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Electricity Supplier Payments (Amendment) Regulations 2017

Volume 782: debated on Tuesday 21 March 2017

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Electricity Supplier Payments (Amendment) Regulations 2017.

My Lords, I beg to move that the Committee approves the draft Electricity Supplier Payments (Amendments) Regulations 2017. This instrument amends regulations concerning the contracts for difference scheme and the capacity market. Before diving into the specifics of the amendments we are discussing today, I will briefly explain these two schemes.

Contracts for difference, or CFDs, provide long-term price stabilisation to low-carbon generators, allowing investment to come forward at a lower cost of capital and therefore at a lower cost to consumers. The scheme ensures greater certainty and stability of revenues to electricity generators by reducing their exposure to volatile wholesale prices, while protecting consumers from paying higher support costs when electricity prices are high. The capacity market provides regular payments to reliable forms of generation in return for such capacity being available when needed, thus ensuring that enough capacity is always in place to maintain security of supply. A fundamental aspect of both schemes is the competitive auction process for awarding contracts, which drives down costs to consumers.

The next CFD auction, with a budget of £290 million for less established renewables technologies, is on track to open in April. This will result in enough renewable electricity to power 1 million homes and reduce carbon emissions by around 2.5 million tonnes per year from 2021-22 onwards. It will also allow developers of innovative renewable technologies to deliver the best deal for bill payers. Three main capacity market auctions have been held each December from 2014 to 2016 to secure capacity four years ahead from 2018-19 to 2020-21. The latest of these secured 52.4 gigawatts of capacity at a price of £22.50 per kilowatt per year. In January 2017, an early capacity auction was also held to secure capacity for winter 2017-18. The auction secured 54.4 gigawatts of capacity at a clearing price of £6.95 per kilowatt per year.

The regulations we are considering today will implement a second tranche of minor and technical amendments to improve the efficiency and transparency of the CFD supplier obligation, the levy on suppliers that pays for the costs of CFDs. They build on a first tranche of changes approved by Parliament last year, which became law in April 2016. These further changes are being implemented later to allow time for necessary changes to be made to the settlement system, which determines the way that CFD payments are calculated and paid. Both the changes under consideration today, and those implemented last year, were the subject of a public consultation and received a largely favourable response. These regulations also amend the levies that fund the companies established to deliver the CFD and capacity market schemes.

I will now summarise how the supplier obligation works and describe the amendments that are being made. The supplier obligation is a compulsory levy on all GB electricity suppliers to meet the costs of clean electricity generation under contracts for difference. The levy is collected by a private company, the Low Carbon Contracts Company, of which the Government are the sole shareholder. The levied funds are paid to CFD generators for the electricity that they produce. The levy rates are set on a quarterly basis and consist of two payments.

The first is paid daily, based on every unit of supply, and the second is a quarterly reserve amount that ensures that the Low Carbon Contracts Company faces as little risk as possible in covering payments to generators. Both rates are set based on forecasts of payments to the CFD generators, and levied on suppliers based on their market share. At the end of each quarter, the supplier payments are reconciled with actual payments to generators.

The changes being made through these regulations will further improve the efficiency of the supplier obligation mechanism. The most significant of the changes will speed up reconciliation payments to allow overcollected funds to be returned more quickly after the end of a quarter so that suppliers face less cash-flow risk. Secondly, they will allow the Low Carbon Contracts Company to reduce the reserve amount without notice when it has been overestimated, to ensure that suppliers do not overpay unnecessarily for renewable generation. This reduces their cash-flow risk. Thirdly, they will enable the Low Carbon Contracts Company to recover funds from suppliers when a compensation payment to generators is due in respect of generation that happened more than 10 quarters ago. Finally, they will prevent double counting of the green import exemption and the energy intensive industry exemption to avoid suppliers demonstrating a negative market share and thereby avoiding payment of levies.

Taking these changes together with those introduced last year, we estimate that the cost of CFDs to consumers will be reduced by £38 million over five years—a small reduction of some 40p to 60p in consumer bills. This set of changes alone was estimated to reduce bills by £22 million over the same period.

The second objective to be delivered through this instrument is to set a revised operational cost levy for the Low Carbon Contracts Company and a revised settlement costs levy for the Electricity Settlements Company, the company responsible for collecting and making payments to capacity providers under the capacity market. The companies play a critical role in delivering the contracts for difference and capacity market schemes and it is essential that they are sufficiently funded to perform their roles effectively. The Government scrutinise their operational cost budgets closely to ensure that they reflect the operational requirements and objectives of the companies and deliver value for money.

The companies have performed well and the cost of their core activities is slightly down from 2016-17. The increase in both budgets is due to the cost of upgrading settlement system software. The software upgrades are necessary to reflect a number of policy changes that simplify and improve the overall effectiveness of the capacity market and the CFD scheme. For example, the changes to the supplier obligation being discussed today will need to be reflected in the settlement system.

The software upgrades are being treated as operational costs rather than funded via capital. This means that they will be charged in full to the levy in 2017-18, rather than being recovered over the lifetime of the asset through depreciation charges on the levy. Overall there is no difference in costs to suppliers. The operational costs were subject to consultation, giving stakeholders the opportunity to comment, and remain unchanged following the consultation. The regulations revise the levies currently in place to reflect the operational cost requirements in 2017-18. Subject to the will of Parliament, the settlement costs levy for the Electricity Settlements Company is due to come into force by 28 March 2017, the operational cost levy for the Low Carbon Contracts Company by 1 April and the changes to the CFD supplier obligation later this year.

As a final point, I assure noble Lords that the Government will continue to evaluate and monitor the reforms following implementation to ensure that the measures put in place remain effective and continue to represent value for money for the consumer.

I shall intervene for just a short moment. Whenever we talk about these things there is always a kind of reticence—a fear somehow or other that the customer will be charged in an unsatisfactory way for Britain to move to the low-carbon economy that we all seek. I remind the Committee of my interest as chairman of the Climate Change Committee.

I will say three quick things. First, this is inevitably a complex matter. Inevitably, anyone listening to the Minister describing what was changing might have some difficulty in following, were they not absolutely up to date with what it was changing from. That is one of our problems: when we deal with these matters it is difficult to get them right and to get them simple. The Committee must accept that the Minister did a great job in explaining what is to happen. The regulations’ purpose is to do what I imagine we will go on doing almost every year to make sure that we learn from the lessons of the past and discover mechanisms whereby we can make the system work as cost effectively as possible. I emphasise that all of us wish to support that process. Whereas we want some stability in the overall system, we will be concerned if the basics are changed more than is absolutely necessary. We are perfectly happy if on each occasion we seek to tighten some things and loosen others to make the system manifestly more effective.

Secondly, however, I hope the Minister, in all the times that he speaks on these matters, will refer people to the work recently done by the Climate Change Committee, which shows that the overall effect of our low-carbon policy has been to reduce bills, not increase them. Roughly speaking it costs us about £9 a month more to pay for the costs of moving towards a low- carbon economy, but the bills are £20 a month less than they would have been because of the effects of those policies. As people exchange old white goods and other electrical goods for new ones, because of our policies, the latter are much more efficient. We have pressed the technology.

I remember going to buy a freezer at the beginning of the European Union process of warning people about the amount of energy used by new products—when the little notices came in for the first time. The freezers on offer ranged from those with an A rating to those with a G rating. As a matter of fact, I did not buy a freezer in that sale. I waited a year for the next January sales. I went around again and discovered that all the freezers were now between an A++ rating and a B rating. In one year we had changed: people were told about the value of low-carbon, low-emission products at a time when they could do something about it. They were not just generally told about it, but told at the moment when they could save so much a year by making that choice. Manufacturers discovered that they would not sell their products unless they made those technological changes.

I raise these issues because the constant talk in the press is very trying—not just for those of us who are concerned with them daily but for the Government and Opposition too—as if all this has made bills heavier, when it has not. Had we not done this, bills would be £20 a month more. That is not an imaginary figure, but shows how the reduction in domestic use of electricity affects the bills of the majority of people—some 85% of the population—who use both gas and electricity. In those circumstances, we have to go on talking about this, otherwise we lead people astray into thinking they are paying £9 a month extra, instead of saving some £11 a month in total. If they take a personal decision to improve their energy efficiency, they can make even more savings, but we never take that into account, of course, because it is a personal decision. However, the other two factors are a result of government policy playing back into how people pay their bills.

I want the Government constantly to quote this fact, because we have spent a lot of time on it, and it is very objective indeed. I know how objective it is, because our opponents have attacked it and said that it is outrageous, but have been unable to find a single item that they can show to be outrageous, being unable to find a single fact with which they can argue. It is outrageous to them, of course, because it undermines their whole attitude and the campaigning they have done—I am afraid—through a number of our popular newspapers. I hope that the Government will in future speeches include this simple matter to remind people, so that they always know.

My third point is that we hear from the press that the Government are very keen on keeping down energy bills and will make significant investigations and possibly take draconian measures to do so. I point out to the Minister that the report we have just produced shows that business electricity bills in this country are significantly higher than in the rest of Europe. It is not true of domestic bills, as a matter of fact; we sometimes forget that. It is more or less the same position with gas—the cost is somewhere in the middle of bills in the whole of Europe, which suggests that we may find there is not much we can do about it.

I have already spoken about the fact that bills are not greater, but less, because of our green measures, but I want to point to something in the report that is of considerable relevance to our discussion today: that electricity bills to business are higher in this country than in the rest of Europe. It is quite clear why: partly because we charge a higher distribution cost, whether or not it is a real cost, but also because our wholesale market is higher than in the rest of Europe. There is a real problem here. When as a committee we sought to find out why that was, nobody could tell us. Of course, the industry was unwilling to explain it—and one could understand why—and the Government admit that they do not have a ready answer. The Minister has said that the amendments address the cost of the necessary adjustment in how the market works and operating, as far as possible, a free market as we move towards a zero-carbon electricity supply. In that context, I hope he will spend a good deal of time concentrating on the two factors that are independently assessed as the reason for higher prices in the business sector. Otherwise, I am afraid that he may be led down the line that it is all about green taxes, when the opposite is true.

Therefore, the big issue here is the welcome way the Minister has introduced these changes, which suggests that we should do the same in all the other things we do. In other words, given the reality of the costs, we should find where money can genuinely be saved by the mechanisms provided. If we can do that, we shall show that this united effort of government and opposition—this issue is not party political—can lead the world and show other people how to do it.

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Deben, on these issues. I agree with much of what he has said. I had not intended to speak, but he reminded me, as did the Minister in his opening comments, of how complicated the Bill that put all of this into place was. To this day, some of us still find it quite difficult to get to grips with. I thank the Minister for trying to explain it as well as he did. I miss Lord Jenkin who saw us through that Bill. I was saying to my noble friend Lady Featherstone, who was not here at the time, that Lord Jenkin was the man who really understood what was going on and helped us all through a difficult Bill. I put that on the record.

I thank the Minister for explaining the amendments to these regulations. They seem eminently sensible, drawn from the experiences of operating the regulations, which are vital to reforming the electricity market and encouraging low-carbon electricity generation to ensure the UK’s security of supply. I also express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Deben, for his helpful remarks as background to the regulations, and for underlining the importance of the progress we have made.

The amendments to the regulations should increase the cost-effectiveness of the two main measures, the CFD scheme and the capacity market, since they reduce the heavy-handedness of the belt-and-braces approach of the CFD counterparty, the Low Carbon Contracts Company, and that of the Electricity Settlements Company for the capacity market. The Minister’s introduction eloquently explained the improvements. These companies exist only to make payments for low- carbon generation or demand-side responses, and to collect these payments from suppliers. The companies must also cover their costs. The regulations set up the system to do this in as transparent, equitable and cost-effective a way as possible, allowing for a sensible amount of reserves as some guarantee. One would hope and expect these payments to balance out through the reconciliation process.

Much of the debate on these regulations in the other place focused on the probability of error. I could join in and tease the Minister by asking him about 20 scenarios, any one of which could be the one occurrence that could not be reconciled. However, that would be facetious. The modelling looks robust, indicating that the companies have the ability to raise the funding necessary in a modern, technologically efficient manner and make the payments required.

The regulations merely deal with the process of funding. The bigger question is the accuracy of the strike price, which is relevant to the setting up of this compulsory regime. Noble Lords will know that that is contained in the contracts agreements and is not part of these regulations. The two most controversial applications relate to nuclear power and the Hinkley Point C plant, and onshore wind.

The Government have shown how quickly they can alter their assessments and mechanisms for adjustment through Part 2 of the Energy Act 2016 in relation to onshore wind and the compensation payments in the FIT regime. On the prevention of double-counting of exemptions in the measure, exemptions from payments are available to suppliers which import renewable electricity from EU member states. This green excluded electricity—GEE—will not count towards electricity suppliers’ market share for calculating their CFD liabilities. This raises questions about security of supply; whether government policy is blind, whether British-based or not; the relative pricing of renewable energy in the UK and in the EU; and whether security-of-supply policy should seek to encourage import substitution. It also begs questions relating to Brexit; I could ask the Minister various hypothetical questions about the internal energy market and any likely scenarios of tariff applications. I imagine he would say that further amendments can be made as circumstances change.

I am grateful for the clarity provided regarding the operational budgets of the two companies and the professional fees increase, brought about by the inquiries of your Lordships’ Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I very much agree with the Government’s financial policy to expense rather than capitalise software upgrade costs.

I have a few questions about the regulations. First, on the amendment to allow CFD reconciliation determination after the 10th quarter to be classified as non-generation payments, is a longstop provision of time envisaged, or is that included in the general retrospective provisions? Could this be one of those 20 unknown unknowns? Secondly, following the onshore wind provisions in last year’s Energy Act and given that onshore wind is now so much cheaper, are the Government any closer to allowing onshore wind to participate in future CFD auctions now that the threat of UKIP has receded? Can the Minister update the Committee on the position following the consultation on onshore wind in November 2016? Thirdly and lastly, I understand that the net savings to be passed on to electricity consumers are not a cash item and cannot therefore be shown or guaranteed in some way. However, the memorandum states that the operational costs budget of the two companies will increase, resulting in an increase, albeit minimal, in household electricity bills. Will these two features balance out and the net effect on consumers be neutral?

Having said that, I am content to approve the regulations.

My Lords, I begin by echoing the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, about Lord Jenkin. I was reminded of the Schleswig-Holstein question, to which the Duke of Wellington said that only three people knew the answer—and one was dead, one had gone insane and the other one had forgotten it. Fortunately, my noble friend Lord Deben has not forgotten it and spoke very eloquently about broader issues than those raised by the statutory instrument before us.

It was interesting to hear my noble friend’s story about how shopping for a freezer had changed in the space of a year—from being able to buy one rated from A to G, to one now rated A++ to B. That is just one small illustration of how technology has helped hugely in reducing the use of electricity. He is absolutely right that technology has significantly reduced bills.

I am sorry but it is not just that the technology has changed; we have now shown people that it is not worth selling bad products. You have to use the technology and it is we politicians who have made that technology actually go into the marketplace, because it has been worth while. The Government should take credit for what they have done.

That is true. The incentives need to be there, but the fact is that technology is remarkable. Technology is going to do it. If we are going to solve the problem of carbon emissions, technology and incentives to use new technology—which is what the CFD programme is all about, as I understand it —are crucial.

My noble friend also spoke about the cost of electricity for business. It is an issue I take a particular interest in, given that it affects very energy-intensive industries, such as the steel industry, the glass and ceramics industries and other industries, including the potteries in places such as Stoke. It is difficult to know why our costs are higher. It is partly because of distribution and transmission, we are told, and partly because of the wholesale market, but I do not think we have a full answer to that. I have not read my noble friend’s report on this. It may suggest an answer. I will read it with interest. It is certainly a question that we need to answer. It is always very easy to blame the green lobby for the extra costs falling on high-energy consumers. My noble friend raises a question that needs to be answered.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, for supporting these regulations. He asked three questions. I shall write to him on them. I have been given the answer, but I cannot absorb it and give it to the noble Lord at the same time without just reading it out without thinking about it. He raised the more general issue of the impact of Brexit on the internal energy market and what tariffs there might be. I will have to give him the rather dull and predictable but honest answer that we will have to wait to see how the negotiations turn out.

The regulations the Government are seeking to amend through this instrument affect the CFD scheme through making some fairly minor technical amendments to improve the efficiency of the CFD supplier obligation and to amend the operational costs levies of the Low Carbon Contracts Company and the Electricity Settlements Company. As I read this, I do realise that this is quite complex, arcane stuff. These companies play a crucial role in delivering the CFD scheme and the capacity market scheme, and they must be sufficiently funded to perform their roles effectively. I have been struck by how the cost of offshore wind has come down in the last auction and how the capacity auction has driven prices down. The market is very powerful. I thank the noble Lord for his support for this measure?

Motion agreed.