“(1) No later than 6 months following the passing of this Act the Chancellor of the Exchequer shall publish a report into the effect of the removal of the Climate Change Levy exemption on renewable energy generators.
(2) That report must include information about:
(a) The effect that the removal of the exemption has had on existing generators
(b) The effect that the removal of the exemption has had on projects which were in the planning process
(c) The cumulative effect on investor confidence in renewable energy of this change in the context of wider government policy on renewable energy; and
(d) The effect of these changes on the United Kingdom’s ability to meet its climate change targets and commitments.”
Thank you, Mr Howarth.
Clause 45 ends the exemption from the climate change levy for renewably sourced electricity. The CCL renewables exemption was misaligned with today’s energy policy and represented an inefficient way of supporting renewable electricity generation. In the past 15 years the UK’s renewable energy policy has fundamentally changed. When the renewable electricity exemption was introduced in 2001, renewable generation made up just 2.5% of the UK’s electricity supply; it now makes up around 20%. Since the exemption was introduced, more effective policies have been put in place which support renewable electricity generation directly.
In contrast, the CCL exemption provided indirect support to renewable generators. Together, policies such as the renewables obligation and feed-in tariff will provide over £5 billion-worth of support to renewable generation in this financial year.
I can absolutely say how we justify this measure. As I have stated, there are now more effective and efficient direct methods of encouraging renewable generation than the CCL exemption. We have also seen a sharp decline in CCL revenue over the last Parliament. The forecasts from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility show that, without change, by 2020 virtually no CCL would have been paid on electricity at all. Removing the exemption helps maintain a price signal through the CCL for all business to use energy more efficiently. In addition, last year a third of its value went to renewable projects based overseas—projects which of course do not contribute to our climate change or international development commitments, making this a poor use of taxpayers’ money.
Clause 45 ends the existing exemption for renewable energy from the CCL. It applies to any renewable electricity generated after
It was necessary, because of the imperative to deliver value for money, to move quickly on this change. The Government are committed to supporting the investment and innovation needed to achieve a cost-effective transition to a low-carbon economy while ensuring security of energy supply and avoiding unnecessary burdens on businesses and households. We are making great strides towards achieving those goals, with emissions down 30% since 1990. We will ensure that our policies provide maximum value for money for the taxpayer in delivering environmental benefits without harming the economy.
Several hon. Members have voiced their concern about the impact of the clause, and I want to take a moment to address those concerns. The change will not increase household energy bills, because the climate change levy is not charged on households. Business customers should not lose out from the change either. The business energy market is competitive and wholesale electricity prices will not be increased as a result. Energy-intensive businesses are already exempt from 90% of the costs of the climate change levy for electricity by being in climate change agreements. The change will also not affect renewable generators’ long-term investment plans. Most generators were expecting to receive a negligible value from the exemption by the 2020s.
Of course, the renewables sector will also benefit from Government’s recent cuts to corporation tax, which will save businesses over £10 billion a year, giving the UK the lowest rate of corporation tax in the G20. Lastly, the change will not affect the UK’s ability to meet its climate change goals, as emissions from electricity generation are capped through the EU emissions trading system. Nor will it affect our ability to source at least 30% of electricity demand from renewables by 2020. The Government remain committed to meeting their climate change objectives but we believe we must do so in a cost-effective way.
The Minister has outlined the various assessments that the Government have made, but have they assessed the effect of these measures on the industry itself, and on the many companies that have built successful businesses installing and manufacturing these products? Those companies have just had the rug pulled from under their feet by the Government’s measures.
It is a bigger rug than that. The climate change levy is only a relatively minor part of the support that was given to the industry, compared with the support given through the renewables obligation and through contracts for difference.
It is essential that we show that our measures to achieve climate change and renewables objectives provide good value for money, in order to retain long-term public support for them. I look forward to hearing hon. Members’ views and I urge them to give their support to the clause.
I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to the debate on this clause, which I believe should simply have been deleted. Ministers have failed to provide a robust or even remotely convincing justification for removing the renewables exemption to the climate change levy. This would be laughable if it were not so serious. The Chancellor has complained that this is all very fine because the UK now has
“a long-term framework for investment in renewable energy in place”.—[Hansard, 8 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 331.]
If only that were the case! The reality is becoming increasingly distant from the rhetoric, especially now, after yet another wave of destruction has been unleashed by the Treasury on sensible and popular climate and clean energy policies.
The most outrageous of those policies is the proposal to cut support for rooftop solar by up to 87%. That risks making it impossible for my constituents and many others to afford solar panels for their homes, schools or community centres. Solar power can become subsidy-free, but not if Government cuts to support are wildly disproportionate to the admittedly impressive cost reductions that the industry has managed to achieve. And then there are the 35,000 people who work in the solar industry and who are facing a very uncertain future.
Clause 45 of the Finance Bill is one of several such senseless attacks on sustainable energy and climate policies. It will have negative impacts on existing and potential renewable energy developments, some of which are already being reported to have become unfeasible and which have now been cancelled. It will also have negative impacts on the overall investment climate for everyone from small community groups to multinational businesses, all of which are looking to put their money into clean power. This is the very last thing we need, for our economy, for our jobs and for tackling climate change, and it flies in the face of public opinion. New polling this month found, yet again, overwhelming support for renewables, including onshore wind and solar, with even greater levels of support for community energy generation. Some 78% would support local projects, even within 2 miles of their home. For all those reasons and more it seems intelligent to have an incentive, so that when a business or public sector organisation purchases clean renewable power, rather than dirty polluting power, it pays less tax.
Ministers claim that the change is intended to prevent taxpayers’ money from supporting renewable electricity generated overseas, but in reality ditching the renewable energy exemption is a completely disproportionate measure, which turns a policy designed to encourage low-carbon electricity into little more than an electricity tax for businesses. If a third of benefits do go overseas, that should surely still mean that two thirds support home-grown renewable power generation and jobs here in the UK. If Ministers really want to cut out overseas generators, they should therefore modify the policy to fix the anomaly at that rate. Did anyone ever even consult industry about what level of cut to make? We have already seen by the Minister’s inability to answer my question a few moments ago that there simply was no consultation with the industry in advance. Ditching this exemption completely is, as Friends of the Earth has said, like making people pay an alcohol tax on apple juice. It harms British renewable energy businesses and undermines efforts to tackle climate change. No wonder it has received widespread condemnation, on both environmental and economic grounds.
This is all happening less than three months before the crucial climate talks in Paris. Yet at that time we will hear the spin machine in the Department of Energy and Climate Change going into overdrive, coming out with all kinds of lovely rhetoric which is completely at odds with what the Government are doing on the ground with this measure. It is yet another example of the huge gulf between the rhetoric and the reality of the policy.
When it comes to avoiding dangerous climate change, the shift to clean renewable energy is key. Phasing out fossil fuels and phasing in a 100%-clean agenda has to be at the top of the agenda. Yet, once again, the UK is going in the wrong direction, with generous tax breaks and taxpayer-funded propaganda propping up the fossil fuel companies, while the knife is being stuck into our own home-grown renewable energy sector.
Does the hon. Lady not agree that this is only part of an ongoing series of issues: a lower strike price for nuclear than for renewables; the continuing unfairness with the connectivity charges, where the bulk of the renewable potential is; the pulling of support for onshore wind; the threats potentially even to the green investment bank; and the threatening of funding for future projects? This is all part of the same anti-environmental agenda.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and of course he is absolutely right; long gone are the days of hugging huskies and we are now in the days of “green crap”—even, ridiculously, when there are strong economic arguments for pursuing green policies. The idea that that is somehow against the interests of business is completely belied by the fact that so many businesses are crying out for a change in direction on the part of this Government.
I am listening to the hon. Lady’s comments, which are always passionate, well made and eloquent. Does she not agree that the industry is complicit in the problems she alludes to because it has gone for the easy win of developing on agricultural and green-belt land, rather than doing the more difficult thing, which is developing on previously developed land? That is why people have been resistant in communities to solar energy projects such as those in my constituency.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s comments. There are some cases where renewables are being sited in areas where there is opposition, but those are a minority. I assure him that if he thinks there is going to be much popular objection to renewables, he should just wait until his constituents and others see the impact of fracking. That is when he is going to see an awful lot more opposition to the energy choices that this Government are making.
The fact is that the renewable energy industry is a fantastic advantage to our economy. It does some brilliant things, and it does so despite Government policy, not because of it. It is now absolutely at risk of not being able to get away from the subsidies. It does not need subsidies for much longer and has always understood that there will be digression. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, Chris Heaton-Harris is suggesting that this industry is surviving only because of subsidies. Nothing could be further from the truth. The subsidies are coming down. There is digression, but it has to happen in a planned way. It is not justifiable, or even reasonable, to expect an industry to not know what kind of economic situation it is working in from one year to the next. This Government keep changing the goalposts on an almost monthly basis.
The renewable energy industry and the solar industry know that digression will happen and that subsidies will be withdrawn, but it must be to a predetermined timetable. When that timetable keeps changing, it is incredibly difficult for business to adapt.
Compare that with what is happening to the nuclear industry. The nuclear industry will have subsidies for decades to come. It is already 50 years old, and yet Hinkley Point C could not even begin to be built were it not for the fact that it has massive subsidies, which are hugely bigger than anything that the renewable energy industry could ever dream of. I will not hear suggestions that the renewable energy industry is somehow greedy when it comes to subsidies; absolutely nothing could be further from the truth.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. I am sorry for stopping her in mid-stream, especially as she was getting so passionate about the subject. She cannot have it both ways. She cannot say that renewable electricity and power are coming down in cost because the industry is becoming more efficient, and at the same time wish to have tax breaks and subsidies maintained. Either the industry is becoming more efficient, its costs are converging and the tax breaks are not needed or, as many of us suspect, it will always be a lame duck and will always impose higher costs on electricity consumers.
I wish that the hon. Gentleman had done a little bit more homework before making that point, because it is simply not the case. The point about the subsidies to the solar industry is that it has always been deemed that they would come down over time. The objection here is that they are suddenly being forced to reduce overnight at a time when the industry had been told that there was going to be a very different economic situation. Of course the costs of solar are coming down; they have been coming down in a remarkable way, and all credit to the solar industry for achieving that. But they are coming down in spite of the Government—in spite of their chopping and changing, their uncertainty and their lack of vision—and not as a result of something that they have done.
In conclusion, if the Government go ahead with applying this climate change levy to the renewable energy industry, they will strangle an industry that has so much potential for getting climate emissions down, creating jobs and bringing on a stronger and more resilient economy.
I am grateful to be able to contribute to this debate. Members on both sides of the Committee will agree that keeping the lights on is one of the primary duties of any Government. Some of the more senior Members in this Chamber will recall the three-day week in the 1970s—I apologise for glancing over my shoulder to my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke—when British businesses were forced to conserve their electricity at great commercial cost and television companies could not broadcast beyond 10.30 in the evening. We have come a long way since those bad old days and we cannot and should not allow this nation to find itself in a similar situation ever again.
With that in mind, we also need to recognise that the energy industry in modern Britain cannot be taken for granted. Like any other business, energy companies make difficult decisions every day. They decide what projects to invest in, using reasonable commercial principles. It has not been fashionable in recent years to praise energy companies, but we should not forget the significant number of jobs that rely either directly or indirectly on energy companies in this country. Many Members present will be aware that in my own constituency in North Yorkshire, energy companies have played an important role in the community over many decades, employing thousands of local people and generating millions of pounds in business for local companies.
Recent events in my constituency have prompted me to participate in today’s debate. Sadly, last week the Czech owners of Eggborough power station announced that the station was set to close, shedding 240 jobs in the process. That is not only a great personal loss to my constituents but a great loss to the nation, given that Eggborough provides roughly 4% of the UK’s electricity. I remind the Committee that National Grid recently announced that the capacity margin this winter is only 1.5%, and many analysts predict it could be much lower next winter.
Eggborough power station employs a lot of my constituents, as it does my hon. Friend’s. Does he agree that the assessment undertaken by Ofgem is simply not robust enough and does not take account of that 4% figure? All it will take in 2016-17 is for the wind not to blow, for there to be a problem elsewhere on the plant or for the winter to be a little bit colder, and if Eggborough goes we will face blackouts. As I said on the radio recently, Governments that allow blackouts on their watch normally get their lights put out at the next election.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend and neighbour. Whoever is in charge of ensuring that we have security of supply must ensure that they have robust numbers, and I am sure that my hon. Friend and I will be asking serious questions of them over the forthcoming weeks.
It saddens me greatly that this is not an isolated event. Many Members have communities that have been affected in some way by similar announcements in recent months: Longannet in Scotland, Didcot in Oxfordshire, and Ferrybridge, right next to my constituency in west Yorkshire. The Chancellor is rightly keen to create a northern powerhouse, and so am I, but I would rather see a northern powerhouse with some power in it. I do not want to see a no-power house.
There are no easy answers left on energy policy. I urge those hon. Members in opposition and in government who believe otherwise to think again, or to visit areas such as mine and talk to the constituents whose livelihoods are being put at risk. This is a commercially challenging time for the energy sector. Wholesale electricity prices are at the lowest level in years, in no small part due to the crash and the glut of oil in the global marketplace. That makes the investment case for any energy project, be it biomass, nuclear, gas or wind, incredibly challenging.
It is at times like these that our constituents and the energy industry look to Government for genuine leadership, and it saddens me greatly to say that on this issue the Government led by my party appear to have fallen short. “Investor confidence” is a phrase that is readily thrown around in debates like this and is perhaps too easily taken for granted, but when an esteemed member of the investment community such as Neil Woodford is quoted in a national newspaper in the days following the Government’s announcement on this issue as saying:
“If Government cannot be trusted to fulfil its long-term commitments then it will have to accept that it cannot rely on support from institutional investors”, it would be irresponsible of me and other hon. Members not to heed his words.
It seems sensible to me that at a time when the energy sector is in such a sensitive and precarious place, policy decisions should be taken in the round rather than in isolation. The Government have already made public the saving they believe they would accrue as a result of removing the CCL exemption, but what about the consequences, intended or otherwise?
Drax Group, an energy company of which Members will be aware and that is based in my constituency, has invested hundreds of millions of pounds in recent years to become the largest renewable generator in the UK. It lost £425 million of its value on Budget day—£425 million in one day, a third of its total value. To me, it is incredible that a Conservative Government have effectively done that to a company that has done all that has been asked of it. The superb management team at that station has delivered Europe’s largest decarbonisation project. It is producing the lowest-cost renewable power available when we take into consideration full system costs, and it has done so while providing 8% of the UK’s power day in, day out. Furthermore, that is money that could otherwise have been invested back in the company further to fund its biomass operations or to support White Rose, one of the country’s two flagship carbon capture and storage projects. That is not an isolated case. I understand that many other renewables companies saw huge falls in their value on the back of the decision.
Discontinuing the CCL exemption would also eliminate the only financial incentive for businesses in the UK to use renewable energy instead of fossil fuels, and it has been in place for over a decade. Hon. Members will know that it is a rare occurrence indeed when I agree with Friends of the Earth, but its observation that the situation is comparable to imposing an alcohol tax on apple juice seems spot on. It appears to me to be a retrograde step, and one that will put small business owners, for whom I have the greatest respect, given my background before entering the House, in a position of uncertainty. Furthermore, as a Conservative it pains me to say that, far from being the removal of an unnecessary burden on business, the removal of the CCL exemption is the extension of a tax. Every business in the UK, whether large or small, must now pay the CCL; they can no longer avoid it by using renewable power.
I understand that one of the Government’s principal objectives in removing the CCL exemption is to prevent taxpayers’ money benefiting renewable generation abroad. However, the reality is that more than 70% of the income generated by levy exemption certificates went to UK-based energy producers. Furthermore, generators supplying renewable energy to the UK through interconnectors are currently exempt from a range of transmission charges that British generators are required to pay. Surely it would be better for the Government to look carefully at that loophole, rather than at measures, such as those proposed in the Bill, that will make the economics of generating in the UK less appealing.
As hon. Friends will know, I am not given to highlighting problems without suggesting solutions. I believe that all that Drax and the renewals industry are asking for is to be treated the same as other industries. When exemptions were removed from the combined heat and power industry, it was given two years’ notice. That contrasts with the 28 days’ notice given this time.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way—it is not easy to come to the House and take issue with one’s own party. Following his last point, does he agree that there were other ways to deal with any sense of unfairness about renewable energy coming through interconnectors, rather than taking a big hammer to smash a small problem in the system? We know how many jobs and how much future investment are based on business plans, whether at Drax, which I have had the pleasure of visiting, and at other renewables firms, small and large, across the country, which are doing their best to put some growth back into the British economy.
I agree with the right hon. Lady. Companies need certainty and time to plan, and 28 days’ notice is clearly ludicrous. A two-year notice period would allow companies to honour contracts they have signed, allow the industry to adapt and, above all, it would be fair.
I know that this is a topic of considerable interest and that other hon. Members wish to make their views known, so I will conclude my remarks by returning to my original point: nothing in life is guaranteed, including the availability of energy in our homes and businesses. I believe that we are entering a very precarious time for the UK, when our capacity margins are getting ever tighter and when plant closures continue to leave us reliant on gas imported from the middle east. Against that backdrop, we are in a global marketplace where investors are taking a sober, pragmatic approach to energy projects, and not just in the UK but elsewhere. We should be giving them greater certainty that the UK is a reliable environment to invest their money in, because that money is needed to deliver the energy projects that will power this nation in future. My concern is that the proposed revision to the climate change levy will do exactly the opposite. That is why, with great regret, I shall not be supporting the Government on this issue.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Howarth.
I rise to speak to Opposition new clause 2 relating to the Government’s changes to the climate change levy in clause 45, which have already been outlined by hon. Members. The climate change levy is a carbon tax on the non-domestic use of energy. Clause 45 is concerned with the removal of the exemption currently available to electricity generated from renewable sources in the form of levy exemption certificates. For some years now, these certificates have ensured that electricity generated from clean sources has not been liable to what is, or was, essentially a tax on carbon emitted from the generation of non-domestic energy supplies. In removing the certificates, the clause reverses that principle, leaving us in the utterly perverse situation where renewables generators will be taxed for their contribution to climate change, regardless of the fact that they make little or no such contribution. Several Members have mentioned the apple juice analogy, so I will hold back from repeating it, but it goes without saying that it is an excellent one.
The clause is just one aspect of this Government’s new approach to energy and climate change, which entails abandoning the most cost-effective forms of renewables, reviewing environmental taxes, and, apparently, abandoning their commitment to tackling climate change. That approach risks undermining an area of the economy that has some of the most promising prospects for the future. That sector offers more productive, higher-paid, higher-skilled jobs, particularly in the northern regions and in Scotland; and one would think that it was central to the Chancellor’s so-called productivity plan and his alleged northern powerhouse.
New clause 2 would therefore require the Government to set out the cumulative impact of the removal of the exemption on existing renewables generators and projects currently in the pipeline, where almost all the projects and the banking arrangements or investment decisions underpinning them will have been based on the current fiscal and subsidy framework; on investor confidence in the UK’s green energy sector, which is clearly vital to the future of the green economy and the high-skilled, more productive jobs that will flow from it; and on the UK’s ability to meet its climate change obligations, in which renewable energy has a vital role to play and may make up the shortcomings in other sectors—something that Ministers do not recognise at the moment.
Clause 45 retrospectively removes the exemption from the climate change levy—a tax levied on all non-domestic energy use—for electricity generated from renewables from
The Government have set out two justifications for the removal of the levy exemption from renewables: first, that it seeks to correct a so-called imbalance in the tax system whereby renewables generators based overseas benefit from the levy exemption when, according to the Government, they already receive state subsidies in their origin countries and are therefore unfairly benefiting from British taxpayers’ money; and secondly, that it provides so-called better value for money for UK taxpayers—or, to put it another way, raises a considerable amount of revenue to help the Chancellor balance the books. According to the tax information impact note accompanying this measure, the renewables exemption, as it stood, would cost nearly £4 billion over the course of this Parliament, one third of which would go to overseas generators. HMRC claims that there is evidence to suggest that some of these overseas generators receive support in their own countries, although it does not provide any specific evidence. Perhaps the Minister might like to comment further. Regardless of that, the fact is that what was essentially a carbon tax is now becoming simply an energy tax. As Friends of the Earth has asked,
“When is a carbon tax not a carbon tax? When it is a tax on zero-carbon things.”
It is quite straightforward really.
These changes to the climate change levy come on the back of a raft of announcements since the general election, most notably from the new Energy and Climate Change Secretary, which reflect the Government’s apparent U-turn on tackling climate change. Since
We have also had cryptic announcements from the Department of Energy and Climate Change about the next contracts for difference auction round, which was meant to take place this autumn but has now been postponed, adding yet more uncertainty to a frankly fragile renewables industry which relies on strong, long-term signals from policy makers, as Nigel Adams has said so eloquently.
All of those announcements signal the end of the UK as a pioneer and world leader in tackling climate change. That role was embraced by the previous Labour Government, who led the way, and the Prime Minister also seemed happily to embrace it during his husky-hugging days of opposition. However, just months into a Conservative-majority Government and just months before major climate change talks in Paris, the UK is shying away from its international commitments, just as the likes of the USA and even China face up to them.
The reality is that this Conservative Government have happily relinquished the UK’s role as a world leader in tackling climate change. Not only does that undermine the UK’s moral authority in hammering out a deal in Paris in December; it also risks enormous economic consequences for some of the most promising and productive sectors, as well as for the regions and nations, of the UK.
Clause 45 completely undermines and even puts at risk hundreds of renewable projects throughout the country in wind, solar and biomass conversion. Some of those projects are already up and running, while others are in the planning or development phase and have secured investment based on a policy environment established over many years. That policy framework has been completely undone since
Each day since the Chancellor’s Budget statement in July has seen more bad news for the low-carbon sector, including investors pulling back from projects, key players in the sector seeing millions wiped off their value and institutional investors completely turning their backs on the UK’s renewable sector. As a severely disheartened Tony Juniper, a long-standing environmental campaigner, wrote in The Guardian:
“The last few months mark the worst period for environmental policy that I have seen in my 30 years’ work in this field.”
I remember those days of the “greenest Government ever”—how hollow those words ring now.
RenewableUK, the industry body for on and offshore wind, suggests that the certificates account for up to 6% of an onshore wind project’s revenues and that they are worth roughly £5 per MWh. In its view, taking away the exemption certificates could be the difference between profit and loss for some marginal projects. It is as simple as that.
Was this industry not one in which we had a lead on innovation and design and technology that we could have exported across the world? There are numerous examples in my hon. Friend’s constituency and mine of companies going under as a result of the proposed changes. She may be interested to know that a major installing company in the Chester area estimates that 90% of its employees will have to be made redundant as a result of the Government’s proposals.
That is terrible news for our region and the rest of the country. My hon. Friend and I have a great deal in common, not least that we have both visited renewable energy firms in our constituencies. I visited one recently that was similarly disappointed at the Government’s attitude and the business now faces risks that it simply did not expect.
Of even more concern than the fact that the removal of the certificates may mean a difference between profit and loss is that such income has been factored in to the strike prices agreed for projects awarded a contract for difference to date. Surely the removal of the certificates will either open the Government to legal challenge or some contracts for difference will have to be reassessed. Which is it?
I will give an example of such an impact. One small onshore wind project in Scotland generates about 35,000 MWh per year. The loss of the certificates could cost the project £175,000 each and every year. As with many such projects, it was financed with bank loans, the terms of which anticipated an exemption certificate of roughly £175,000 a year. Somebody involved in the project told us:
“We identified each of these projects and risked development capital to secure planning permission, and invested a large amount of time, all on the understanding that the LEC would be available. We raised debt funding from banks, who look at the expected revenue from the project to determine what amount they are willing to lend—they based their calculations on the LEC remaining in place. Therefore, the sudden removal of the LEC will reduce the turnover of these projects, which at the very least will reduce the returns to our investors and in the worst cases, could cause problems with banking covenants.”
Does that example not demonstrate the responsibility that we in the House have to provide a stable regulatory environment for business? That is not a lesson I ever thought I would have to preach to the Conservative party.
NAREC Distributed Energy, the National Renewable Energy Centre in the north-east, has suggested that it knows of at least four European wind developers that have decided to cease, or significantly to reduce, plans to develop in the UK. It says that another firm from mainland Europe with which it was in talks has decided to avoid the UK completely. We have also heard from sources in the solar industry about the growing concern that the industry faces severe challenges ahead.
We can see the impact of clause 45 and other recent policy changes in the announcements made by key energy companies operating and investing significantly in the UK. For example, Vattenfall the Swedish energy company, has already abandoned two onshore wind projects in the UK, one in Wales and one in Lincolnshire. Frankly, those are both regions of our country that could do with the investment. In one case, it cited the Government’s changes to onshore wind planning policy, and in the other, it cited a market that had “moved on”.
What does that picture mean for the UK economy? More importantly, what does it mean for the Chancellor’s ambition, which he tells us he has, for a high-skill, high-wage exporting economy of the future? How do such policy decisions impact on our prospects for overcoming the current productivity crisis, which, as Labour Members have repeatedly set out, must be at the top of the Chancellor’s priorities?
According to the Renewable Energy Association, some 112,000 people are employed in the renewable energy value chain across the UK, some 11,000 of whom are employed in the north-west—my region—alone. Companies in the north-west turn over some £700 million a year, which is investment we can little afford to lose. According to the REA’s figures, the number of renewable energy jobs has grown seven times faster than those in the rest of the economy. Green jobs are undoubtedly vital to regional economies in the north and in Scotland, where renewable technologies are deployed much more widely, and renewables supply chains are more established there than elsewhere in the country.
RenewableUK, which is predominantly the voice of the wind industry, has said that the onshore wind industry alone supports almost 14,000 jobs in the UK and contributes almost £1 billion of gross value added. As the CBI has said,
“green is not just complementary to growth, but a vital driver of it”.
This is a central economic question for our country. It means establishing clear and stable market frameworks, as well as the UK playing a strong role internationally.
The REA agrees, estimating that the industry could create up to 400,000 high-skill jobs by 2020 and, equally importantly, contribute a cumulative £60 billion benefit to the UK’s trade balance. What could be more vital in these times of global economic uncertainty? The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that the UK’s current account deficit will remain broadly unchanged up to 2020—a deficit, by the way, that we rarely hear mentioned by the Chancellor. The low-carbon sector could play a key role in turning that around, yet here we have the Government stripping out the support that underpins it.
The first majority Conservative Government for years have been in office for little over a hundred days and this policy framework will severely diminish their business credibility. That fact is evident not just because I say it is, but from the reaction of the business community. The senior vice-president of Veolia in the UK and Ireland has suggested that Ministers risk
“sending this country back to the dark ages” when it comes to green policy. She said:
“What I don’t understand is why the government would apply the carbon levy on renewable energy plants which are carbon-positive—it’s illogical.”
Jon Ferris, the head of energy markets for the consultancy Utilitywise said the decision would
“do little to convince investors of UK policy stability”.
The chief executive officers of 10 leading environmental charities penned a strongly worded letter to the Prime Minister, pointing out that the Government’s rhetoric post-election runs entirely counter to that during the campaign, concluding:
“We have, as yet, seen no positive new measures that would restore the health of the environment or grow the low carbon economy.”
If the Minister does not like to hear it from me, perhaps he will take it from those on his own side, because there has been no shortage of criticism from Conservatives. Various members of the Conservative party have, quite rightly, failed to comprehend the lack of coherence not just in the Government’s climate change agenda since the election, but in their wider approach to ensuring that the UK is an attractive proposition for investors. The Conservative peer and former shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Lord Flight, in a damning verdict of the Chancellor’s revenue-raising decisions, said:
“Charging renewable companies the Climate Change Levy is a contradiction of Government energy policy, which is still seeking to encourage Renewable Energy investment.”
The Chair of the Conservative Environment Network, Ben Goldsmith, wrote a letter to the Financial Times describing the climate change levy changes as “perverse” and “contradictory”. He even drew parallels with Greece:
“Introducing a retroactive subsidy cut with one month’s notice means more guesswork over what the government will do next—the very worst basis for raising capital. This makes the UK look more like the volatile markets of southern Europe—impacting on newbuilds and undermining confidence in generating assets.”
I often hear the Chancellor compare the UK to Greece, but I never thought I would hear a Conservative activist use his own words against him.
The reaction across the business world and among other stakeholders speaks to a wider point about what these changes mean for the UK’s economic future. Despite the rhetoric from the Conservative Chancellor about a plan to boost productivity, deliver higher-skilled, higher-wage jobs, pursue cost-effective climate change policies and act always in a business-friendly manner, the truth is that clause 45, taken together with a string of other policy announcements since
As the Chancellor wrote in the foreword to his productivity plan in July:
“The drivers of productivity are well understood: a dynamic, open enterprising economy supported by long-term public and private investment in infrastructure, skills and science.”
I could not agree more. Unfortunately, the Chancellor’s actions in recent months speak louder than his words ever will. He would do well to heed the advice of some in his own party, including the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty and those I have just quoted.
New clause 2 calls on the Government to assess all of the impacts I have just outlined. It aims to highlight the true impact of removing the climate change levy exemption for renewable-sourced electricity. It asks Ministers a number of questions that are crucial to the future of the UK’s green economy, its role in achieving a more balanced, productive economy, and the UK’s role in the world. How does the removal of the exemption affect existing renewables generators and projects currently in the pipeline? What impact will clause 45 have on investor confidence? Finally, what does it mean for the UK’s ability to meet its climate change commitments?
Clause 45 speaks clearly to the Government’s wider business and economic approach, which undermines investment and is short-termist in outlook both economically and on climate change. It falls well short of the bar that the Chancellor has set to rebalance our economy and create a higher-skilled and more productive one. In short, the Government have made it clear that they consistently put placating their Back Benchers who are opposed to renewable energy generation above the jobs and investment that moving to a low-carbon economy would provide. That is the ultimate consequence of clause 45 and a damning verdict on the Government so early in this Parliament. As new clause 2 indicates, it is time Ministers face up to the truly damaging impacts of clause 45.
It is a pleasure to follow Alison McGovern, and I agreed with much of what she said.
I find myself, not for the first time, standing to criticise a Government of my own party, but they should pay heed when Members such as my hon. Friend Nigel Adams make such speeches. When my hon. Friend and neighbour makes such a speech, the Government need to consider whether they are in the right place, because he is not a serial trouble causer, as some of us are sometimes labelled—for a Yorkshireman, it is a badge of honour. Given that he made the speech he made, I hope the Government listen to him.
I support my hon. Friend, representing the constituency that I represent, and having looked through the proposals and the impact they will have on my area. I will say something about Drax in a moment, but I agree entirely with my hon. Friend on Eggborough. It is a deeply concerning situation. We are not addressing Department of Energy and Climate Change Ministers tonight, but it is fair to say, having seen the Budget, that DECC is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Treasury. Perhaps a message will get back to those who are really running DECC.
Our concern about Eggborough is significant. A range of factors affect Eggborough, not all of which are in the Government’s gift. However, they need to be conscious of the potential crunch that is coming. When we had meetings a year or so ago, we were told that Eggborough would probably not close and that it was playing something of a game. That is certainly not what has come to pass. The warnings, which my hon. Friend was making privately a year or so ago, have come to pass. He should have been listened to then as he should be listened to now.
I hope the Government give great weight to the significant dangers if we lose 4% of generating capacity next year, given the crunch that will come in 2016-17. I hope Ministers consider what more can be done to support Eggborough and the brilliant workers, many of whom live in my constituency, who make their living there.
I do not agree with the comments of Caroline Lucas on solar and onshore wind—she perhaps would not expect me to do so. We have fought off a number of proposed solar farms on grade A agricultural land in my constituency and my constituents cannot be described as being in favour of the solar farms that have appeared. I feel no sorrow for what is happening to onshore wind and solar—my constituency is peppered with hundreds of onshore wind turbines and we will be pleased to see the back of further support for them, given that we have been dumped with far more of them than anybody could have reasonably expected. They continue to be dumped on us.
On biomass, I am concerned about the impact that the measure will have on Drax. I should declare an interest: I live opposite Drax. If I invited you up to my bedroom, Mr Howarth, you would see Drax power station. [Hon. Members: “What?”] It is not going to happen, Mr Howarth, but you could look further and see Eggborough and Ferrybridge. We have a string of power stations that we are proud of. We are proud of the contribution we make to energy supply in this country and of the skilled and well paid jobs that are created by those industries. We are proud of the role we have played in the industrial development of the country, through pits such as Kellingley, which unfortunately is to close, in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty. We are proud of the contribution that coal-fired generation has made to this country and proud of the contribution we continue to make through biomass and through some coal still at Drax power station.
Drax provides 1,300 jobs for those living in my hon. Friend’s constituency and mine, and in the other constituencies around us in Yorkshire. They depend strongly on Drax, so it is very significant and concerning that, as my hon. Friend pointed out, £450 million was wiped off the value of Drax overnight from a decision that nobody saw coming. As Dorothy Thompson, the chief executive of Drax, said after the Budget:
“We are surprised and disappointed at this retrospective change to a support regime which has been in place since 2001 specifically to encourage green energy and support renewable investment decisions.”
I have met people from Drax countless times, as have a number of other Members. The one thing they have always asked of us during the past few years is stability to secure investment. To remove that stability overnight with a click of the fingers is not good decision making. That is not joined-up Government and it does not provide the confidence that investors such as Drax require. I do not need to reiterate the point about the impact on international versus domestic companies. My hon. Friend and others have made it clear that 70% of the income from the exemption currently goes to UK generators.
In the case of Drax, the levy exemption certificates are worth about £4 a megawatt-hour, which provides an additional source of income on top of the generating revenues.
Drax has done everything that has been asked of it and more in its conversion to biomass. The power station is part of a network along the Humber in east Yorkshire and north Lincolnshire that has seen significant investment to support the conversion to biomass at Drax. As I have said, 1,300 people are currently employed at Drax. My village is a power-generating village: power is the main source of income for many people, including our neighbours. It is how we make our livings locally. After the conversion to biomass at Drax, and what we hoped for at Eggborough, we were convinced that that would continue. I really hope the Government will pay heed to today’s debate and ensure it will continue.
Drax invested significantly to improve delivery facilities, surveying the investment landscape and concluding it was stable. Some £125 million was invested directly in importing facilities, in particular at the Immingham renewable fuel terminal. One can trudge along my constituency and follow the biomass as it arrives at Immingham in the Cleethorpes constituency and travels by rail through my constituency up to Drax. Some 100 jobs were created during the construction phase at the port and 100 more once the facilities were operational.
We thought the new facilities underlined the Humber’s reputation as the UK’s energy estuary, something that is at the heart of the northern powerhouse. When I was asked by the Chancellor only a year or so ago what the vision was for the Humber, I said that our vision is very clear and simple: to be the UK’s premier energy estuary. That includes the support going into offshore wind. It is not just offshore wind, although it has been much of the focus locally. The point we have always tried to make absolutely clear is that other power generation is at the heart of our economy in our bit of the northern powerhouse. The jobs in place at the moment relate very strongly to biomass and its importation from the United States and elsewhere. Drax’s £700 million conversion project was going to reduce carbon emissions by 80%. That is exactly what we should be aiming for: providing sustainable replacement for coal and generation that is stable in the market and on the grid. That project, alongside the carbon capture and storage project, White Rose, which we have also been keen to emphasise, will support 3,200 jobs. So this is a significant issue for my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty.
Biomass and the future stability of Drax are significant for the whole UK. Drax accounts for 8% of generating capacity, while Eggborough accounts for 4%—of course we are losing Ferrybridge, the third power station in the M62 corridor. When the chief executive of a company that provides 8% of the electricity generated in this country says we are on the wrong side on this issue, we have to listen, and that is what I hope the Government will do. Along with my hon. Friend, who made a fine speech—a better speech than I could on this—I will not support the Government on this issue. I have been unimpressed by other things in the Budget and will vote accordingly next week. I have a lot of sympathy for new
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this evening, Mr Howarth.
I am pleased to follow Andrew Percy, who made an excellent speech in support of the industry in his constituency. I agreed with much of what he said. Nigel Adams made an outstandingly good speech, contextualising the issue and setting it in the framework of the energy market in this country. His was a very helpful contribution.
Just before the summer recess, I became a member of the Treasury Select Committee, and in July we took evidence from the Chancellor, so I took the opportunity to ask him why he had taken this decision on the climate change levy. The first question I asked was:
“Are you a climate change denier?”, to which he responded:
“I am not sure I accept that phrase as a general term in British politics, but what I will certainly say is that I think climate change is happening, that it is caused by human beings, in part, and that it is not good for our society, going forward.”
This did not seem a very strong endorsement from the greenest Government ever—as they like to think of themselves—so I asked whether he supported the international work and whether he was
“looking for a good, strong commitment in Paris, internationally agreed, on climate change”.
“Yes”, he said. So then I asked about the domestic legal framework:
“Do you wish to see any changes to the legal frameworks that we have in this country? So, the carbon budgets out to 2027, the target to have 15% of our electricity generated through renewables by 2020, or our target to see carbon dioxide emissions reduced by 80% by 2050; are you looking to change any of those frameworks?”
“No”, he said.
As hon. Members have said, the pattern of words and actions do not seem to fit, so I said to the Chancellor:
“Notwithstanding the fact that you are committed to all of those, you have removed the climate change levy exemption for renewables, removed the subsidy for onshore wind, restructured VED, and ended the zero carbon homes commitment”— since then, of course, he has also changed the solar subsidies as well. The papers the Committee had from HMRC said, with respect to the climate change levy, that there would not be any impact on climate change, so I asked him whether, taking all four measures together, there would be
“any reduction in the rate at which we are reducing our carbon emissions from the measures you have taken”.
“We can go through each one individually, but I think for different reasons they are not effective or good value for money, and I think there are better ways to meet these targets.”
He said we needed to meet the targets, but in a cost-effective way, so I asked him:
“Do you have any forecast or any scenario setting out how you think that the environmental objectives will be achieved on your new policy framework?”
“Yes”, said the Chancellor.
“I am happy to send you some analysis.”
It is now September and we have still not had the analysis promised by the Chancellor in July, so I asked the Select Committee Clerks if they would ring the Treasury to find out where those documents are. I was told that the Treasury could not get them over to us as quickly as we had wanted because they had to be cleared by the Chancellor and he had not cleared them. I thought that was very strange, given that he told me that he had seen the scenarios and the analysis before taking the decision, so I hope very much indeed that the Minister will tell us from the Dispatch Box this evening where the analysis is and why it has not been sent to the Treasury Committee. What we have seen seems to be evasive and possibly cowardly on the part of Treasury Ministers. They should be straight with us and give us the information we need. They knew perfectly well that we were having this debate this evening and that that information would have informed it, and they should have provided it in less than seven weeks.
I would also like to ask the Minister whether he can reconcile the impact assessment—which, as Caroline Lucas pointed out, says that there will be a 1 million-tonnes increase in carbon dioxide emissions from the change to the climate change levy—with the statement by the Chancellor that it would have no impact on our capacity to meet our climate change objectives. Which is it? Or is it that the Chancellor said one thing to us before the Treasury Committee and his officials wrote another thing in the impact assessment, and is that the reason for the delay in our seeing documents we were promised?
I also asked the Chancellor about the fall in the Drax share price, because obviously it is very destabilising. He said:
“Inevitably, when you raise taxes, and we saw this with some of the banking sector, there is the risk of an impact on share prices, but that does not make it the wrong thing to do.”
I thought that was rather a flippant response. I very much got the impression from the exchanges we had with the Chancellor that he was desperate to find some money, that here was some money he had found and that, far from being a long-term economic or environmental plan, this was a simple thing he thought he could do.
The Chancellor again told us that a third of the benefit goes overseas, but that it would be perfectly possible to change the way the climate change levy operates to deal with that without getting rid of the exemption for renewables. If that was the real problem, Treasury Ministers should have asked HMRC to tackle it, not doing what they are doing in clause 45, which, as hon. Members across the Committee have said, will destroy jobs, worsen our chances of meeting our carbon targets, set us up badly for the Paris negotiations and damage investor confidence in this country.
The two questions that the Committee needs to ask when considering this Government proposal are these. Will it will help or hinder the Government in their central task of making sure we have enough power in this country for our future needs? And will it help or hinder what I hope is also the Government’s task, which is to provide value for money and sensibly priced energy, so that we can tackle fuel poverty and have a plentiful supply of reasonably priced energy to fuel the industrial recovery and the general economic recovery that the Government wish to see? My hon. Friends the Members for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) made important contributions, but I would like to see whether there is any scope to bring them a bit closer to the Government’s position.
The right hon. Gentleman has set out the two objectives that he thinks the Government should have. Is he suggesting that tackling climate change should not be the Government’s objective?
I have made very clear the priorities for myself and my electors. In the situation in which the country finds itself, guaranteeing keeping the lights on and having the power for industry and commerce is a fundamental objective that I take very seriously. I also take seriously the need to ease what Labour used to call “the cost-of-living crisis” to ensure that people have more money to spend for a better lifestyle, so affordable energy is crucial. Those are the priorities I set out for these policies. I think they can be achieved while ensuring that we reduce pollution, which I am very much in favour of. I wish to have sensible environmental policies, but my priorities are security of supply and powering better-paid jobs and more activity, which requires lower energy prices.
I think I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He, like me, would like to see affordable energy, but given that nuclear power is one of the most unaffordable energies and that we are going to lock ourselves into extremely high prices for nuclear into times to come, will he be consistent in his position? If he does not want unaffordable energy, will he also oppose nuclear energy fees?
I have not seen all the figures on what the contract prices might entail, but I entirely agree that I want affordable energy. The advantage of nuclear energy is that it is reliable energy, and the problem with too much wind energy in the system is that it is very unreliable energy. It is therefore very expensive energy because a full range of back-up power is necessary for when the wind is not blowing. That means investing at twice the cost—investing in the wind energy and then in the back-up energy. With nuclear, only one investment needs to be made. The hon. Lady is quite right that it is crucial to get value for money if it is decided to lock into a nuclear contract.
The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that the interim report of the Competition and Markets Authority pointed out in June that customers on the standard variable tariffs are providing the big six energy companies with an extra £1 billion a year on account of over-charging? If he is concerned about the cost of energy, as I am, does he not agree that it is disgraceful that since that report we have heard nothing from the Government about how they are going to tackle this over-charging of some of the most vulnerable customers paying their electricity and gas bills today?
I have no more time than the right hon. Lady for over-charging vulnerable customers. I, too, look forward to an informed and sensible response to the report she mentioned. I do not think, however, that it is very relevant to the levy and the tax change that we are debating here today. The issue before us is whether this change to the levy will make it more difficult to keep the lights on and more difficult to deliver cheaper energy. I do not think it does, but the Government need to respond to the other crucial issues posed by my hon. Friends the Members for Selby and Ainsty and for Brigg and Goole.
Given that the margins are now extremely tight—in view of the huge reduction in traditional capacity that we have experienced, some people are pessimistic about the next two or three winters—can the Government do more, and do it cheaply and sensibly, at the same time as making the levy change? That should ensure that the great power stations we still have available can be either kept in the system and running to provide more power—preferably base load power, but it may have to be variable power, given how the thing is now run—or at least be kept available on standby. We may have to pay a price for that as part of that guarantee of supply. The three power stations we have heard about from colleagues this evening are part of the possible answer. We need to know that there is a future for traditional stations and that they can be priced into the system while we are in this period of transition, trying to work out what a modern electricity generation system will look like in five or 10 years’ time.
Will not this change in the levy, which is being made so quickly and with so little much notice—28 days—make things extremely difficult for generators such as Drax, and will not the likelihood of capacity that is safe for us all be greatly reduced over the next couple of years?
My hon. Friend has made a powerful case in defence of Drax. I hope that discussions are taking place between the Government and Drax about how Drax can continue to make a contribution and the Government’s intention—which I will be supporting this evening—can be preserved. I think it entirely possible to change the levy while also coming up with a solution for Drax.
Many people wondered about the advantage of switching from coal to wood, and about whether that was what quite what we wanted to do as part of a so-called decarbonisation strategy. Perhaps there is a better answer, but I return to my original proposition: I want an answer that will keep the lights on and provide the best possible value for money, and I think that there needs to be more discussion between the Energy Department and the big power stations to meet those two aims.
What I liked about the Minister’s opening remarks was his constant stress on the importance of value for money. That must be what drives Government policy. We want the productivity improvements that are now coming through. It is remarkable how, when Labour Members complain about something, that nearly always transforms it for the better. They complained about the cost-of-living crisis, and energy prices collapsed. Then they complained about the lack of productivity growth, and productivity started to take off. We are very grateful to them for those wrong calls, which seem to provide the stimulus that we need in order to create a better world; but if we are to drive productivity forward, providing more and cheaper power is crucial, because many modern processes, particularly in industry, are very energy-intensive.
The danger of some of the policies that have been followed by the European Union and by the last Labour Government is that we price ourselves out of energy-intensive industries—not in a way that spares the planet the carbon dioxide that those processes generate, but in a way that simply drives the businesses to another part of the world. No one should be happy about that. Those who believe that the fundamental priority is cutting carbon dioxide must take a global view; they cannot take a parochial, single-country view. Again, those whose main concern, like mine, is the prosperity and wellbeing of the British people cannot be happy if the decarbonisation policy has worked in one country, but has produced an equal or bigger amount of carbon dioxide somewhere else because the jobs and the industry have simply been transferred. That makes no sense whatsoever.
My hon. Friend the Minister will have my support—and, I am sure, that of many Conservative Members—if this proposal is tested shortly in the Lobbies, but we see it as only one part of a much bigger picture. We believe that if it is to work in removing the anomaly between different types of power and allowing some power from overseas to benefit, we must ensure that other elements of the policy mix are able to deal with the fundamental issues of supply, availability and value for money in the power system.
What the Government must do—and what they are beginning to do in a way that is shocking some Opposition Members—is revisit the huge cat’s cradle of subsidies, environmental tax, environmental tax breaks and rules which are extremely complicated, and which may, indeed, be having perverse consequences. They may be driving carbon dioxide-generating business out of this country while not cutting the global totals; they may be jeopardising our security of supply; they may be making it more difficult to deliver what we wish to do for, in particular, lower-income consumers who find current energy prices very challenging; and they are obviously in danger of undermining important, big, traditional investments in this country that could serve us better for longer if they were not driven out of business by environmental controls emanating from previous Governments and, particularly, from the European Union.
I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to justify the support of our party for this one element by reminding us that it must be part of a bigger picture, and that that bigger picture must be driven by a more rational policy that can deliver both the security of supply and the cheaper energy that the United Kingdom needs.
There have been several very fine speeches in this debate so far. In particular I pay tribute to Caroline Lucas who made some very telling arguments, but I also pay tribute to two Conservative Members: the hon. Members for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) and for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy). They made very important contributions which I hope the Government will reflect on, and I hope the Minister will show that in his concluding remarks to this debate. I also, however, hope the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole will forgive me if I do not take up his kind offer to visit his bedroom.
I may say I can quite believe that—this is getting rather off-piste.
I want to take up some of the points made by the Minister and John Redwood, in particular about the purpose of taxes in this area and about innovation, a word that the Minister mentioned. The right hon. Gentleman also discussed some of the effects this would have on business and I want to talk about that, too. I will come to those matters a little later, and, if I remember, I will also revisit the classic analysis by the famed Professor Porter of Harvard—the Porter hypothesis on environmental regulation and taxes and their impact on innovation.
In my maiden speech I referenced that great son of Kirkcaldy, Adam Smith. The father of economics said there were four requirements for effective taxation: equity, certainty, convenience and economy. This Government proposal fails to meet at least two of those; it fails on the ground of equity and completely fails on the ground of certainty, particularly certainty for businesses. I grant, however, that it meets one of Adam Smith’s criterion: that of convenience. It is perhaps too easy a convenience for the Government to raise further taxes.
However, perhaps the greatest criticism of the Government proposals is that they are fundamentally changing the nature and purpose of taxation, particularly environmental taxation. Indeed, in many respects this is an abandonment of environmental taxation as a principle.
Environmental taxation is aimed at changing behaviour, but this has, by eliminating the climate change levy for renewable energy, simply become just another tax for raising money. The Chartered Institute of Taxation has stated:
“Put simply, green taxes should ideally be easy to avoid (by a change in behaviour) but hard to evade.”
By removing the exemption for renewable sources of electricity, the incentive for sustainable and environmental choices by business is diminished considerably. Thus the removal of the CCL exemption for renewables serves to tax good behaviour and change what was an environmental tax into just another revenue-raising tax. It confirms, if confirmation was needed, this Government’s attack on the renewables sector.
There is also a Scottish dimension to this, as those speaking from the Front Benches have said. As the Chartered Institute of Taxation says, this measure potentially affects Scotland more than it affects most of the rest of the UK because of the high degree of development of renewable energy in Scotland. Indeed, the UK Government’s own figures show that 11,000 people are currently employed in the renewable energy sector in Scotland, with another 5,000 in the pipeline. Those jobs are put at hazard by these proposals.
The Scottish Government have set some of the most ambitious environmental objectives and targets in the world, unlike the UK Government. Scotland has become a leading figure in research into, and encouragement of, good environmental practice and behaviour. Removing the climate change levy from renewables is not only anti-environmental but anti those areas such as Scotland that want to practise good environmental behaviour.
It is therefore appropriate to ask the Minister some questions, which I hope he will address in his summing up. Given the importance of the renewables sector to Scotland, have the Government undertaken an impact assessment of the proposed changes in relation to the Scottish economy in general and to the renewables sector in particular? Given the Prime Minister’s famed Respect agenda, which he is fond of quoting in Scotland, I assume that the Government have respected the different objectives being pursued in Scotland. Will the Minister tell me whether he has been engaged in—or will engage in—discussions with the Scottish Government on the impact of this change on the Scottish economy and the Scottish environmental strategy?
These Government proposals have given a new meaning to the term “stealth tax”. At a stroke they are changing a green tax into a simple revenue-raising measure. They are not using taxation to encourage good behaviour, despite the wealth of evidence that taxation can have a positive effect in changing behaviour for the better. I mentioned the Porter hypothesis earlier. Professor Porter hypothesised that, in this area of the environment, good regulation and appropriate taxation encouraged innovation by encouraging businesses to invest in new and better ways of delivering energy.
Another aspect deserving of comment is the fact that this change is being introduced with just 28 days’ notice. If ever a measure went completely against the good practice that Adam Smith called for of providing certainty in a marketplace, this one certainly does. It will create uncertainty for every business connected with the renewable energy sector, and it flies in the face of every form of good practice.
Much has been made of the sudden nature of the change in taxation, and the impact that that will have on the renewables industry. Would the hon. Gentleman accept, however, that many tax changes are made in a Budget and that they sometimes come into effect within a day or perhaps a month without having a disruptive effect? Is he not over-egging the destructive effect of this sudden change?
In relation to business investment, it would be normal practice to undertake considerable consultations. If big changes are proposed to the taxation affecting businesses, there would normally be a process of easing those changes in, to allow the businesses time to do the appropriate planning. There is no possibility of businesses in the renewables sector being able suddenly to change their financial plans for the next five or 10 years following the ridiculously fast introduction of this measure by the Government.
It is also anti-consumer and anti-environmental. The Government have managed to accomplish a whole series of negatives in one simple move, and it will give me the greatest of pleasure to vote against this proposal.
The exemption from the climate change levy has been one part of the support the taxpayer provides to renewable energy; the total package of that support amounts to some £5.1 billon this financial year. The climate change levy exemption was an indirect incentive for renewable energy. There is no denying it has had some success in the past, but by the early 2020s the total amount of renewable energy supplied will be greater than the total demand for electricity from all climate change levy-eligible businesses. The value of the exemption for generators would therefore be negligible by the early 2020s. For that reason, it would not have been a major factor in the long-term decision making of generators.
There were four reasons for removing the exemption.
I thank the Minister for his earlier remarks. Many people in Somerset have expressed their concerns about the direction the Government are taking on this, and my hon. Friend David Warburton and I would welcome the opportunity to meet the Minister at a convenient time to raise those concerns, discuss with him the concern in Somerset that this is perhaps a challenge to renewable energy generation in the county and assuage some of those concerns.
I hope I can put my hon. Friend’s mind at rest, to some degree, in the course of the next few minutes, but I will of course also be very happy to meet him and colleagues. I am always happy to meet colleagues to discuss these important matters.
There were four important reasons for ending the climate change levy exemption. The first was that it represented poor value for money, with one third of the benefit going to overseas operators—bringing no benefit to UK climate or renewables targets—and of course much of that generation will also have been receiving subsidy and incentive at home. Alison McGovern asked where these estimates come from, and I can tell her that they come from evidence provided to the Government by Ofgem—I am sure she will understand that the detail is commercially sensitive. Caroline Lucas and my hon. Friend Andrew Percy pointed out that if one third of the value goes abroad, by definition two thirds stays at home. I cannot deny that that is mathematically correct, but of course that still represents a heavy leakage rate and it is the one third leakage that makes this exemption poor value for money. Just to be clear, EU law would not allow us to restrict the exemption or preferential treatment to the UK only. [Interruption.] I am sorry—I thought the hon. Member for Wirral South was trying to get in, but she wants me to move on to explain the second reason.
As I say, the exemption was an indirect incentive, and more efficient and effective policies have been put in place through the renewables obligation and contracts for difference schemes. They are worth more, they are direct and they are explicitly grandfathered, carrying more investor worth than a tax break. The third reason was the need to protect climate change levy revenue. The independent OBR forecasts show that without a change, climate change levy revenue would fall from £800 million to £200 million by 2020, and removing the exemption is worth some £3.9 billion over the course of this Parliament.
The fourth reason was to retain the incentive for energy efficiency across all energy use, while, as a side effect, simplifying the administration of the climate change levy, which will continue to add about 5% to 7% to business energy bills. Thus, we are encouraging energy efficiency.
I did want to intervene in the end. The Minister’s central argument seems to be this: this is not the best way to subsidise and, in any event, plenty of other support is available. Yet feed-in tariffs are under review and the Government are already legislating to undermine renewables obligations. We therefore just do not recognise this picture of “plenty more support available”. Will he confirm that the Government still plan to be the “greenest Government ever”? Is that a characterisation that he still sticks to?
In the first part of what the hon. Lady said she was pretty close to the mark. When I say that there is wider support available, I mean that the climate change levy exemption was worth up to £5.54 per megawatt hour, whereas the renewables obligation is worth £40 per megawatt hour, so relatively it is a much more significant financial effect.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Can he confirm that the Government are currently consulting on scrapping the feed-in tariff and that they are legislating on cutting the renewables obligation on onshore wind? Will he also answer the question that has been raised about whether they looked into isolating the renewable energy that came through interconnectors to deal with the issue around value for money and whether that imported renewable energy was already benefiting from subsidies elsewhere?
On the right hon. Lady’s last point, that is not the only inefficiency in this scheme, as I was outlining earlier. She is correct about the consultations that are going on and about us fulfilling our manifesto commitment on onshore wind, but that does not mean that we will not continue to be absolutely committed to our environmental objectives. As I go through my remarks, I will talk some more about how we are on course to fulfil those objectives.
New clause 2 put forward by the Opposition would require the Chancellor, six months after the passing of the Finance Bill, to publish a report detailing the impacts of clause 45. Such a report is not necessary in that timeframe. The Chancellor has already presented a report to the Treasury Committee, which was published on
I will take the opportunity to respond to some of the points that were made during the course of this debate. My hon. Friend Nigel Adams spoke about Drax. He will understand that I cannot comment about that particular company because of the current judicial proceedings. He also spoke very passionately about his constituents in Eggborough, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole. Clearly and obviously, it is a very disappointing decision for everybody connected with Eggborough and for those who now face much uncertainty. There is no easy thing to say to someone in that situation.
Importantly, the value provided by the climate change levy exemption was relatively minor when compared with the other elements of Government support that are available for renewable energy. Most generators were expecting the exemption to have a negligible value for them by 2020, so it would not typically be a large factor in their long-term investment decisions.
We are not in a position to be able to change the approach. My hon. Friend asks about the timing. The exemption would have cost around £40 million a month to maintain. Without our change, more than £150 million of support would have gone to overseas renewable generation in 2015-16, and that figure would have risen to £300 million by 2020-21. My hon. Friend asked why not follow the same timings as the exemptions for combined heat and power, but those are on a very different scale and the timing was in the context of the coming of the carbon price floor, which would support CHPs. As I said earlier, more efficient and effective schemes have come about to support renewables through the renewables obligation and contracts for difference.
Roger Mullin spoke about the particular impact of the measure in Scotland, but I can confirm that Scotland receives a high level of renewables support from the UK Government. In the first contracts for difference auctions, 11 out of the 25 contracts were awarded to Scottish projects, and 30% of the support provided by the renewables obligation is for schemes in Scotland. That support, as I have said, is much more significant than that offered by the CCL renewables exemption.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion asked about the Government’s green credentials, a point that came up again in an intervention. I repeat that the Government take our environmental responsibilities extremely seriously and we are absolutely committed to meeting our climate change commitments, but as cost-effectively as possible. We are making good progress, with emissions down 30% since 1990, and we are on track for 30% of electricity supply to be from renewables by 2020. At the same time, we want to help consumers, keep energy bills down and keep British business competitive. It is vital that we take careful account of the costs of our policies so that we are not imposing unnecessary burdens on households and businesses, making household bills unaffordable or putting the UK at a competitive disadvantage.
I wish we were living in a world where money that was saved was suddenly free and available to be used to do things. As the hon. Lady knows, the Government have a whole range of programmes to support our objectives to tackle climate change and we will continue to do that.
I stress again that new clause 2 is not necessary. The impact of ending the exemption from the climate change levy for renewable electricity has been published by the Government. Clause 45 will not impact on the UK’s ability to meet its climate change goals, will not affect renewable generators’ long-term investment plans and will not increase household energy bills, but it will provide better value for money for UK taxpayers. I commend the clause to the House and urge the Opposition not to press new clause 2.