Amendment 94

Energy Bill [HL] - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 17 April 2023.

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Lord Ravensdale:

Moved by Lord Ravensdale

94: After Clause 187, insert the following new Clause—“PART 7ALocal Area Energy PlansDuty to provide guidance(1) The Secretary of State must publish guidance for local authorities on local area energy planning within 12 months of this Act being passed.(2) The guidance in subsection (1) may include, but is not limited to, guidance on—(a) contributing towards meeting the targets set under—(i) Part 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008 (UK net zero emissions target and budgeting), and(ii) sections 1 to 3 of the Environment Act 2021 (environmental targets);(b) adapting to any current or predicted impacts of climate change identified in the most recent report under section 56 of the Climate Change Act 2008 (report on impact of climate change);(c) the data and assumptions used in creating a local area energy plan;(d) the roles and responsibilities of those involved in creating a local area energy plan;(e) the minimum standards for a local area energy plan.(3) Local authorities must have regard to the guidance produced under subsection (1) when developing local area energy plans.(4) In this section, “local authority” has the meaning given in section 178.”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment provides guidance for local authorities to help them produce Local Area Energy Plans. It aims to widen the roll out of Local Area Energy Plans among local authorities and help better define the role of local authorities in delivering the future energy system.

Photo of Lord Ravensdale Lord Ravensdale Crossbench

My Lords, I declare my interests set out earlier and add my interest as a director of Peers for the Planet. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for her support on Amendment 94. I will keep my remarks brief, but first I thank the Minister and his Bill team for meeting me and for all of the engagement on this important issue over the last few months.

I feel that one of the key missing pieces in the net-zero puzzle before us is in better defining the role of local authorities within the whole governance structure. We all know that local authorities have a vital role to play, but there is limited definition of this. I think that local area energy plans are at the core of fixing this. Local area energy planning is a data-driven and whole-energy-system evidence-based approach, which sets out to identify the most effective route for a local area to contribute towards meeting the national net-zero target, as well as meeting its local net-zero target. Its proven methodology is a well-trodden path which has been effectively used in a number of other countries.

I wanted to return to this issue on Report as I strongly feel that there is a missed opportunity within the Bill to set out the role of local authorities more clearly. There have been some developments since Committee. In particular, the Skidmore Mission Zero report was published, which recognised the issue and aligns with what I am asking for in this local area energy planning amendment. This was brought out strongly in the report, as one of the 25 key actions for 2025 was for the Government to provide guidance on local area energy planning. The Committee on Climate Change also recognises the need for this.

The amendment does not ask for much; it asks only for guidance to be published, and it does not mandate the approach in any way. It simply asks for the Government to publish guidance for local authorities to use in local area energy planning—this step has already been taken by the devolved Governments in Scotland and Wales. So it will provide much-needed clarity to local authorities on how they should approach energy planning, and it will also send the important signal that the Government are behind the approach to help to increase the rollout of these plans. So I look forward to the Minister’s response, and I hope he can provide me some reassurance on this point. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 134 and 135, about community energy. In the midst of an energy crisis, when cheap and clean home-produced energy has never been more vital, as we have heard in this debate, we are far behind where we could be with the amount of small-scale renewable energy, especially community energy schemes, which are simply community-owned and community-run renewable energy projects. Our limited number of schemes has been massively welcomed by politicians of all parties because they provide cheaper and greener power, and they distribute benefits locally, rather than up to the big power companies.

The feed-in tariff briefly created rapid growth in these schemes, but that has dwindled to almost nothing—despite renewable technologies being cheaper than ever. The lack of growth is largely the result of the prohibitive cost that the small-scale generators face. The problem is well recognised, and 318 MPs from all major parties back the Local Electricity Bill, which would enable community energy schemes to sell electricity they generate to their local customers.

The potential is enormous. According to the Environmental Audit Committee, community energy could grow by 12 to 20 times by 2030, power 2.2 million homes and save 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year. This would take our renewable energy generation from community schemes to almost 10% of our entire needs, and the substantial benefits of enabling this can barely be overstated. However, community energy has seen a trickle of minimal growth, amounting to less than half a per cent.

The problem can be solved without subsidy, and this seems to be the key point. Small-scale renewable energy generators need to receive only a guaranteed fair price for the electricity they contribute to an energy system in desperate need of homegrown energy, as we have heard. Amendment 134 establishes a

“Community and Smaller-scale Electricity Export Guarantee Scheme”.

It would provide a guaranteed income for the electricity from small-scale low-carbon energy generators, with “small” defined as “a capacity below 5MW”. This would mean that communities get properly remunerated for their contribution to the system, and they can therefore go to their banks and raise the funds to expand or establish. This guaranteed price could be set by regulations, revised annually by Ofgem, with the initial contract guaranteed for at least five years—not that long.

Amendment 135 establishes a

“Community and Smaller-scale Electricity Supplier Services Scheme”.

This, again, would allow community schemes that registered under the electricity export guarantee scheme also to sell the electricity they generate locally. No requirement is placed on community schemes to do this, so, if they wish, they could operate simply using the proceeds of the export guarantee. For some, such returns would be sufficient to encourage local people to invest in new energy schemes—such was the case when we had a feed-in tariff.

But, if a community wants, it can sell the electricity it generates directly to households and businesses in its community. It can do so, for example, as an additional incentive for local people to invest or because it believes it can offer a lower tariff to the less well off in the community—this point was made on previous amendments this afternoon. This means that the community, which knows its people and what is going on, can flex its tariffs, and everyone can buy in to the project.

As with the clause created by Amendment 134, this would all be monitored by Ofgem and reported on annually. This is a nationwide campaign backed by a coalition of over 80 organisations—the Church of England, the CPRE, the Energy Saving Trust et cetera; I will not name them all—and 100 councils have already stated their support. Four of the six major distribution network operators—basically, our regional energy grid monopolies: Electricity North West, SP Energy, UK Power and Western Power—are supportive. As has been mentioned before, the Skidmore review supports all such organisations and ideas that will help green renewable energy, so I am completely puzzled as to why Ministers are not falling over themselves to make this thing happen.

In Committee, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, said that the amendments would create a subsidy to community energy schemes. However, we need to be really clear—in saying this, I want to pre-empt a response from the Minister—that the amendments do not establish subsidies for community energy schemes. Renewable energy can stand on its own two feet now; it has been successful in cutting costs over the last two decades and is now completely viable without the need for feed-in tariffs. We just need to set up the right market system for the energy for people to buy it and for people to be responsible for it. I will be completely puzzled if the Minister does not accept that, and I warn him now that I intend to test the opinion of the House later.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, the three amendments have been extremely ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. It is a pleasure to speak after them, having attached my name to all three amendments.

I will briefly sum up what they seek to achieve. Amendments 134 and 135 are about community energy, which is where people can get together as a community, decide what they want their local energy system to look like and deliver it. There is no need for any involvement from Westminster or big multinational companies; it is a chance for communities to get together. Surely, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has signed both Amendments 134 and 135, this would be seen to be utterly in line with Conservative approaches. I note that, in the other place, among the hundreds of signatories is Sir Graham Brady, so if you want a full political spread, perhaps from me to Sir Graham Brady will pretty well cover the breadth of support for community energy.

On Amendment 94, we know that there is huge concentration of power and resources, and that the reins are held very tightly by Westminster. As the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, set out, Wales and Scotland have already seen the importance of local decision-making to solve local problems to ensure that they are able to deliver renewables, with local people making the decisions about where they go, what they look like and how they are distributed. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, said, this could be a local poverty alleviation issue and a levelling-up type of approach.

I acknowledge that the Minister has very kindly had meetings with us to discuss the amendments. We keep being told that this is something that the Government would like to do eventually but it is all too difficult. However, I think it is all worked out and set out in the amendments. Clearly, many people in the other place and here have been convinced that now is the time to go for community energy.

I will offer a final reflection. I happened to be in a bed and breakfast in Norfolk this morning, chatting across the table to some residents of Herefordshire who had just driven across the country and were about to drive back. They asked me, “Where are all the solar panels? We can’t see solar panels where we know we should see solar panels.” I said that the answer to scale this up quickly could be community energy.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour 4:30, 17 April 2023

My Lords, I support Amendments 134 and 135, so ably led by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I had hoped that my name would be added to them, but something happened along the way.

It is true that everybody is saying that there is real importance in community energy, but the proof of the pudding has to be in the eating. After that initial burst of schemes that the feed-in tariff encouraged, we have really not seen any major growth and the government measures that have been put in place simply have not worked. The amendments are important for two reasons. First, they would enable improved financial predictability and viability for community energy schemes, because, at the moment, there are a number of hurdles that such schemes have to cross. If financial viability and predictability are not there at the start, they lose heart very rapidly in approaching the other hurdles. The second is the issue that has already been touched on: that is the whole business of community “joie de vivre” around energy generation schemes. A surefire way of not having local schemes is where there is a scenario of “all pain and no gain”—where there is a bit of local environmental disruption and a little adjustment to the view. Local communities very rapidly turn off those schemes if they do not see any value for themselves. That is happening more and more at the moment. Local community generation schemes are not very popular since there is landscape blight and no direct benefit. In fact, the figures show that more solar farms were turned down in 2020 at planning stages than had been turned down in the previous four years.

The presence of a local community scheme may even lead to dialogue locally about increased uptake of energy efficiency measures. People become interested in both energy efficiency and demand-side and supply-side issues. That is exactly the sort of community engagement we need if we are really going to see net zero hit. Indeed, Chris Skidmore in his much-quoted net-zero review urged the Government to produce a community energy strategy and to break through the current regulatory and legislative funding barriers. He supported the provisions of the Local Electricity Bill, which these amendments have largely reproduced.

As has been said, the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, assured us in Committee, in his letter of 22 December and in subsequent meetings that the Government want to see more community energy schemes. We are really asking him what in effect will be done, as, so far, government measures have not worked. To echo the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, we are not seeking subsidy; we are looking for a fair price varied by government, as advised by Ofgem—an increased price, perhaps, where schemes need to be encouraged and a reduced price, perhaps, if scheme growth is going gangbusters. It is about a guaranteed floor price, similar to the contracts for difference from which other renewable sectors benefit.

I thank Octopus and other major suppliers for tackling some of these issues. The reality is, however, that they are not creating the volumes that are required. It is quite a telling fact that Octopus, through Unity, its subsidiary, is now responsible for one-third of all the community energy sector schemes. If one company, busting a gut, can actually be involved in one-third of the community energy sector, it seems to imply that it is not moving very fast. We are not seeing the volume of schemes being created. Other barriers need to be tackled, particularly access to the grid, lack of early-stage feasibility funding and planning complexities, but to accept these two amendments would go a long way to encouraging the community energy sector and to removing the most fundamental barrier, which is the economic one.

It would also be good if the Minister could tell us what the latest timescales are for the review of the electricity market arrangements, because that is another area where the whole business of how renewable energy competes is going to be fundamental. Can the Minister tell us today—if he is not going to accept these amendments, as I am sure he will not do—what the Government are going to do that will be effective in getting the community energy sector off its knees, where it is at the moment?

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I will not take the time of the House to repeat comments that have already been made. The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and others have made a very powerful case for these amendments. It is ludicrous for us not to be enabling community energy production when this does not involve a subsidy and when it could create additional energy sufficient for something like the 2.2 million homes mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. This is a completely neglected area; it can be resolved as set out in these amendments in a straightforward way. The main thing is that these community energy projects need to be able to sell their energy to big suppliers in the locality—those with more than 150,000 customers was the figure quoted, I think. So there is very strong support for these amendments and I hope the Minister will be able to accept them. I cannot see any reason why not: it is not going to cost the Government anything.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, from these Benches I welcome particularly the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. I will not detain the House except to say that it is quite clear that community schemes have not operated effectively for many years. I should declare that I am an insignificant shareholder in a local community scheme in my own home area, which was set up under the feed-in tariffs. The schemes as put forward are not a kind of feed-in tariff regime: they are really looking for stability of price and are not around subsidy. I just say to the Minister that the Government’s overall target is decarbonisation of the grid by 2035: let communities play a big part in that, because one thing that is really important here is that community schemes allow for communities, individuals, households, families and small businesses to participate in the decarbonisation of our economy and net zero. They can be a part of it and that is why these amendments are so important.

On the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, it is indeed very important that local authorities are involved and are movers in this area. All I can say is that I have to learn from him: he has the ear of the Government and the Minister far more than I do, and perhaps I could have some lessons afterwards about how to be successful in getting amendments into Bills.

Photo of Baroness Blake of Leeds Baroness Blake of Leeds Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Net Zero), Shadow Spokesperson (Business and Trade)

My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. It will come as no surprise to Members of the House that I support all these amendments, particularly Amendment 94 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale. Going by my personal experience, not giving a broader role to local authorities is such a missed opportunity and I cannot understand why these amendments would not be supported, particularly since it is, in all honesty, such a mild request: better definition of local authorities’ role; and asking for guidance, which is a perpetual demand from local authorities, I have to say, in trying to move things forward. As we know, other key reports and reviews have recognised just how important it is to get local buy-in and to get local stakeholders involved.

I turn to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and signed by others. It is essential that we bring these elements together. What we are talking about, without repeating the technical issues that have been raised so powerfully today, is that we need to aim to have a framework that will support the growth of community and smaller-scale energy schemes and also provide regular reporting so that everyone knows how things are progressing. I have to say that all we are asking for is the following of an evidence-based approach. We can look at the success of other, related schemes in these areas that have been successfully led by local authorities. These include the rollout of electric vehicles, with local authorities leading by example in changing their fleets to electricity. District heating is another example where, when you have very strong local buy-in, the success moves forward. What we are asking for here is the ability to inform, shape and enable key aspects to deliver energy decarbonisation.

I believe very firmly in involving local stakeholders from the beginning; they are far more likely to come on board with schemes that might have aspects that they find work against their interests if they understand and are included in the bigger picture. Many people will make compromises when they understand the greater good, and the opportunity has been highlighted over the past year by the dramatic increase in energy prices and the risk of energy scarcity. I think the landscape has changed in this regard. Let us give confidence to local people and communities by developing the framework for the growth of communities and smaller-scale energy schemes. It is regrettable that more progress has not been made so far. The role of Ofgem in this, giving clear methodology and quality standards, is essential and will give the credibility that is needed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, so eloquently pointed out.

Through the involvement of local communities, we are asking for a more effective and better targeted delivery of national priorities; and we all know that we need more determination to deliver on the ground. I hope we will see some movement in this area and can only echo other comments: if we fail to make progress, this is such wasted potential, and I hope we will hear some positive comments with regard to these amendments.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I thank all Members who have contributed, particularly the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Bennett, for Amendments 134 and 135—the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, proposed them but sadly is not in his place. I am grateful to noble Lords who met me and officials recently to discuss this matter and give us a chance to talk through the departmental thinking.

As I said when we met, the Government recognise the role that community and local renewable energy schemes can play in supporting our net-zero targets. But we continue to believe that small-scale, low-carbon electricity generation should be brought forward through competitive, market-based solutions. A key feature of the smart export guarantee regime is to allow suppliers to set both the tariff level and the structure and for suppliers themselves to determine the value of the exported electricity alongside all the associated administrative costs. Any move to introduce a regulated price for exported electricity has the potential to limit the overall scope for innovation and export tariff packages. This would fundamentally undermine the principles of the supported export guarantee policy objective, which looks to encourage a market-driven approach.

Furthermore, the amendments as drafted are unlikely to result in better outcomes for consumers compared with other tariffs that would be available from suppliers. First, there would be initial set-up and ongoing delivery costs associated with the scheme for both Ofgem and the suppliers, which we expect would be material. These costs would be recovered via the service fee charged by suppliers and therefore probably reflected in the local tariff price.

Secondly, small-scale, low-carbon generation will, by its nature, be intermittent and unable to supply local consumers at all times. Suppliers would therefore need to buy additional wholesale energy from other sources—for example, during periods of peak demand—and incur all the associated network and system costs. The local tariff would also be required to have regard to the export price paid to the local generator. This would create a somewhat perverse outcome where higher export prices would benefit the generator but also increase the tariff price.

As a result, there is no guarantee that the local tariff would be lower than the current regulated standard variable tariff. In fact, there is some reason to believe that it would actually be higher.

As set out previously during Committee, existing market reforms that are under way could further support the development and uptake of small-scale, localised electricity generation. The Government are developing local partnerships in England that will enable supportive communities to host new onshore wind infrastructure in return for benefits—including, for example, lower energy bills. The Government will consult on the specifics of any new partnership scheme.

At the same time, Ofgem is progressing work on electricity network charging reforms, while the Government are considering wider retail market reforms and undertaking a review of electricity market arrangements, which is considering how markets can better value small-scale distributed generation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, asked about timescales. We aim to publish a second REMA consultation this autumn, and we will take decisions on shorter-term reforms more quickly where it is viable to do so through the REMA programme.

None the less, I reassure noble Lords that I understand the issues they have raised and, as we outlined in the meetings we had, my officials are actively looking into this. We will continue to engage with Power for People on these amendments and with the wider sector through the community energy contact group.

Finally, the other amendment in this group is Amendment 94, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, which seeks to ensure that guidance is published for local authorities regarding local area energy planning. We are considering the role of local-level energy planning in delivering net zero. It is vital that any approach endorsed by government is considered carefully to ensure that it is deliverable, cost-effective and aligned with wider policy intent. We are continuing to work closely with stakeholders on this issue, including with Ofgem as part of its ongoing governance review into local energy institutions and its proposals on regional energy system planning, and with UK Research and Innovation and its work on decarbonisation planning.

Local authorities can carry out local area energy plans at the moment, should they choose to. The Government are supporting this through the prospering from the energy revolution programme, to which we have so far committed £104 million-worth of funding. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale, had the opportunity to meet my officials ahead of the Recess to discuss some further details and to gain some understanding of the work my department is already doing in this space. I hope he found that reassuring and was convinced that this is an area of work on which we are already actively progressing.

With these reassurances, I hope noble Lords will feel able to withdraw or not move their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 4:45, 17 April 2023

Before the Minister sits down, I would like to apologise to the House; I should perhaps have declared my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. The Minister referred to the costs of local schemes, but would he acknowledge that there has been historically—and certainly will be in the future—a great deal of voluntary effort and contributions in the administration and running of such schemes, and that that is a net input into communities that does not have a financial cost, which can affect the price?

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

If organisations take advantage of community-minded individuals prepared to contribute work to their local community, that is something that we welcome. However, what will be critical to those communities is the ultimate tariff that they pay, irrespective of how much voluntary effort goes in. Our concern is that these amendments are being slightly oversold to many communities; they may think that they are somehow going to get a favourable tariff compared to what they would get in the wider market. As currently structured, we do not believe that the amendments would produce that.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench

Before the Minister sits down, I think that that is slightly unfair on local communities. A lot of people enjoy being involved in local community schemes and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, just said, a lot of volunteering work goes into this. It is not just about getting lower prices; it is also about reducing our carbon emissions and being part of the campaign to get to net zero. You cannot just quantify everything in pounds, shillings and pence.

Photo of Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero)

I agree with the noble Baroness, and we are supporting a number of community energy partnerships at the moment. As I say, we are not against the idea in principle, but we need to work through the proper policy implications and ensure that some of these very worthwhile schemes are not piggybacking on to the costs that everybody else pays into the system.

Photo of Lord Ravensdale Lord Ravensdale Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for providing that detail on the department’s approach to local area energy planning and for recognising the ongoing work. With the reassurance that has been provided by the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 94 withdrawn.

Clause 191: Enforcement