Energy Bill — Commons Reason

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 11th December 2013.

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Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change 4:15 pm, 11th December 2013

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contribution to the debate. I hope that in my opening remarks I made it clear that the Government recognise the intention behind this amendment. Of course we share that intention, but I believe that the differences between us are very narrow, even though they are very important.

It boils down to an assessment of risk. All sides in this debate can agree that we neither expect nor desire large amounts of unabated coal to be operating in the 2020s, but, as my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lord Jenkin of Roding have rightly pointed out, we cannot be sure today exactly what will be required in those years. The Government’s position is that we should take a precautionary approach, given the serious potential for security of supply implications and the impact on consumer bills if we get it wrong. We should send a clear signal that unabated coal has only a limited future in helping us to transition to a lower carbon economy by creating an EPS that applies to any new coal plant. I appreciate the attempt of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, to find an alternative, but no responsible Government could or should take risks that potentially put energy security in danger.

The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, raised a point on the capacity market; our view is that capacity payments are likely to have only a marginal impact on the overall economics of coal plant and more important drivers on occasions where upgrading will relate to the overall state of an operator’s plant, an operator’s view of the market and the value that they place on retaining coal as a hedge. Even were they able to do so, this could mean that coal plants stay open longer, but they would operate at low-load factors and hence have low carbon emissions, given the evolution of the energy market with more low-carbon generation and carbon pricing. The noble Baroness could not give complete assurance that energy security would not be at risk. She could not say that prices would stay the same—her own party’s policy does not say that.

It is time that we looked at the elephant in the Chamber—the investors. After months of uncertainty, investors are looking at us in dismay. The most important thing we need to do is to provide certainty for investors by securing Royal Assent. The Confederation of British Industry has said that the Energy Bill has undergone significant scrutiny within Parliament as well as by industry and other stakeholders and it has the broad support of industry and investors in its current shape. It is important to the success of EMR that the Energy Bill receives Royal Assent in 2013, allowing investors to make those well needed decisions about investment.