On 22 May 2012, the Government published its draft Energy Bill – you can read my colleague Chris’ analysis of the key points here. The landmark piece of legislation is intended to establish a legislative framework for delivering secure, affordable and low carbon energy. Ahead of its expected introduction this autumn, the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee are currently scrutinising the details of the Bill. As part of this inquiry, yesterday the committee held a public evidence session with key representatives from the energy industry.
The first session comprised of Sara Vaughan, Director of Strategy & Regulation for E.ON UK; Keith Anderson, Chief Corporate Officer of ScottishPower; and Ian Marchant, Chief Executive of SSE. They were followed by Vincent de Rivaz, Chief Executive Officer for EDF Energy; John McElroy, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at RWEnpower; and Sarwjit Sambhi, Managing Director Power Generation at Centrica. Each group were asked the same questions, centred on Part 1, Chapters 1-7 of the draft Bill. The particular focus was Contracts for Difference (CfD), the UK’s investment incentives vis-à-vis other markets, and the proposed Emissions Performance Standard.
- Industry must find a common voice: It quickly became apparent that the key industry players have divergent views on what is needed to optimise the UK’s energy market. From whether the Energy Bill is needed at all, to ministers’ role and responsibilities, to the need for capacity mechanisms, some clear differences in position were set out. SEE’s Ian Marchant described himself as being at “one end of the industry”, acknowledging substantial differences of opinions with his competitors. Tim Yeo MP, who chaired the session, stressed that the more industry is able to find agreement, the more likely their views and points will be accepted by Government.
- One thing they do agree on is transparency: If one word stood out in each of the sessions, and by each witness, it was the desire for transparency. Keith Anderson of ScottishPower was particularly forthright in his desire for transparency and the creation of a robust long-term framework to achieve investor confidence, create jobs, and ultimately restart the UK’s economy. Vincent de Rivaz from EDF Energy stated that the Government has a clear responsibility to ensure fairness and transparency.
- The UK is an attractive investment market: Those giving evidence do not believe incentives on renewables lead to excessive return on investment. SEE’s Ian Marchant stated that without market mechanisms, a mixed generation portfolio simply won’t be realised. However, he added that there is not currently enough liquidity in the wholesale electricity market to support CfD mechanisms. RWEnpower’s John McElroy voiced concern for clarity over budgets and how the Government intends to manage the levy control framework.
- But the current period of uncertainty must be resolved as quickly as possible: Concerns over slippage on the timeframe were raised by Sara Vaughan from E.ON UK. The lack of detail in the Bill and a centralisation of decision making power among ministers were perceived as a risk, compounding uncertainty in the market and therefore investor confidence. In the second session, EDF Energy’s Vincent de Rivaz, reiterated the need to maintain momentum and ensure Government sticks to its timetable.
- The counterparty issue must be resolved: The key industry players had previously registered their desire that the Government act as the counterparty so as to ensure CfDs are legally robust, with the power to raise money. However, it was noted that there seems to be hesitation on the Government’s part and potential problems with standards of State Aid set by the EU.
- There is no agreement on emissions performance standards: Dan Byles MP began his question in the second session by suggesting that the first session’s witnesses were in agreement over Emissions Performance Standards, but was quickly caught out by Centrica’s representative, Sarwjit Sambhi, who had attended both. Sambhi agreed with SEE’s Ian Marchant that the standards were unnecessary, but Sara Vaughan thought quite the opposite. John McElroy agreed, noting that gas has a key role in the transition to a low carbon economy, so certainty around emissions performance is vital.
The current state of the energy market in the UK is one of uncertainty. Until a clear and comprehensive framework is in place investors will remain shy, and if timeframes are not met there is the possibility that confidence will ebb away. To this end, industry believes that the Government must move swiftly in its reforms and be open in its processes. There is much to be clarified and worked through, and as John McElroy noted: the devil is in the detail. One thing is clear – if the industry wishes to see swift reforms they must be forthright on the issues they agree on, presenting a united voice wherever possible.
WHAT THE MEDIA HAVE TO SAY
- The Financial Times (Pilita Clark) - Energy groups attack ill-defined reforms
- The Daily Telegraph (Emily Gosden) – SSE attacks secrecy of nuclear subsidy talks