Report (2nd Day)

Part of Energy Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 21st October 2015.

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Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Conservative 6:15 pm, 21st October 2015

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on the ingenuity of the proposals in this amendment; they are fascinating and make one think very hard, because these are hugely complex issues. Perhaps I may put two questions to her and perhaps also to my noble friend.

First, will this switch to this way of trying to achieve our carbon obligations and decarbonisation lead to cheaper power in the power sector? That must be an important question. We discussed earlier the problems in the power sector and the fact that pushing it too far and too fast may not necessarily help decarbonisation but will have to be paid for in lost jobs. That is bound to be on people’s minds when looking at this kind of amendment.

The second and even more obvious question is whether these arrangements will get the combined-cycle gas turbines built. At present speed, under the contracts for difference regime, and the capacity payments auction and so on, will they get them built in time? We are now entering a very worrying period, with a very low margin of safety in our electricity system—I believe that it will be down to 1.2 gigawatts. When I had some responsibility for these matters, years ago, it was 17 gigawatts. That gives noble Lords an idea of how far we have come down thanks to the rapid closure of many coal-fired stations and so on. Will this pattern lead to that result? These may be layman’s questions addressed to a very complex issue but I would be interested to know the answers. If the implication is the other way, we will have additional costs on power and get further out of line with our competitors. We always have to remember that in the Climate Change Act—behind which the noble Baroness was one of the founding figures and driving forces—there was the reservation that we should not get too far out of line with our competitors. In some areas, we clearly have done; we are out of line. In the steel industry, as we were saying earlier, we have energy charges that fall on at least parts of that industry at twice the level of charges in Germany and, in turn, are far higher than those throughout Europe. I saw one figure showing that they are 10 times the levels in China—which might account for our present woes in the steel industry. In examining this, can we please be guided on whether this will deliver the goods? That is my question.