Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, these regulations were laid before the House on 11 May 2022. The contracts for difference scheme is the Government’s flagship renewable energy support scheme. It is designed to offer long-term price stabilisation to low-carbon generators, bringing investment forward at a lower cost of capital and therefore at a lower cost to consumers. The scheme has been very successful in driving substantial deployment of renewables at scale in Great Britain and has made it cheaper to deliver low-carbon generation.
CfD applicants with a capacity of 300 megawatts or more are currently required to present a supply chain statement to the Electricity Market Reform Delivery Body as part of their application. A statement is provided if a developer can demonstrate to the Secretary of State’s satisfaction that the project is likely to make a material contribution to the development of relevant supply chains. The aim of the policy is to increase productivity, competitiveness and capacity in supply chains, promoting innovation and skills in the low-carbon electricity generating sector.
The current policy approach to CfD delivery and supply chain plans needs to be strengthened. This will also support the move to annual CfD allocation rounds, which the Government announced in February. This will ensure that the scheme continues to operate effectively, encourage low-carbon generation and provide confidence to investors and supply chain companies. It will support the delivery of those renewable technologies identified in the Net Zero Strategy and the British Energy Security Strategy that are key to decarbonising the power sector, such as offshore wind, onshore wind and solar.
I will take a moment to talk through what these regulations will do. They will make several amendments to the Contracts for Difference (Allocation) Regulations 2014 and the Electricity Market Reform (General) Regulations 2014. The amendments include changes to contracts for difference delivery and supply chain policy in preparation for the fifth allocation round. These amendments will help to bolster supply chain development in preparation for the next CfD allocation round, planned to open in March 2023, delivering on the ambitions set out in the Net Zero Strategy and the British Energy Security Strategy.
These regulations amend the current non-delivery disincentive exclusion period that applies if a developer fails to sign a CfD contract or the contract is terminated, so that an application cannot be made for the subsequent two applicable allocation rounds. This strengthens the current policy of excluding a site from only one subsequent allocation round. This change will ensure that the NDD exclusion period is aligned with the decision to hold allocation rounds on an annual basis from 2023, ensuring that the NDD remains an adequate incentive to deliver projects.
These regulations also bring alignment with a change introduced to the valuation formula in the CfD allocation framework for allocation round 4. For allocation round 4, the Government introduced changes to the valuation formula to reduce the complexity of the auction and to ensure that the earliest possible date of CfD payments is considered when calculating the impact on the budget. These regulations introduce this technical change, amending the corresponding contracts for difference allocation regulations to reflect the amended formula.
The regulations amend the validity period of a supply chain plan statement so that it is valid for nine, rather than 12, months. This ensures that, in practice, developers continue to submit individual supply chain plans for each CfD allocation round in light of the move to annual auctions. They also amend the requirement to provide a supply chain plan statement so that it applies to all floating offshore wind projects. This allows the Government to support the development of supply chains for the floating offshore wind industry as it approaches significant commercialisation and deployment. We seek to make these amendments now to give certainty to businesses that might be planning to take part in the next CfD scheme, which will open in March 2023.
We are proposing these legislative amendments following a public consultation, which ran from 4 February to 15 March and gave stakeholders the opportunity to scrutinise and test the policy proposals. The consultation generated 41 responses from a range of developers of renewable generating stations, trade associations and bodies, suppliers and public investment bodies. At the same time, officials engaged wider audiences through an online event.
Overall, the policy proposals received wide support. The consultation led to one policy change to the supply chain policy proposals in response to the feedback received. A minor adjustment was made to the proposal to introduce floating offshore wind projects into the supply chain plan process whereby a bespoke, less burdensome process will be required to account for the smaller size of their projects.
In conclusion, the Government have set out a clear vision for how we will transform the production and use of energy, in a decisive shift away from expensive fossil fuels. These regulations, together with annual CfD allocation rounds, will help support an increase in the pace of deployment of the new renewable electricity generation needed to achieve our ambitions while continuing to consider the likely cost to consumers, energy security, et cetera. Subject to the will of Parliament, we intend that these arrangements will come into force on the day after the regulations are made. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will ask some questions, because I do not fully understand all this and these SI debates are often a good opportunity to expand one’s knowledge.
First, I would be grateful if the Minister can explain how a shorter life validity of the supply chain plan acts as an incentive, and what it incentivises. What happens after the plan lapses? None of that is obvious to me from the not very helpful Explanatory Memorandum. Are these supply plans published? Can we all see them or are they private documents between the Government and the supplier? Overall, do they help us to estimate what percent of the value added in supply chains is generated within the UK? If so, I would be grateful to know what it is.
Can the Minister also confirm that although the newest offshore fields won the bidding process with low prices, they have not yet activated their contracts so they are able to sell their electricity at the very high prices now prevailing, making what most people might call a windfall profit? That is the sort of thing Governments love to tax but they seem to have got off scot free. I would be grateful to know whether that is the case and to what proportion of wind generation that applies.
I would also like to know what proportion of wind generation comes from the early contracts, which, if I have correctly understood it—that may well not be the case—got a variable price plus a bonus and therefore are getting not merely the current high price but the current high price plus something extra: jolly good for them, but not so good for the consumer. Again, that is something that Governments might like to tax but they do not seem to have done so in this case. I would like to know what proportion of the renewables supply that is. By deduction, that should tell us what proportion of the renewables supply is under CfDs and therefore is not going up with the gas price. It would be very helpful if the Minister could answer that.
If those questions identify an intrinsic problem in the present system, why does this measure not deal with it—unless it does and I have not been able to find it in the not very helpful Explanatory Memorandum? I will be grateful for the Minister’s replies.
My Lords, I start—partly related to what the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said—by thanking the Minister profoundly. The last time we had a debate around CfDs, I asked a number of questions about the Low Carbon Contracts Company, which is wholly owned by the Government, and how much money it was making because of the energy price in relation to the strike price on CfDs. The Minister provided a comprehensive reply. Unfortunately, I do not have the numbers from it with me, but I thought it was extremely useful and I thank him for that. There is significant money coming back into the Low Carbon Contracts Company and, therefore, the public sector. Of course, the area that does not is the old ROCs regime, where I presume good profits are being made by those renewable companies that still operate under that system—although those presumably are starting to die out fairly quickly.
The area I really want to ask about—again, similar to the noble Lord, Lord Lilley—is supply chains. When I first read the Explanatory Memorandum, I assumed that the concern about supply chains was that those that bid can actually deliver and, therefore, need to have a credible supply chain; I assumed the Government were, quite rightly, looking to make sure that, when a contract for renewable energy was awarded, it could be fulfilled. However, when I read it, it did not say it in that way. Nor did the Minister, who seemed to describe the development of the supply chain. I assume that that is about trying to enhance the UK content of the supply chain; I would be interested to understand whether that is the case. I understand that the European Union is not too happy about that—for reasons which I sort of understand. Clearly, there is an important national interest here in terms of our long-term future. I am interested to understand where the Government have got, under the TCA, with the Commission on that discussion and whether they are actually in the processes that exist to discuss that.
I absolutely agree with the proposal to be more punitive if schemes cannot be delivered. Development timescales are still long—we all want to make them shorter while not prejudicing the environmental concerns and so on—but it seems absolutely vital that, once companies are awarded contracts, they deliver on time and we get that energy into the system.
One slightly more general question is around the state of the national grid and its ability to absorb these extra inputs into renewable energy. Certainly in the south-west, where I come from—talking about the solar side and battery storage, in which I have an interest in a company called Aldustria Ltd—there seems to be quite a queue at the moment, and a blockage in terms of access to DNO systems and the national grid. I would be interested to understand what happens there.
My last question is: why is there a discrimination against floating offshore wind regarding the 300 megawatts? Do the Government intend to remove that flaw for ordinary offshore generation as well and, if not, why the difference?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction. I similarly had only three questions arising from this SI—two of which the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, asked and the final one has also just been asked. This is a very technical SI, which we support, and I will just pick up on a couple of points.
The instrument will amend the validity period of the supply chain plan statement—one point that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, raised—so that it is valid for nine months, not 12 months, from the date of notice given by the Secretary of State. However, it goes on to say:
“The Secretary of State will … be able to determine a longer period if in their opinion there is a compelling reason for the period to be longer”.
Can the Minister share what he would consider to be “compelling reasons” for why it would be extended past nine months, if we are moving it back from 12 months? The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, touched on the second point about the qualifying of the impact under the new commitments; I will leave the Minister to answer that question.
On the supply chain, Regulation 2(3) amends the requirement to provide a supply chain plan statement so that it applies to all floating offshore wind projects. This was the point just made: the current 300-megawatt threshold generating capacity will continue to apply to all other eligible projects that are not floating offshore wind projects. Have the Government given any consideration to removing this threshold for other projects to encourage SCPs?
Finally, I understand that the consultation on the new supply chain plan questionnaire—the condensed version—closes tomorrow. Do any of the changes that would come under that affect this SI and does closing the consultation after the Grand Committee agrees this SI have any consequences?
I thank all the three noble Lords for their contributions. They were raising wider concerns about how the process works; I do not think anybody objected to the SI itself, so I thank Members for their support. The points that were raised demonstrate the need for these regulations—they are technical changes—and the support for introducing them.
As I said at the start of the debate, these changes are essential to ensure that the next CfD allocation round, which will be the first annual one, can best support something we all want to see: an increase in the pace of renewable development and the deployment needed to help us achieve our net-zero ambitions and get the price of electricity down in the longer term. At the same time, they help to achieve our legal net-zero commitments.
My noble friend Lord Lilley was right to point out the need to consider the likely cost to consumers, the impacts on energy security, et cetera. These regulations must be made now, ahead of the next CfD allocation round, which is planned for March next year, as I said, so that the developers have certainty as to the legislative framework for the next round.
Dealing with some of the questions raised, my noble friend Lord Lilley asked me to explain how a shorter validity acts as an incentive and what happens after the supply chain lapses. He also asked whether supply chain plans are published. The answer is that they are. They set out how they will improve the capacity of the supply chain. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, touched on the reason and I need to be slightly careful here. We are endeavouring to ensure that—how should I put this?—as much of the supply chain as possible is located in the United Kingdom, without breaching our legal obligations, which nobody would want to see us do. We are subject to legal action from the European Commission in the WTO, at the moment.
My noble friend Lord Lilley also asked what the Government are doing to stop CfD generators delaying their start dates so they can benefit from high energy prices. First, the vast majority of operational CfD projects are, happily, paying back into the system, due to the current high energy prices. I set out those figures in a letter to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. Subject to his agreement, I would be happy to send a copy to my noble friend.
In essence, in April this year, the Low Carbon Contracts Company, which is responsible for administering this system, returned £108.3 million to GB suppliers in respect of payments made by generators since last autumn. However, my noble friend is correct, and the Government are aware of a small number of projects that have delayed their contract start dates to try to benefit from current high wholesale prices. Legally, CfDs are private law contracts between the Low Carbon Contracts Company, the CfD counterparty and generators. The Government are not legally a counterparty to those contracts. However, we have raised the matter with the industry and made it clear that, in our view, this practice is not within the spirit of the scheme, which is intended to deliver benefits to both consumers and developers. While operating on commercial terms, these developers will not receive CfD payments. We are examining possible changes to the scheme to prevent future CfD projects acting in this way. While this practice is regrettable, it is important to remember that CfDs have played a significant role in massively bringing down the cost of offshore wind in recent years.
My noble friend also asked about capacity. The CfD scheme currently supports 16 gigawatts of new capacity, of which 13 gigawatts is offshore wind. Only two projects, totalling 1.4 gigawatts, have delayed their contract start dates in order to sell their electricity on the open market.
Turning to the slightly problematic area which concerns the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, reflecting the concern of the EU that we are breaching WTO rules, my legalistic response to this is that in the supply chain plans we do not require developers to use UK content. The supply chain plans are there to encourage them to invest in creating competitive, capable and efficient supply chains which are, of course, necessary for us to deliver net zero, taking into account our national obligations.
I thank the noble Lord for his comments. The noble Lord also asked why there is discrimination against floating offshore wind in terms of the 300-megawatt capacity. The answer is that this technology is at a key juncture in terms of its deployment, and we think that certain emerging technologies—such as floating offshore wind—have the potential to play an important role in the future in helping us to meet net zero. Bringing them into the supply chain process now will allow BEIS to support the development of the associated supply chain at an early stage by encouraging the industry to invest in competitive supply chains and—as has happened with offshore wind—to accelerate the cost reduction, by which we are now all benefitting.
There were also a number of technical questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol. This SI is not affected by the detailed questionnaire that was issued. On his other questions, it may be better if I reply to him in writing, if he will allow me to do so. With that, I commend this draft instrument to the House.