Electricity Generation: Local Suppliers

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:32 pm on 14th October 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Kwasi Kwarteng Kwasi Kwarteng The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy 7:32 pm, 14th October 2020

No, I am afraid I am very hard pressed for time. I may have time later to take an intervention, but I need to press on with my remarks.

Ofgem, as I have suggested, has been consulting widely on how to use such facilities more effectively to bring innovation to the specified locality, as it were, in this retail market. I understand that the consultation closed on Monday 12 October, and I hope that small-scale generators who wish to supply local communities have responded fully to the consultation.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion mentioned, very ably and relevantly, the Licence Lite provision, which allows aspiring suppliers or local generators to apply for a supply licence and receive relief from compliance with industry codes. On existing mechanisms, the Electricity Act 1989 already allows the Secretary of State to exempt, by scale, electricity suppliers from having an electricity supply licence if they meet certain conditions. There have been examples, certainly in my tenure as Energy Minister, of people successfully applying for exemptions.

Being an electricity supplier, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, confers the right of the licensee to supply electricity to customers, but it also bestows certain obligations, and that is very important to remember. Those obligations include payment of a proportion of network costs. Clearly, if one is operating in a situation where one is not a licensee, then one can avoid paying the costs on which the whole system depends. That is a critical issue. In some instances, the Licence Lite regime can remove this burden, but clearly we would not want to go down a route where large numbers of suppliers are simply exempting themselves from those obligations.

Network charges, as people will understand, are levied on all users of the network, and they send signals that reflect the costs that users impose on the network. There are a range of signals to encourage generators to locate close to sources of demand, and placing a source of generation close to areas of high demand will mean that the generator gets paid credits for helping to avoid further investment in the high-voltage transmission network. Essentially, that means suppliers are incentivised to be in areas of high demand. There will be a commensurate problem in areas of low demand, because how would they attract the relevant suppliers? Ofgem is working to reform these signals through improvements to network charges, and it is also working to develop local markets for flexibility, which goes to the core of what I think the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

I do not believe—and I think the Government, thankfully, are of the same opinion—that artificially reducing network costs for local electricity suppliers is going to be highly efficient, because it could distort the market. One is essentially incentivising a behaviour that may not be economical in the first instance, and that would mean higher costs falling on other consumers, which would increase as more local suppliers were subsidised. Creating a special category of local supplier brings its own complexities, and there may well be unintended consequences as a result.

Having said that, I commend the hon. Gentleman for thinking very deeply and creatively about this issue. This is part of an ongoing conversation. He was quite right to say at the beginning of his remarks that a lot of the structures that we have today reflect the conditions and circumstances before we legislated for net zero, and in many cases reflect conditions that operated 30 or 40 years ago. There is an ongoing discussion to be had about how best to adapt our institutions to modern circumstances.