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Report (3rd Day)

Part of Infrastructure Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 8:15 pm on 10th November 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 8:15 pm, 10th November 2014

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for speaking to her amendments. As she said, there are three aspects to this group. The first is the potential for somebody other than Ofgem to administer the RHI. I am intrigued by this aspect and I wonder whether we may be creeping towards a bit more joined-up government in terms of renewable energy. There is always a tendency to equate renewables with electricity, whereas under the EU mandatory targets agreed for 2020 we are required to move forward on renewable energy, which means electricity, transport and heat. There has been rather a stop-start process of renewable transport fuel support, and a separate body oversees that. Under the RO the renewable electricity side has been the responsibility of Ofgem, and it is now moving to the department, for the Secretary of State specifically to oversee, while Ofgem has been given the RHI to look after. It would seem sensible to me to have one consolidated agency to deal with all renewable energy, so that we could properly assess the best application of our renewable resources to the different markets.

If we apply a biomass unit of energy to the generation of heat we get far more efficiency and far more displacement of carbon in the heat market than we would by going into electricity—or, indeed, into transport fuels. We need a bit of joined-up thinking on our various ways of supporting renewable energy. I wonder whether this gives us an opportunity to have a look at the regulatory framework.

On the second part, about third-party payments, I am very supportive of the amendment. It will help to overcome a barrier about which people have personally petitioned me, and said how much of a barrier it is.

On the third point, however, I am afraid that I am not quite so supportive. I do not want to detain us too long, but the Minister and I have spent many a pleasurable afternoon in Committee discussing the RHI. It has not been unnecessarily time-consuming or difficult—we generally tend to get through SIs quickly—but it gives us an opportunity to revisit the RHI and see how it is doing. It would be a shame if we were to create any uncertainty in the industry by moving to the negative resolution procedure. I seek clarification from the Minister. She speaks of uncontroversial straightforward changes and describes them as technical. If that group of potential changes included changes to the subsidy levels for different technologies, that might cause alarm for some people in the sector—particularly if they felt that they would not have the opportunity to petition Members on both sides of the House, to discuss and to raise concerns.

This is an industry that has seen quite a lot of changes, and is subject to rigorous derogations and price control mechanisms. They are incredibly complex, and I do not really want to spend any more afternoons debating them—but I would do so if that would give comfort to the industry. It is a new and growing industry, and we are not quite on track yet for meeting our targets. We need to see considerably higher growth in renewable heat if we are to meet the challenging targets that we have set ourselves. I am seeking reassurances from the Minister that these negative resolution procedures will not increase uncertainty in an industry that we need to see getting stuck into the job of delivering and putting us on a strong footing with regard to our EU targets.