating discounted carbon-reduction benefits of £2.65 million, assuming a 50:50 spilt in the displacement of biodiesel from waste versus biodiesel from crop.

Waste-derived biodiesel is incentivised by being awarded twice the number of certificates per litre compared to crop-based biodiesel. As a consequence, it is a more cost-effective option in meeting the obligation. There would only be a carbon cost should a significant volume of waste-derived biodiesel be displaced—and then only if approaching 60% of the displacement was of waste-derived biodiesel.

As biodiesel from waste is the cheaper option to meet the obligation, and is in limited supply, we fully expect that biodiesel from crop would be displaced by increased rewards for renewable gaseous fuels. This means that the carbon savings for 2015 to 2020 are likely to be towards the higher end of those estimated in our cost-benefit analysis central scenario—nearer the £16 million benefit end of the scale. Further, I stress that we have limited options to decarbonise the heavy goods sector, and I believe that, in the long term, renewable gaseous fuels will be an important element in meeting our carbon-reduction targets.

The draft order will also introduce two measures to support effective administration. The first would update and streamline the powers of the RTFO administrator to require information. The second measure would put it beyond doubt that the administrator can apply mathematical rounding as part of calculating the number of RTFCs it issues.

Biofuels have proved a complex and controversial topic over the years. However, we know that vehicles are going to continue to require liquid and gaseous fuels for decades to come. We therefore need to develop technologies and capacity to produce low-carbon fuels in the UK, to reduce emissions from road transport and to encourage sustainable growth and jobs.

The proposed changes in the draft order are supported by stakeholders and make a number of worthwhile improvements in that direction. I know that the industry and investors would like to see greater certainty on the pathway to meeting the 2020 transport renewable energy target. The Committee will be pleased to hear that, in anticipation of measures to address indirect land use change—ILUC—being agreed in Europe later this year, we have been working with a very broad group of interested parties through our Transport Energy Task Force on precisely how to improve the investment climate. The group will report to Ministers in the coming months. I commend the draft order to the Committee.

The only issue that I wished to raise—and I am sure that the Minister will hardly be surprised—was the report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the concerns it expressed. I had intended to mention them in order to give the Minister the opportunity to put the Government’s response on the record. She has, of course, already done that in her introductory comments.

In the light of the Minister’s speech, it rather begs the question why the three different scenarios of low, central and high were drawn up for the period 2015-20, given that, as I understand from her speech, she is almost dismissing at least one, if not two, of those scenarios as being based on unrealistic modelling assumptions. If she is so sure that the issue raised by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee—that this is about not just a range of carbon savings but a range covering both carbon savings and carbon costs—will not be the case, why did we end up with a cost-benefit analysis that contained those projections? What is the case for having projections that the Government apparently do not believe for one minute are likely to occur? I would be grateful if she will address that point.

One of the things that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said, in paragraph 28, was:

“The central scenario assumes an increase in the size of the HGV fleet able to use gaseous fuel from the current 500 to 7,400 by 2020, that 12.5% of fuel used is renewable gaseous fuel and a 50/50 displacement split between the two types of biofuels. These are modelling assumptions. They do not as the CBA explains … ‘represent today’s mix of biofuels’”.

I am grateful to the Minister for having set out the Government’s response straight away, but I am still a little puzzled about why we have ended up with a document that has raised scenarios which, as I understand it from the Minister’s speech, the Government are now saying are extremely unlikely. Why include them in the first place if the Government do not believe that they are going to happen? What is the answer the point made by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee that the 50/50 displacement split between two types of biofuels does not actually represent today’s mix of biofuels?

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for his comments. It is standard practice to look at a range of impacts in developing forecasts. I came out of business, and the department very much follows the same pattern of talking to the industry and all the various relevant groups whose behaviour can impact on those forecasts and coming up with a forecast that seems reasonable and likely and in which it has a high level of confidence. In this case, from the perspective of the department, it was considered to be quite a conservative estimate. It was chosen as what could be called the central forecast in which the department has the greatest level of confidence, based on the work, research and analysis that it has done.

It is also standard practice to then say, “What if we were wrong?”, and to look at both a more pessimistic range and at what would happen if we could, reasonably, be more optimistic about the behaviour of certain factors. I would hate to see the department, in doing its analysis, simply going with the forecast in which it had the greatest confidence, without presenting, for other people to consider, what the impact would be of variations in the underlying factors, both downwards and upwards. That is fairly standard and a wise way to present issues. It is also a way to tease out concerns that then have to be answered.

The answer to the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is that the department is convinced that all the logic and the discussions with all the various players indicate that the form of fuel most likely to be displaced is crop-based biodiesel rather than waste-based biodiesel, and because of that, the department has a great deal of confidence in the carbon benefits. Again, we raised those issues to discuss the cost-benefit analysis, as I think was entirely appropriate.

I asked the Minister about the report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which ends up saying:

“For this reason, we draw this Order to the special attention of the House on the ground that it may”—

may, not will—

“imperfectly achieve its policy objective”.

Is that a view with which the Government agree or disagree:

“it may imperfectly achieve its policy objective”?

The Government have a high degree of confidence in their central forecast. I have never seen forecasts turn out exactly right, to the right-hand side of the decimal point. Forecasting is an attempt to look into and understand the future, so it is never a perfect science. It is right that that is always recognised. The noble Lord will also recognise that biodiesel and biofuel prices will always be volatile in this industry. That affects the trend, and there will be variance year on year in actual behaviour. It is right that there is always an element of uncertainty in forecasting, but it is also right to use the research, the analysis and the discussion with the industry to come up with the scenario in which one has the greatest confidence. That is what I think the department has, entirely appropriately, done. It has shaped and presented its policy on that basis. Given that understanding that it would be sheer arrogance to present only one scenario without considering both upside and downside, this is a considered policy that I think, generally, has been widely welcomed by all players and participants.

I also point out that the amendment makes only a small change to the current market for RTFCs. Although we are concerned to make sure that our modelling is as good as it can be and that it does not have the arrogance to ignore the fact that there are variances and volatilities, we also recognise that, were either the upside or the downside scenario to prove to be the one that actually played out, the impact would be relatively small because this is only a very small change in the current market for RTFCs.

I hope that, on that basis, the noble Lord will feel that the Government have taken a rational approach and that he will feel capable of supporting the order.

Motion agreed.