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Offshore Wind Contracts

Volume 737: debated on Tuesday 12 September 2023

To ask the Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero if she will make a statement on the implications for offshore wind of contracts for difference allocation round 5.

The first annual contracts for difference auction—the first that we have ever done—was completed last week and delivered a total of 3.7 GW of renewable electricity, with contracts going to a record number of projects. The auction delivered significant quantities of new solar and onshore wind generation, as well as supporting 11 new tidal stream projects and, for the first time, geothermal projects. It was a competitive auction, set against a backdrop of highly challenging macroeconomic conditions that have impacted the sector globally. Given that this was our first annual round, it was to be expected that it would have a lower capacity than the previous biennial rounds, and, because last year’s round was the first for three years, a higher annual element than that record round.

The Government remain committed to offshore and floating offshore wind projects, and this round provides valuable learning for subsequent auctions. Work has already started on allocation round 6, incorporating the results of the recent round, and we look forward to a strong pipeline of technologies being able to participate. The move to annual auctions means that allocation round 6 will open in just six months’ time, in March 2024, which means that there could be minimal or indeed no delay in the deployment of new capacity through that round.

The Government also remain committed to our target of decarbonising the power system by 2035 and our ambitions for 50 GW of offshore wind, including up to 5 GW of floating offshore wind. Our trajectory for meeting these aims, as well as our legally binding carbon budget 6 targets, is not linear. The outcome for one technology in one auction does not prevent us from reaching those goals.

What a load of nonsense. No wonder the Secretary of State is in hiding.

This auction is an energy security disaster for Britain, and an act of economic self- harm on the part of the Government. No new offshore wind projects means that families’ energy bills will £2 billion higher and our energy security will be weakened. Worst of all, this was totally avoidable. Ministers were warned again and again about the impacts of higher inflation—in a letter from RenewableUK in March, and again in July—and offshore wind is so much cheaper than gas that they could have raised the price in the auction and it would still have saved billions of pounds for families, but they refused to listen.

First, will the Minister tell us why the Government ignored those repeated warnings? Secondly, he said on Friday that every country was in the same boat, but that is just wrong. Ireland listened to industry and adjusted its price, and had a successful auction in March 2023. Why did the Government not learn that lesson? Thirdly, is not the terrible truth that this episode reveals a much deeper flaw in their approach? For month after month this summer, they claimed that the answer to our energy crisis was more oil and gas, and this is the result. We will now be more dependent on expensive, insecure fossil fuels. We will be more exposed to the whims of petrostates and dictators. Every wind farm that we fail to build makes us more exposed to dictators like Putin, and he knows it.

Bills higher, security worse, jobs lost, climate failure—the Government have trashed offshore wind, the crown jewels of our energy system, raising bills, just as they trashed onshore wind by banning it, raising bills, and just as they trashed home insulation, raising bills. We have seen 13 years of failed energy policy, and all this fiasco shows is that the Conservatives are, quite simply, a party unfit to govern.

I was pleased to see the other day that the rumours of the right hon. Gentleman no longer being in his position were not true. It is perhaps understandable in that context that he is so passionate about this highly successful round that has seen 3.7 GW on an annualised basis. I think that is a record round. He was a member of the previous Labour Government who left this country with 6.7% of its electricity coming from renewables. In the first quarter of this year, 48% of our electricity was from renewables. It was this Government, with our contracts for difference system, who transformed the economics of offshore wind. We have 77 GW of offshore wind in the pipeline—more than enough. We have 7.5—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman understandably, given the weakness of his arguments, wants to heckle at all times, knowing how easy it is to dismantle them. He asks me where that capacity is, and I can tell him that 7.5 GW is currently under construction.

As ever, the right hon. Gentleman fails to be on the side of consumers. We moved to an annualised auction precisely to ensure that we could learn the lessons from each round, add them to our industry insight and ensure that we could move forward. The projects take multiple years to be developed, and none of them has disappeared. I predict that, moving on from the triumph of 3.7 GW of renewables, which came through successfully on Friday, allocation round 6 will be more successful still. We will continue to build our reputation as the country that has cut emissions more than any other major economy and that has transformed our electricity generation. He mentioned insulation—how he has the gall, I do not know. We have moved from 14% of homes being properly insulated when he left power to over 50% by the end of this year.

I thank the Minister for his engagement with this process, particularly with the new technology of floating offshore wind. Three floating offshore wind projects were due to bid in allocation round 5 but none did, due to the low administrative strike price. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for the Celtic sea, I have repeatedly been told that these projects are part of our future energy supply. Can he outline what steps he is taking to ensure that these projects will float in allocation round 6 and to give confidence to developers in the region?

I thank my hon. Friend, who is an absolute champion of floating wind and the economic opportunities it offers for her area and the rest of the UK. I was delighted to speak to her last week and meet her yesterday, and I pay tribute to her efforts. We have the largest floating wind pipeline in the world, based on confirmed seabed exclusivity arrangements. We have around 25 GW already identified, including through the ScotWind leasing round and innovation and targeted oil and gas—INTOG—processes. As she, as a great champion, knows, the Crown Estate is moving forward with its leasing round 5 for up to 4 GW of capacity in the Celtic sea this year. We have been the world leader on floating energy and we are going to stay the world leader. Thanks to the efforts of my hon. Friend, I know that we will have support across the House.

The Minister failed to point out that 3.7 GW is scarcely half of what was achieved in auction round 5. He also failed to mention, when he was heralding onshore wind, that 90% of that will be found in Scotland. Since 2014, the four auction rounds have yielded 1 GW, 2.5 GW, 5 GW and 7 GW, so a nil return is an utter catastrophe.

The critical need for massive investment in offshore is patently obvious for bills and for the climate, yet this ambition has been thwarted by an incompetent previous Secretary of State and by the Treasury, which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Can the Minister assure us that the Department will get round the table with industry as a matter of urgency to try to repair this damage? Industry needs a strike price that reflects the not-mutually-exclusive goals of lower bills, net zero, and jobs and investment in Scotland and elsewhere. Can he confirm whether a recovery group for auction round 5 will be convened by him or the Secretary of State to try to get this catastrophe resolved? And where is she?

The hon. Gentleman and his party never fail to trash this country—[Interruption.] He can heckle all he wishes. I will be meeting industry representatives this afternoon and, as I have said, we will be announcing in two months’ time the price ceiling for the next round—[Interruption.] I am getting heckling, not least from His Majesty’s Opposition, who left us in that parlous situation. We are the world leader in so many of these technologies and we are going to continue to be. If the hon. Member for Angus (Dave Doogan) were to recognise the need to attract investment to this country and not talk it down, he might find that Scottish jobs would be even stronger in the pipeline than they are already.

Until wind capacity is constructed, it is not normally connected to the grid. That which has not been connected to the grid will need to be connected to the grid.

The boom and bust of this fiasco will inevitably have knock-ons for the supply chain. How concerned is the Minister about that? Also, how concerned is he about projects that were built on CfD securities but have not invoked the contracts and are now literally raking in the windfall of that act?

I do not quite follow the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I am happy to write to him on that topic.

West Somerset, as the Minister knows, is ideal for offshore wind. I am interested to know why people did not bid in this round. What were their reasons? What can the Government do to learn the lessons of this round so that people like my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) can make sure that people are bidding in the next round?

We typically set out the key auction parameters in November, and those include the ceiling of what we will pay for particular technologies. We do that based on our analysis of supply chain costs, and we also commission external analysis. The most important data of all comes from individual auction rounds, and it is on that basis that we set the price parameters. The industry warned us, as it does every year, that it wants us to pay more. We always have to make a judgment call between making sure that we minimise—[Interruption.] It would be so much easier to give my answer, Mr Speaker, if the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) would stop—

Order. I think that, as a man who was always happy to heckle from the Back Benches, the Minister deserves a little bit himself.

We set the prices, and we immediately learn from each auction. One of the reasons for having an annual auction is that we can quickly adjust and, as I said, projects can then come into the next round with minimal delay.

The wind farm off Brighton has probably become as iconic as the pier itself, but the reality is that the Government’s failure will delay the construction of more of these beautiful installations around our coast. Is this failure not also a failure of the market-based private investment system that this Government are determined to pursue, rather than a publicly owned and co-ordinated building programme that can work alongside private investment so that we no longer have this failure where nobody bids?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for revealing the true face of where the Labour party is going. We can go back to the days when we had hardly any renewables, and we can allow Great British Energy, or whatever Labour is going to call its creature, to squeeze out private investment and destroy the most successful renewables market in Europe, and to destroy this Government’s progress on tackling the parlous position left behind by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North and his friends. We will continue to be the world leader in cutting emissions, but not if we move to the state-run, left-wing obsessions of colleagues like the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle).

Offshore wind plays, and will continue to play, a key strategic role in enhancing energy security, achieving net zero and revitalising coastal communities such as Lowestoft. To get back on track, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the criteria applying to round 6 will take account of current economic realities, that appropriate fiscal measures are being considered ahead of the autumn statement and that specific focus will be given to enhancing local supply chains?

I thank my hon. Friend, who has been such a consistent champion not only for the power of renewables to meet our environmental challenges but for the economic benefits that come from them. He is absolutely right that the nature of the CfD system is that it learns from the previous auction round, which is the most real data of all, and uses that learning to inform the next round. That is why I am confident that, just as we had a success with 3.7 GW on Friday, AR6 promises to be more successful still.

I congratulate the Minister on turning complacency and chutzpah into a new art form. The ineptitude of Tory Ministers means that this latest CfD round saw the smallest auction return since 2015—a failing that was entirely avoidable. How will he ensure that the UK delivers the 35 GW of new offshore wind capacity that is needed in just six years? Why did Ministers yet again fail to heed the warnings from industry and experts in advance?

We have to set the parameters based on the best information we have. As I say, one reason for moving to an annual round is to allow us quickly to learn the lessons of each round. We did not get the wind on this occasion, which I regret, and we will put the real-world prices and learnings from that into the next round. That is the system we have, because we are always trying to make sure that we get the parameters right so that we balance the need to generate additional green energy with the cost to the taxpayer. Understandably, given their carelessness with the public finances and with consumers, the Opposition do not seem to care about that. My job is to balance it, ensuring that we get the generation, and we have 77 GW in the pipeline. We are in position and on track to meet our ambitions, which lead Europe—not that we would know that to listen to the hon. Lady.

I thank the Minister for including geothermal projects in allocation round 5, as that is very welcome. However, I echo everything my hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Selaine Saxby) says about the Celtic sea projects. What will we do differently in round 6? What advice would he give to those in the supply chains, specifically ports, that are trying to submit applications for the FLOWMIS—floating offshore wind manufacturing investment scheme—funding? What conversations has he had about grid capacity, to ensure that all of this eventually runs smoothly?

As ever, my hon. Friend is well-informed. We are working on all those fronts. FLOWMIS applications closed just two weeks ago, and we are working flat out to analyse them. I hope that by the end of the year we will have shortlisted to the primary list and those schemes will move forward to due diligence, as we take forward not only our floating wind deployment, but the supply chain in the south-west, Wales, Scotland and around the rest of the UK. We are working on all those fronts and are determined to do that. As she rightly highlights, seeing our first geothermal projects come through the CfD is fantastic, as are the 11 tidal projects. I pay tribute to all colleagues who have worked so hard to promote tidal energy and make sure that we continue to be a world leader in that as well.

This is an embarrassment for the Government and shows that we are falling further and further behind in the race for green jobs internationally. We have the lowest growth in these industries among the eight biggest economies. Should the Government not be focusing much more on broadening and increasing the capacity of offshore wind, rather than not listening to industry and making fatal errors?

If the Labour party is not nationalising or creating some state-owned behemoth, it wants just to hurl money in the direction of business. Our judgment is to balance those things and I am pleased to say that we have been successful; we have the largest offshore wind sector in Europe. This country and this Government, through the CfDs, transformed the economics from the situation we inherited after the right hon. Member for Doncaster North and his colleagues had been in power.

Delivering on the floating offshore wind project in the Celtic sea is vital for our energy security and decarbonisation. Does the Minister agree that we now need to bolster confidence in this emerging industry? There are two things he can do. Does he agree that a successful allocation of FLOWMIS money to the south Wales ports in order to get this industry moving is vital? Does he also agree that we need to ensure that the Crown Estate’s leasing round at the end of the year is done successfully, but with more than 4 GW of visibility, in order to send a strong market signal to the industry to invest?

My right hon. Friend is also someone who, through thick and thin, promotes that industry and sees the opportunity it offers Wales. He makes a special bid for the Welsh ports, as I would expect him to do, but he will understand that I can make no comment on that. I entirely agree with him on the importance of the Crown Estate round. Suffice it to say that across Government we have been working flat out, with his and other colleagues’ support, to support the Crown Estate to ensure that we maximise the opportunity in the Celtic sea.

The Government’s obsession with oil and gas has left us in this mess. The Department has prioritised new oil and gas licences over support for wind power, which flies in the face of our climate change commitments and our responsibilities to UK citizens—our constituents—to keep energy prices low. Oil and gas will always be more expensive than wind energy. When will the Minister fill the gap of 5 GW of offshore wind that we have now missed out on, which would have saved consumers £2 billion a year? I am not talking about the sixth auction round—I am talking about the fifth one, where we have missed out now.

The hon. Lady is completely mistaken. We are working flat out both to reduce demand for fossil fuels in this country and to build up our renewables. I would hope she would celebrate the fact that we have the largest offshore wind sector in Europe.

The Government have long been warned that their focus on CfDs as the primary mechanism for financing new renewables risks undermining investor confidence in infrastructure assets with long lifespans but significant up-front capital costs, such as nuclear and tidal range generation. Following the Government’s decision to employ a regulated asset base model to support the development of new nuclear, will the Minister now commit to looking urgently at the optimum financial model for new tidal range projects, which could make a crucial contribution to the future UK energy mix?

The CfD scheme is among the most successful, if not the most successful, of its sort in the world. We always look at ways in which we can improve it. We are looking at bringing in non-price factors as we finesse it, but the Opposition party’s idea of some state-run enterprise, squeezing out private investment, would destroy the opportunities going forward. We need at least another £100 billion to be invested by 2030 and if the Labour party ever did threaten to come into power, it would put all that at risk.

On Teesside, we have been promised thousands of jobs in the offshore wind industry, but investors are getting a little nervous as a direct result of Government failures to provide the right business environment. What will the Minister do to get the business environment right to deliver the jobs we have been promised, which are being put in jeopardy by Government failures?

We are getting that balance right and we will continue to do so. Making sure that we look after the consumer is always my guiding light, and we balance that with getting the generation we need. We have seen companies such as SeAH investing in Teesside and Sumitomo looking at investing in Scotland—

As the hon. Gentleman decries this and talks both the area and the nation down, he then tells me that investors are getting nervous. If he were to champion all the successes we have had instead of decrying them, he might find that he would give investors even more confidence still.

I do not agree with the policy that the Minister pursues. His net zero policy is disastrous and has been costly in terms of electricity prices and future planning. However, I feel some sympathy for him today. He is being criticised by those who have highlighted high energy prices for not offering inflated prices to the wind industry, which claims that producing wind energy is getting cheaper but of course wants higher prices. As it was not offered that, it would not bid in the auction. Is the real reason for this not that for the first time he has refused to allow those who bid to walk away from their CfD agreements, to price electricity at whatever price they want and therefore to have inflated profits? Does that not indicate to him that the wind industry knows it cannot produce electricity cheaply and wants the system balanced in its favour?

The right hon. Gentleman and I do not see eye to eye on net zero or on the economic benefits of the wind industry. It does offer cost-effectiveness. It has been amazing to see how as it is scaled, it has been able to bring the price down. It was not obvious when we went out into the North sea that we would be able to bring the price crashing down, yet this country led the world in doing that. If he looks at the numbers, I hope he will find that the whole of this House can agree on one thing: offshore wind is an economic way of producing energy, and one that all of us should support.

Last week, the think-tank Common Wealth made the critical point:

“Reliance on market coordination leaves the transition vulnerable to the demands of private capital”.

It is abundantly clear that private capital cannot deliver what is urgently required to stem the climate crisis. In Wales, the Welsh Government know that, which is why, over the summer, they launched the community-owned renewable energy company, Ynni Cymru. Does the Minister agree that that is what is required, and what action is he taking to address this?

I thank the hon. Lady for pulling back the veil on Labour’s real policy, which is that it hates private capital, it hates private investment and it would destroy the phenomenal success of this country in generating that. [Interruption.] The Front Benchers can heckle all they like, but that is what their Back Benchers want. That is the policy that threatens the British people and threatens our path to net zero. We must make sure that people such as the hon. Lady never have power in this country.

Scottish Renewables has said that the results are a major blow to the renewables sector in Scotland and should serve as an indication that urgent reform is needed. Scottish Renewables, not a political party but part of the industry, has also said that these disastrous results are bad for Scotland’s energy supply chain, which desperately needs a steady stream of projects to make its own investments in skilling up and in new technology. Will the Minister acknowledge that his and his Department’s failure to listen to warnings from the industry is holding back Scotland’s renewable sector?

I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her question. Industry always asks to be paid more money. Our job is to make the right judgment call on getting the balance right.

I saw in the newspapers yesterday that astronomers have discovered a water-covered planet in a far away galaxy. I have to disappoint these excited scientists that, from his answers today, the Minister appears to have got there before them. [Interruption.] On another planet, yes.

Seriously though, this setback to the Erebus project in south-west Wales is deeply disappointing. It was the first of its kind in Wales and was supposed to pave the way to a developing industry. I hope the Minister can reassure me that he is taking steps to make sure that, in AR6, projects such as Erebus are enabled to compete successfully and to lead the way for this industry in Wales.

I thank the hon. Gentleman, not least for his attempt at a gag. I can tell him that what he says is the whole basis of the system—that it learns from each round. The most real economic data that we get is from an auction round. Moving to annual rounds, there will be ebb and flow as the right balance is sought between getting the generation that we require, set against our extremely ambitious deadlines, and not paying too much. That is the balance that we strike. We have 3.7 GW and I imagine that we will do even better next time.

I feel as if I am almost taking my life in my hands, but I do want to commend the Minister for one small piece of good news in this round, which is in relation to the development of marine renewables. The success of the auction for tidal stream development illustrates what would be possible for wave power if it were to be given the same opportunity in AR6. But for tidal stream, does the Minister agree that what is now needed is the 1 GW target for deployment? Will he work with me and other people in the House with an interest in this and the marine renewables sector itself to deliver that ahead of AR6?

May I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman? I met him in his constituency when I visited the European Marine Energy Centre and saw for myself some of the projects in the water. I am personally determined to ensure that tidal stream continues to grow. We maintain our global leadership, with a very high percentage UK supply chain as a further positive to it. He tempts me to get ahead of myself on policy, but I cannot do that. However, what we are doing and what our dedicated pot this year did is further strengthen that so that we can get in a position where that might be a realistic policy position to take.

Even with a higher price, offshore wind would help to slash bills. When the Minister saw the Irish Government recognise inflation, up the price and proceed to a successful auction, what discussions did he have with the industry and with Treasury colleagues about the price to be set?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, which is a good one. Obviously, we did look at whether intervention, given that prices continue to change after they are set, was the right thing to do. We think that the CfD mechanism—the way that it is operated—is sound and that the best thing to do is to allow that to pass for the year. One reason for having the annual auction was precisely to allow us quickly to adjust, and, as I say, as soon as November, we will be setting the parameters for the next year.

Last November, the Government paid up to £700 million to China General Nuclear Corporation to buy out China’s state-owned nuclear power enterprise from Sizewell C, and we spent the best part of 2022 freeing ourselves from our reliance on Russian oil and gas. Given the failure of this Government to sell offshore wind projects in the latest round, can the Minister please comment on how energy independence from authoritarian states was served by this inability to run an auction?

We are now running these auctions every year, and every year, we will be seeking to get the generation that we require at the lowest possible cost to the consumer. I make no apology for doing that. The fact that we have the most successful system, not only in Europe, but globally, is something that should be applauded and recognised.

The Windsor report last month provides a sobering analysis about the scale of new electricity transmission infrastructure required to serve increased renewable generation and consumer demand in a very short space of time. However, as the report finds, there is considerable resistance locally to pylon development, as we are finding out in my constituency. Competence for such development is with the Welsh Government, but will the Minister pull together a working group of Ministers from across the UK and experts to consider the Windsor report, and in particular the advantages of cable ploughing technology, which would underground those cables at a comparable cost to overhead pylons without the visual damage?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his constructive and effective question. He is absolutely right to highlight the challenges of making sure that we have the right transmission and connection infrastructure to facilitate offshore wind. We have to do that in a way that minimises negative impacts on communities, that rewards them for hosting it, and that looks at new technologies and innovations, just as we do in other areas, in order to facilitate that effective connection with minimal negative impact on communities that host.

In light of the disappointing results of the CfD AR5 auction and given that I am always trying to be constructive in my contributions in this House, will Government revisit the exclusion of Northern Ireland renewable projects from the scheme, especially in light of the significant increase in onshore wind and tidal stream projects supported by the AR5? Northern Ireland is perfectly positioned for onshore wind and tidal stream to make a major contribution to energy security and net zero from AR6 and beyond. Will the Minister commit to enable Northern Ireland to be part of AR6?

I suggest that it is the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who need to commit to facilitating that in Northern Ireland. Energy is devolved and it is up to them to get the devolved Assembly up and running. If they get devolved government going in Northern Ireland, they will unleash these opportunities. It is not for this Department, which is not responsible for energy in Northern Ireland.