Skip to main content

Electricity Supplier Obligations (Excluded Electricity) (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Volume 836: debated on Tuesday 5 March 2024

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Electricity Supplier Obligations (Excluded Electricity) (Amendment) Regulations 2024.

Relevant document: 12th Report from Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, as a matter of good practice, I refer the Committee to my interests. I do not believe that there is any conflict with these specific measures.

The Electricity Supplier Obligations (Excluded Electricity) (Amendment) Regulations 2024, the Electricity Capacity (Supplier Payment etc.) (Amendment and Excluded Electricity) Regulations 2024, the Energy-Intensive Industry Electricity Support Payments and Levy Regulations 2024 and the Renewables Obligation (Amendment) (Energy Intensive Industries) Order 2024 were laid on 23 and 24 January this year. I acknowledge that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments provided a helpful review of these instruments and did not draw the special attention of this House or the other place to them. I also acknowledge that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has reported these statutory instruments as instruments of interest to Members.

Together, these four instruments make up the British industry supercharger, which aims to support our most energy-intensive industries with the cost of electricity. Energy-intensive industries, known as EIIs, include important foundational manufacturing sectors such as steel and metals in Port Talbot, for example; chemical manufacturers; paper, glass, ceramics and so on. As foundation industries, these businesses are critical in the development of new projects including offshore wind. They therefore play an important role in the transition to net zero.

The British industry supercharger also provides relief for new and emerging industries such as battery manufacturers, which are critical to electric vehicles and manufacturers of semiconductors, which are critical to the high-tech economy. Due to their nature, these industries require significantly more electricity use than other sectors. As a result, they are disproportionately impacted by high electricity prices.

The Government already provide some electricity price support to these industries, but there remains a competitive gap with other nations. In the UK, our electricity prices for medium and large industrial users were the highest in western Europe in 2019, so these regulations importantly seek to close that gap, ensuring that British industry can thrive and grow, attracting new investment rather than losing out to cheaper production overseas, and helping to mitigate the risk of carbon leakage due to cheaper energy costs elsewhere.

This existing support was put in place in 2017 and, since then, over 370 businesses have benefited from an 85% exemption from certain renewable energy levies. Under these new measures, those business that are eligible for the exemption scheme will not only see an increase in the value of their exemption, up to 100%, but benefit from a new exemption from capacity market charges, as well as receiving compensation for a proportion of their network charges.

Taken together, the Government estimate that this support could be worth, on average, around £24 to £31 per megawatt hour, closing the competitive gap between UK industrial energy prices and those faced by international competitors.

These savings are funded by spreading the cost widely among all other electricity consumers, which is estimated to add between 5 to 10 pence per week to the average domestic bill, and increase electricity costs for non-domestic consumers by about £1 a megawatt hour, once all measures have been fully implemented by 2025-26. These are clearly estimates, since the energy market is highly volatile, but these are our projections and it is important to understand the scale of the effect.

The sectors eligible for the British industry supercharger support scheme employ around 400,000 workers and account for more than a quarter of total UK exports. Many are located in areas of economic disadvantage and provide good, high-paid jobs. This carefully crafted support will mean strategically important UK industries remaining competitive on the world stage. We will back these businesses to keep on growing our economy and delivering into the UK both high-quality jobs and investment as well as the products that we rely on for our everyday lives and work.

I shall summarise for noble Lords. These regulations amend the Electricity Supplier Obligations (Amendment & Excluded Electricity) Regulations 2015, which make provision for indirectly exempting eligible energy-intensive industries from the full costs of funding the contracts for difference scheme as set out in the Contracts for Difference (Electricity Supplier Obligations) Regulations 2014. They amend the Electricity Capacity (Supplier Payment etc.) Regulations 2014 to make provision for indirectly exempting eligible energy-intensive industries from the costs of funding the capacity market. They make provision under the Energy-Intensive Industry Electricity Support Payments and Levy Regulations 2024 for electricity support payments to be provided to energy-intensive industries for the purpose of alleviating the impact of electricity costs under the proposed network charging compensation scheme. They amend the Renewables Obligation Order 2015 to allow the Secretary of State for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero to revise the renewables obligation level for the 2024-25 scheme year; this will allow the implementation of the increased EII exemption rate under this scheme from 1 April 2024 onwards.

In conclusion, this suite of regulations will help bring electricity costs down for the most energy-intensive and trade-intensive industries—such as steel, chemicals, glass and battery manufacturers—to a level similar to those of their European counterparts. In my view, this is crucial in helping UK-based firms remain competitive, incentivising investment and a move towards decarbonisation through electrification. With that, I beg to move.

I thank the Minister for introducing the regulations. Before I start, let me say that I will not speak for longer than I would do if we were dealing with just one set of regulations; I will treat all the regulations together and not go through them individually. I will conclude by asking just a couple of questions. I apologise in advance if any of my questions are wrong. These are quite complicated regulations so I offer any advance apologies as necessary.

These four draft instruments propose to implement jointly the key aspects of the British industry supercharger, a package of measures that the Government announced back in February 2023. It aims to make strategic energy- intensive industries, or EIIs, in the UK—for example, steel production, cement production and glass manufacturing, as well as other areas including critical national infrastructures such as steel and chemicals—more competitive. This is to be achieved by closing the gap in electricity prices between the UK and our competitor countries, especially in the European Union. I note that these measures apply only in the UK and not in Northern Ireland.

Despite the technical names of these regulations, there is a back story to all of this, with the war in Ukraine, Covid and our continued reliance on importing energy. We know the impact that this has had on the increase in energy bills in the domestic sphere. These measures are the equivalent of saying, “It’s a question of the Government supporting these energy-intensive industries to make sure that they can continue, survive and flourish in a market where energy prices are rising”. However, I want to be clear: they water down some of the reforms to our carbon markets that have previously been agreed.

I understand that the impact of these measures will be that the cost of emitting 1 tonne of carbon under the UK’s emissions trading scheme will fall from almost £100, as it was a year ago, to about £47. I also understand that the costs will be borne by bill payers, be they domestic consumers, small and medium-sized industries, charities, the health sector or the education sector in this country. I understand that, for these industries, the percentage of their operating costs that is represented by the cost of energy has risen; in some cases, it has risen from 3% of their operating costs to 10% or in some cases 15%. So I recognise that these instruments are important and necessary. I will not go through them individually; I had a sentence on that but, in the interests of time, I will cut that out.

The Government estimate that around 300 businesses will benefit from the support package. The total value of the reduced prices is estimated to be between £320 million and £410 million in 2025, and around £5.1 billion over 10 years. As I said, the cost will be borne by both domestic and non-domestic consumers. In 2025, this is expected to add £4 to £5 to the annual electricity bill of the average household and lead to an increase of less than 1% in electricity costs for businesses. Although I recognise that those costs are small as percentages, they come on top of the cost of living crisis and the energy crisis, and any increase in bills will have an impact on various sectors of the UK economy.

My understanding is that the oil refining and electricity generation sectors are not included in these regulations. Can the Minister confirm this? This is about the cost of carbon leakage. Can he confirm that not every sector with carbon leakage is covered by these regulations and that other sectors are still to be covered? I recognise that the Government are in a difficult position on some of these matters because, in some areas, calculating carbon leakage is very difficult. Where there are no treaties or agreements, the Government may not be able to make those comparative calculations.

I understand that, over time, there may be new international agreements, but in the interregnum what more will be done to help these two industries meet the increased cost of energy? What action will the Government take to make sure that they are not put at a competitive disadvantage? Have they thought about the impact on those industries if they are excluded from these packages while other intensive industries are included? Will that put them at a further disadvantage? I recognise that these are difficult and challenging things, but I am sure that the Government would not want to see certain sectors left out. Can the Minister say what plans the Government have on that and how we get to parity for all high energy-use sectors in the UK?

On the timeframe, how long do the Government expect these measures to continue? I understand that, over time, the Government need to bring down our energy emissions in line with their goals for net zero. Can the Minister set out a forward timetable for how the Government see that move happening over time? At the moment, we are subsidising our heavy, energy-dependent industries to continue to burn fossil fuels, but that sits awkwardly with the timeframe of our need to hit net zero. Can the Minister say a word about that?

As I said, I recognise that these impacts on households are small, but in the light of the impact assessments that the Government have already done, do they feel that there is any need to go further with exclusions for, say, our health service or education? Our NHS and schools are struggling. Even though the costs are small, in these big public service sectors there is no spare skin on the bone to deal with further costs. Are the Government happy with that?

Finally, do the Government have any further plans for reforms to the network access charges? Do they plan to publish the technical guidance, or has it been published already? If not, can I get a timetable for that? Has a full monitoring and evaluation scheme been agreed, and how will its findings be published?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for setting out these instruments so clearly and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for his contribution. These four instruments implement key aspects of the British industry supercharger, as mentioned by the Minister, a package announced in February 2023 to make energy-intensive industries—EIIs—in Great Britain competitive. These industries face challenges in the coming decade. The primary issue is the relatively high cost of energy in the UK, which makes it difficult for them to remain internationally competitive. Furthermore, there is a need for them to implement transitions toward greener technology, with lower carbon leakage, as we strive to move towards a net-zero economy. We recognise these challenges and broadly support these instruments, in so far as they seek to address them for these industries, which are vital for our national security and the literal fabric of our national growth.

The first instrument exempts eligible EIIs from the costs associated with funding the capacity market and seeks to ensure that there is sufficient supply despite fluctuations in demand, especially at peak times of day or in colder periods, and in supply, for example when wind generation is low. While we support this instrument, have the Government considered whether this will lead to any shortfall in the capacity market? If so, what measures are in place to mitigate this?

The second instrument concerns additional costs due to green levies which the UK imposes and some of our international competitors do not. We do not want this differential cost to drive our energy-intensive industries abroad, so this instrument adjusts an already existing scheme and exempts EIIs from 100% of the costs of funding various environmental schemes. Industrial electricity costs in comparable neighbouring countries are evidently not static, so will the Government keep them under review? If there is movement, do they have plans to make further adjustments if necessary?

For both these instruments, the Government’s calculations accept expected increased electricity bills for non-eligible users, including small businesses, charities and households. For this instrument, that is cited at 20p to 30p per megawatt hour. With the current spot price at just under £60 per megawatt hour and the reduction since the start of this year already being closer to £30, that certainly does not seem a massive amount. However, will the Minister outline how much these regulations, in conjunction, will add to the average household electricity bill per annum? The third instrument follows by necessity to enable the Secretary of State to revise the renewables obligation level from 2024-25.

The fourth and final instrument makes minor amendments to the Energy Act 2023, sets out funding for the payments via a levy on suppliers and appoints an administrator. Such support payments are to be made to the EIIs quarterly. Will there be an automated process for eligible recipients to receive these payments with the minimum administrative fuss? Have the Government made forecasts as to whether the costs of this scheme will outstrip the contributions from the electricity suppliers, which will effectively be funding the EII support levy? Are there any provisions in place for this possibility, so that the scheme does not collapse if it is successful?

This instrument allows corrections to be made to support payment entitlements. It will also make provisions for the administrator to hold a reserve fund so that EIIs will always be able to receive payment. Do the Government expect this will need to be used? If so, how big will it be and is there a maximum time limit over which the administrator will be expected to cover the shortfall?

We will be very happy to support these four instruments if the Minister can provide some assurances on the concerns I have mentioned. I look forward to his response.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord Leong, for their comments. These measures are extremely important if we are to have a sustainable heavy industry in this country. If I may take my own experience as Investment Minister, I have unquestionably been able to land a significant amount of investment—some of the biggest investments that we have announced to date, particularly in the car and advanced manufacturing industries—because we have these mechanisms in place. It is not even ambiguous. It is a clear point of fact in these discussions and is very important.

The noble Earl rightly raised that we do not want to be subsidising carbon-intensive businesses out of some desire to keep historic organisations going, contrary to our net-zero ambitions and our overall industrial policy. It is right to challenge the principle of carbon leakage, which is exactly what would happen if we did not operate this process. It is designed to help these businesses to decarbonise. For example, for Port Talbot, which will obviously be a receiver of these support packages, the intention is clearly that it will decarbonise. If you look at the car industry, it is going to an EV industry, and rightly so.

The noble Earl asked when the next review will be, how we will review it and how we add companies. This is an issue with novel technologies coming forward and with industries that need this support, which may not already be under a current and easy-to-define classification. Quite rightly, we will review this. The next review point is 2026. This measure will come into force next month so it seems logical that there is an 18-month or two-year period for review. I am absolutely sure that, at that point, there will be some quite significant changes. It gives us an opportunity to take companies and sectors out and put new companies and sectors in. I am positive about that.

I am also positive about the ability to spread the cost. The noble Lord, Lord Leong, rightly asked how much this will add to the electricity bills of an average household. These are the dreaded averages but we are looking at £4 to £5. I am very aware that there is a cost of living crisis and that there are other pressures on people’s households but, when you look at the ability to target this type of support for that type of diffuse outcome, it makes a lot of sense. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, mentioned the power-generating and petrochemical industries, which do not qualify for this. I am sure that there are others that do not qualify; we would be happy to provide a specific list. It is a 1% increase overall.

Noble Lords will know that I have spent many years in investment and looking at financial markets. The energy markets present a high degree of volatility. The gas prices now are lower than they have been for a considerable period. We are very dependent on gas, which is why our own power structure is so complex to manage. Looking at the network costs, the capacity market charges that are made and other exemptions, these mechanisms are really about removing the obligations to invest in the net-zero ambitions of the UK while expecting businesses to do it for themselves. There is a sensible trade-off there. It is well balanced.

The noble Lord, Lord Leong, asked whether there would be a shortfall in the capacity market point because of the effective compensation being paid. As I understand it, that charge has never been utilised. We are confident that there is no effect on the capacity market in terms of the charges that are being made; I would be happy to investigate that further. On technical guidance and the transparency around these processes, let me say that, as Minister for regulatory reform, better regulation or smarter regulation—whatever the current title is—impact assessments are important to me. I hope that all noble Lords have read the impact assessment reports for these statutory instruments; anyone listening to this debate is also welcome to do so. It is a transfer rather than a new cost so it does not show up on the impact assessment process as clearly as it would do if it were a new principal regulation.

It is important that there is as much transparency as possible because these are, in effect, transfer charges. This is a transparent system; to some extent, it requires the complicit consent of industry in general and the public. It is important that this is happening in a private sector capacity with government direction. We feel that this is absolutely the right thing to do. It is highly diffuse in its impact and very targeted. We believe that it will allow the UK to be incredibly competitive when it comes to developing its advanced manufacturing ambitions.

I hope that I have answered all the questions from noble Lords today. If I have not, I will certainly scrutinise Hansard and welcome any follow-up, but this is a relatively uncontentious series of statutory instruments.

In summary, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, mentioned that he was not going to address each statutory instrument individually; he was quite right not to, not just in the interests of time but because this is one package—they are naturally separated for reasons of legislative complexity but this is the British industry supercharger. It presents a powerful package to industry and sends a strong message to the country and internationally that we want to support businesses as they develop and decarbonise. Support for our economy gives us great growth for the future. With that, I commend this instrument to the Committee.

Motion agreed.