My Lords, with the leave of the House, as well as moving that this House do agree with the Commons in their amendment, I will also speak to the other Commons amendments. I am pleased to bring the Energy Bill back to this House, following on from the many hours of debate that we had during its parliamentary stages in this place. The Bill is essential to the transformation of our energy system and will leverage private investment in clean technologies. It will reform our energy system so that it is fit for the future, and it contains essential provisions for ensuring the safety, security and resilience of the UK’s energy system.
The Government have listened carefully to the points raised, both in this House and in the other place, and we tabled various amendments in the other place to address many of these issues. The amendments have been gathered into three groups. First, there are the amendments making changes to the Bill in response to concerns raised across the House and where we have overturned lost votes. Secondly, there are amendments where we have introduced new government policy. Thirdly, there are amendments addressing minor and technical amendments made to the Bill. I wrote to noble Lords about this in advance of the debate, and I am grateful for the positive engagement that I have received from across the House.
I will speak first to the amendments in the first group, tabled following constructive engagement with both Houses. First, on the amendment on Ofgem’s duties, no doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will be pleased about this—and I am grateful to her for her amendments on Report that sought to include the Government’s net-zero targets within Ofgem’s duties. The Government have now tabled a revised version of the noble Baroness’s amendment to ensure that it would not impact the hierarchy and intended effect of Ofgem’s duties, but very much in the spirit of the original amendment. The revised provision amends Ofgem’s existing duty to consider a reduction in greenhouse gases by making specific reference to the net-zero targets and carbon budgets in the Climate Change Act 2008. This reaffirms the Government’s commitment and mandate in achieving our net-zero targets and ensures that Ofgem’s role in net zero is clear.
I turn to the amendments to the hydrogen levy provisions. The Government have included these provisions following consideration of the concerns raised by colleagues in both Houses, particularly the Labour Front Bench. Following careful analysis of the implications, these amendments are similar in intent to an amendment made on Report in this House, but they help to ensure that the provisions work in a way that is practical. Specifically, they remove provisions that enable the levy to be imposed on energy suppliers in Great Britain, ensuring that within Great Britain the levy could be placed only on gas shippers. In the case of Northern Ireland, the amendments are intended to ensure that only gas supply licence holders who engage in gas shipping activities can be subject to the levy. This reflects the different approach to the licensing of gas shipping across Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The revised legislation provides a fairer approach to funding hydrogen, placing the charge higher up the supply chain, with the potential for costs to be spread to sectors expected to benefit most from early hydrogen deployment.
Finally, I remind the House that the Bill will not impose a levy on gas shippers. Instead, it will enable government to introduce such a levy through secondary legislation. Any decision to do so would take into account all relevant considerations, including the affordability of energy bills. The Government will hold a public consultation as usual, before laying regulations introducing the levy.
I turn to amendments on renewable liquid heating fuel. As the recent biomass strategy made clear, such fuels will have a critical role to play in decarbonising our economy. We recognise that these fuels have the potential to play an important role in decarbonising heat in those off-grid properties that are not suited to electric heating. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his amendment and comments on Report on this issue. I am pleased to confirm that we will explore the potential of these fuels for heat by issuing a consultation within 12 months, and we are taking powers in the Bill to support the use of these fuels in heat in future. This amendment would provide government with the powers to introduce, again by regulation, measures that would impose obligations on heating fuel suppliers to supply specified amounts of renewable liquid heating fuel within specified periods. The Government also commit to consult specifically with the Scottish Government when consulting on the role of renewable liquid fuels in heating buildings off the gas grid and the implementation of a renewable liquid heating fuel obligation. The Government will look to legislate when parliamentary time allows to give statutory force to this consultation requirement.
Amendments 165 and 165A on sustainable aviation fuel commit the Government to publishing a consultation on the options for designing and implementing a revenue certainty scheme for sustainable aviation fuel within six months of the Bill being passed. The Government are also introducing a sustainable aviation fuel mandate from 2025 that will do the heavy lifting to close the cost gap between jet kerosene and sustainable aviation fuel by providing price support in the form of tradable certificates. These policies, along with the £165 million advanced fuels fund, will help to deliver our ambition of having at least five commercial-scale sustainable aviation fuel plants under construction in the UK by 2025.
I turn to community energy. The Government recognise that such projects can have real benefits for the communities in which they are based, and we are keen to ensure that they deliver value for money for consumers. That is why earlier this summer we launched a new £10 million community energy fund, which expands on the success of the previous rural community energy fund to enable both rural and urban communities across England to access grant funding to develop local renewable energy projects for investment. Alongside the proposed fund, we are committing to publishing an annual report and to consulting on the barriers the sector faces when developing projects.
I turn to the amendment that would remove Clause 270 on the prohibition of coal mines, inserted into the Bill by this House. I know the House feels strongly about this matter, but we have considered this clause in detail. We agree that unabated coal has no role in our future power generation mix. The share of electricity generated by coal has already declined sharply, from almost 40% in 2012 to around 2% in 2021, and we do not expect any electricity to be generated from coal after 2024. Although coal will soon cease to be part of our electricity system, there may continue to be domestic demand for it, in industries such as steel and cement and for things such as heritage railways, which can be met domestically. Prohibiting all coal extraction would deny access to domestic coal reserves for these few legacy industries. We do not believe that now is the right time to take such a step.
I turn now to the amendment that would remove Clause 204, which would place a duty on the Government to publish a plan for delivering specific targets on low-carbon heat and energy-efficient homes and non-domestic properties, and higher standards on new homes. We have carefully considered this clause but do not believe it would help to deliver our commitments to improve the energy performance of buildings. Several action plans that relate to this topic have already been produced, such as the Heat and Buildings Strategy, the net zero strategy and the net zero growth plan. Another plan would simply duplicate many of these previous efforts. The important thing now is to concentrate on delivery. Therefore, we do not believe that this clause is necessary.
I turn to the amendments related to devolution. I am pleased to update the House that the Government have reached an agreement with the Scottish Government to amend the Bill to secure their support for a legislative consent Motion in the Scottish Parliament. This comprehensive set of amendments strengthens the Bill’s consultation provisions and requires the Secretary of State to seek the consent of devolved Ministers before exercising certain powers under Clauses 2, 3 and 293. However, the Government are disappointed that the Welsh Government are currently not supporting a legislative consent Motion for the Bill in the Senedd, which is considering the Bill today. The Government have extended the amendments agreed with the Scottish Government to apply in Wales and Northern Ireland, where appropriate and in good faith. This demonstrates our commitment to continue to work closely with all devolved Governments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 165A in my name and briefly comment on Amendment 272A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and Amendment 274A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, both of which have the strongest possible Green support.
It is 2023 and we are in a climate emergency. We cannot consider new coal. I am afraid the Minister’s brandishing of heritage railways does not hack it; it is a tiny usage, much as I have no objection to heritage railways. For steel and cement, other nations are moving very quickly away from using coal while we are stuck in the starting gate. On the community energy amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, I had the great pleasure formally to move it on Report and we saw hugely strong support not just in your Lordships’ House but all around the country. Tomorrow we will debate the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. This is a way to allow communities to take control of their energy supplies and provide the framework to set free huge opportunities up and down the land. It is a no-brainer and I urge your Lordships’ House to vote for both amendments.
Moving chiefly to my Amendment 165A, it is worth revisiting the history of the Bill. Those with a very long memory might think back to
One of the last-minute additions was this clause on so-called sustainable aviation fuel. If noble Lords look back to the other place, they will see that the level of debate that occurred around this very significant amendment was really very scant. That is why I have tabled this amendment now, to provide a real opportunity for your Lordships’ House to at least explore the issues and bring out some of the Government’s thinking. I hope we will also hear significant explanations from the other Front Benches on what their thinking is on so-called sustainable aviation fuel. It is often linked with and spoken about as though it is in the same stable as renewable energy, but the fact is, of course, that almost no flights now are powered by sustainable fuel because of supply and cost. Sustainable fuel can be three times as expensive and even for United, the largest consumer of sustainable fuels in the US, last year it comprised less than 1% of its total fuel consumption.
The fact is that so-called sustainable aviation fuels are not a “get out of the limits of this finite planet free card” for the aviation sector. The idea that aviation can keep expanding, or that it should—I shall be coming back to this tomorrow in an amendment to the levelling-up Bill—is, I would say, for the birds: although of course the birds cannot afford the inevitable environmental damage that burning stuff, whatever the stuff is, inflicts.
I can go through some statistics on this. Bain & Company in June published a report assessing the most likely pathways to net zero by 2050 for the aviation sector. The headline was that it can eliminate 70% of emissions from aircraft operations without using electric or hydrogen at scale. Just 5% of emissions reductions come from hydrogen and electric planes in the Bain & Company scenario; the rest is engine efficiency, aircraft efficiency, optimising routes and scaling up so-called sustainable aviation fuels. A 70% reduction is significant, but the Science Based Targets initiative net-zero standard requires a 90% reduction in CO2 across all scopes by 2050 at the very latest. This report suggests that so-called sustainable aviation fuel can meet a maximum of 60% of global jet fuel demand in 2050 in the best-case scenario.
I think it is worth reflecting very briefly, looking to debates in the other place, that we saw both Labour and Tory MPs going further than this amendment does and calling for government subsidies for the sector. We have to set this in the context of the fact that tax exemptions last year saw the Treasury lose £4.7 billion from the aviation sector: that is calculated by Transport & Environment. That could pay for—gosh—more than 40 new hospitals: does that sound familiar? Or it could cover the cost 10 times over of additional medical staff. It is the equivalent of 1% of the income taxes collected by the Government last year. That is the context.
To come to the detail, my amendment simply addresses subsection (6). It seeks to bring in some systems thinking: an approach that does not look simply at the climate emergency because, as huge and pressing as that is, we are actually in a state where we have exceeded so many other planetary boundaries and we face so many other crises and threats that it is absolutely critical that the Government think in a systemic kind of way. If your Lordships want to think about where things went horribly wrong when we did not do that, Dieselgate is the obvious example. That was a case of corruption and fraud, but behind it was the problem of looking simply at the carbon emissions from diesel and not considering all the other environmental effects.
The current government amendment says that the Secretary of State should look at the contribution to the reduction in greenhouse gases. My amendment keeps that but adds the impact on the food system. Your Lordships’ House often debates the fact that food security is a huge and pressing issue of our age, and if we take land out of use for growing food and turn it to growing stock for aviation fuels, we are creating a potentially huge problem for ourselves.
Proposed new subsection (6)(c) says,
“not negatively impact human, animal or plant health”.
That perhaps comes back to the diesel reference, if we think particularly about human health. Burning stuff produces pollutants—that is just practical reality. However, we must also think about plant health. We often talk about using agricultural waste for these sustainable aviation fuels. That agricultural waste could be going back into the soil to contribute to soil and plant health, bringing us to a situation where we are not depleting our soils and then topping them up with artificial fertilisers, particularly nitrogen produced by the incredibly energy-intensive Haber-Bosch process. This is a systems-thinking, joined-up approach.
Finally, my amendment says,
“not negatively impact the availability of feedstocks for other industrial processes”.
The Minister referred to steel and cement, but all kinds of different, innovative steps are being taken to use all kinds of different materials to replace current fossil fuel production. We need to think about where what we call waste could best go.
I am aware of the desire to move this debate on, so I will not speak much longer, but I have just two final reflections. First, we hear a great deal of talk about waste cooking oil in terms of so-called sustainable fuels. Well, I am afraid that your local chippy is not going to take your private jet flight very far at all—let us be realistic about that. Secondly, my mother’s favourite movie was “The Sound of Music”, in which there is a song that goes:
“Nothing comes from nothing,
Nothing ever could”.
All energy use—all fuel—has environmental and social costs associated with its production and use. We have to think in that systemic, holistic way when we think about how we fuel our sustainable future.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 187A in my name. The purpose of moving this amendment is straightforward: we have an opportunity to put in place an enforceable plan of action that will deliver the often-mentioned aspirations to deliver energy-efficient homes and properties. I was sure that the Minister would repeat the line that this is unnecessary—and so he did. But I am afraid that the facts tell a different story. The new clause would enable a plan to be in place, working to clear targets to reduce gas supply in homes by 25% and a 10-year programme to retrofit 19 million homes, costed at £6 billion, with local authority and a community base to deliver.
The facts are these. Since 2010, progress to reduce emissions has stalled. The UK is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels for home heating and industry, and has the least energy-efficient housing stock in Europe, according to the IMF. Limited progress on energy-efficiency measures has been made worse by poor public information campaigns and the lack of a long-term plan with clear targets, clear technical explanations and little evidence of a financial and structural plan to go alongside. I do not wish to repeat all the comments that have been made throughout the debates on this Bill. However, we have to acknowledge a lack of grip, of urgency, and of serious explanation of the benefits of determined action.
In terms of tackling emissions and meeting legally binding decarbonisation targets, reducing the need for heat must be a top priority. Benefits include: a reduction in the cost of heating homes—therefore, a very positive help to those suffering from the cost of living crisis; a huge benefit to the health of the population by achieving affordable warmth, potentially saving the NHS £500 million a year; and a major contribution to energy security by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.
These come on top of the potential of delivering economic benefits, providing skilled jobs and high-wage opportunities. Retrofitting poorly performing homes alone could support 190,000 jobs across all regions. Given the strength of opinion on energy efficiency in so many analyses of progress, I am minded to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the Minister—he knows that I like to praise his work—particularly on the change in the Ofgem amendment, in that our major regulator will now have a net-zero objective. To me, that is absolutely stark staringly obvious, and the fact that there has been government resistance to it while the Bill has been in this House I find strange, so that is a real move forward. The other thing that is to me stark staringly stupid is that we are talking about opening a coal mine in 2023. That makes no sense at all, and I will go through the reasons why.
It is not just we on these Benches or the Opposition who have that view. Let me quote from the Commons at Report. The then Energy Minister, Chris Skidmore—highly respected in this area and highly respected by the Government, in that he wrote their independent net zero review—said:
“Legislating to prevent the opening of new coal mines simply maintains the commitment that the UK sought to make to the rest of the world at COP26”—[Official Report, Commons, 5/9/23; col. 303.]
That was Chris Skidmore, former Energy Minister, valued by the Government for his net zero review, and by all of us for that great piece of work.
At COP 26 in Glasgow a couple of years ago, which we chaired very successfully under Sir Alok Sharma, we nailed our colours to the mast and led a coalition of countries—I think the government press release says 190—and celebrated the fact that we would phase out coal. What motivates me most to put Amendment 272A forward again is that our international reputation is being shredded by the fact that we are moving ahead on this basis. Let us not pretend that it is not noticed internationally, because it is. Even the White House, under John Kerry, the climate envoy, has remarked on this piece of government policy planning and Michael Gove’s proposal to open the coal mine. So, our international reputation for climate leadership, which all of us on all sides of this House have been particularly proud of over the years, is being literally trashed by this decision.
That has other effects as well. During a Private Notice Question yesterday, we debated the fact that we had no investor take for offshore wind on the CfD pitch when it concluded last week. That shows that we need rock-solid commitment to net zero in order to attract investment into this country. To me, our saying internationally that we are starting to open coal mines absolutely goes against what we are saying to bring in investment. It questions UK government policy, which is competing with the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States and a green deal industrial plan in the EU. We are trying to get a slice of that global investment, yet our environmental and climate focus is wobbling. That is absolutely wrong.
This amendment would apply to any sort of coal mine, but the Minister mentioned the Cumbrian coal mine, which is what that decision is all about. Let us be clear about that proposition and the company West Cumbria Mining. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has said already, that industry is moving—indeed, must move—competitively towards a much greener stance; for the UK steel industry to remain competitive, it must do so as well. As I understand it, scientists have questions about West Cumbrian coal, including whether its sulphur content is even sufficient for the steel industry. However, the main facts are these: first, the steel industry generally is not that interested in that coal; and, secondly, the company itself says that some four-fifths of the coal will not be used by the UK steel industry, which means that it needs to be exported. Once coal is exported, we have no control over how that substance is used.
That brings me to transport. The argument is that it is better to provide our own coking coal than to import it. However, if we export 80% of this coal, that will put transport costs up because we will have the cost of transporting it to other, international markets.
The one argument that I do have sympathy with concerns jobs. We all know that the region of Cumbria is hugely challenged in terms of levelling up, jobs and income. However, it is completely obvious to me that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, just talked about with regard to Labour’s amendment, we have the ability to provide green jobs and proper energy efficiency. It is clear to me that this coal mine will not be there for a particularly long time, so those jobs will be transient.
I will leave it at that but let me come back to the United Kingdom’s international reputation and our important share in global investment in the green sector. I quote the Government’s own website, which said this after COP 26:
“The end of coal—the single biggest contributor to climate change—is in sight thanks to the UK securing a 190-strong coalition of countries and organisations at COP26”.
That was a proud moment for not just Alok Sharma but the Government. It is being trashed.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 274B in my name. I draw attention to my interests in the register.
I will speak briefly about community energy but let me just say that I absolutely support the amendments in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I also very much support the noble Lord’s words, especially about what this measure is going to do to Britain’s reputation, and his reminding us of where this country was just a couple of short years ago as the leaders of COP, playing a proud role on the world stage; that seems to be in tatters right now.
Community energy is wildly popular in the country—it is extremely popular with all sorts of people. I find it puzzling why the Government are not bending over backwards to make this easier and simpler for people. I do not want to get into the arguments about onshore wind, but surely one way to mitigate communities’ concerns about renewable energy is to give people a stake in it so that it is about not just a bit of money but owning something. My sister has lived on a small island in Denmark for 60 years. The people there are completely energy independent. It was the first place I knew of that had wind farms everywhere. Everyone knows how much electricity is coming in and what it is doing. They have ownership and share prices—that is just the way it has been done, and it is kind of brilliant. Why can we not say, “The local energy we produce off that hill heats my towel rail all year round”? They can report, “I co-own it”, “It has paid to put solar panels on the roof of the community hall”, or “It has paid for energy efficiency advice and deals for the other homes in our village”.
In fairness to the Government, they have acknowledged this, but we seem to have spent an incredible amount of time hand-wringing about the difficulties rather than finding the easy, appropriate ways of supporting it. All that the sector wants is a deal comparable with all the other renewable energy that we have in this country, via a guaranteed minimum price. This gives communities the certainty that they need to raise the funds to go ahead. This is true across so much of the alternative energy sector.
I supported the establishment of the £10 million community energy fund but, quite honestly, that is not very much. If you look in the Evening Standard, you find that you can buy a flat for £10 million within about 100 yards of here. It is not going to go far enough. We need real reform, so the commitment made by Andrew Bowie in the other place
“to consulting on the barriers the sector faces when developing projects”—[
That is why I have come up with this compromise amendment, which I hope that the Minister feels able to accept. It would give the industry a boost to know that there was something coming down the tracks on an agreed timeframe. A problem that we have seen before is consultations which do not receive a response—or do but with serious delays. That is all that I am trying to avoid with this amendment in lieu, which sets a generous timescale of 18 months for a consultation and a further six months for bringing forward proposals to remove the barriers to community energy schemes. This times nicely with the end of the two-year community energy fund and would avoid a potential cliff edge.
I believe that the Minister will appreciate the need for clarity for the sector and the need to reassure over 300 MPs, including 147 Conservative MPs, who backed the original Local Electricity Bill, which recognised the barriers to community energy and proposed remedies. I therefore ask him to give this house more clarity on timescales, or I may be required to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I rise extremely briefly to support very strongly the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lady Boycott. Regarding the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lady Boycott, it is crazy that we have barriers inhibiting the development of renewable energy by community energy schemes. This amendment is a very modest proposal to ensure that those barriers are removed within a reasonable timeframe. I hope that all sides of the House can support these three amendments, but I have particularly spoken to that tabled by the noble friend Lady Boycott.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register and record my gratitude to the Minister for the Ofgem amendment. In much more elegant language, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said that it was a no-brainer. It absolutely is, and Amendment 187A is equally a no-brainer. However, before I say why, I add my support to those amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. Particularly in the latter we have a compromise which would really boost a sector of the energy industry that is of great benefit.
In terms of benefits, no one—including the Government —fundamentally challenges the benefits of improving the energy efficiency of Britain’s old, cold, leaky housing stock. They recognise the benefits for individuals and families in terms of health and reduced bills, but it goes beyond that. There are benefits for the UK because improving energy efficiency reduces demand, helps towards our net-zero target and improves our energy security. It is also potentially of benefit to the taxpayer in reducing the huge expense that the Government take on board when energy prices spike. We have seen how much the Government have spent on heating homes and that money going out of the window because of the state of the housing stock. There are also benefits in stimulating the retrofitting industry, which is a national industry. It goes across all parts of the country and helps with the training and then the providing of secure and sustainable jobs.
We have debated this—I will not say ad nauseam, but certainly at length—not only on this Bill but on the Social Housing (Regulation) Bill and the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill, because of the issues that I was talking about, such as employment and the fact that the poorest people suffer most from the worst homes, in terms of energy efficiency and their health.
As the Minister said, the Government accept the fundamental argument and indeed put money into various schemes, so the issue is whether they need to do more to make sure that we see change. Experience in this area says that they absolutely need to bring together what needs to be done to have a substantive effect. That has not happened in the past.
We have a history of stop-go policies that have been extremely damaging. We were talking about new housing and building standards; how many houses have we built in the last eight years that are totally inadequate because we reduced the building standards that were set for energy efficiency? We have seen stop-go on that and the warm home scheme start, fail and reduce public and industry confidence. We have seen piecemeal policies, inadequate implementation and a lack of a strategic approach on bringing the policies together, on action and on making the change that we need.
I do not think that this amendment duplicates what the Government have already done; it actually focuses them on an area where we need to do better than we have in the past. If the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, chooses to test the opinion of the House, I will certainly support her.
My Lords, I very much support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, as I did in Committee. The reduction that she has achieved in her ambitions sits very well with what the Government have said are their ambitions. I would like to see my noble friend supporting this and saying that it is an opportunity. Giving us a tight, but not too tight, timescale to make this happen is a good way to demonstrate that.
My Lords, I will make a few comments. First, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lady Blake for their amendments and will make our position on them clear. Secondly, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Callanan, for the welcome changes that he made to the Bill in the other place on the housing levy and on renewable liquid fuels.
We generally welcome the passage of the Bill. It has been a long time in gestation—15 months or more—with hundreds of changes and more today. We welcome all those too, although they probably could have been made earlier.
I turn to the three amendments. First, on coal, the new new Labour Party is no longer in favour of coal. We absolutely support what the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said about the coal industry, and it is time to put this in legislation. It is not enough to say that we are no longer committed to coal; we need to legislate for it and so we will be supporting this amendment.
On my noble friend Lady Blake’s amendment on energy efficiency, I will restate the facts. First, the UK has the least energy-efficient homes in Europe. Domestic energy-efficiency measures have fallen 95% since 2012 and are 20 times lower than they were when Labour was last in power. The Resolution Foundation estimates that 9 million households are paying an extra £170 a year as a result of these failings.
The Minister said that the amendment is unnecessary, because it is partly in the net zero strategy and the Powering Up Britain publication, but this is legislation, and it should state what the Government propose to achieve and by what timescale. Therefore, we support the amendment.
On community energy, the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, set out very clearly her proposal to commit the Government to finding out what the barriers inhibiting the development of community energy are, and to bring forward a plan to overcome them. That is a very modest amendment from where we were the last time around, and I can see no reason whatever for the Government not to support it. We will support those three amendments should the Members wish to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I will start on the last issue raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Meacher, and others: that of community energy.
The Government launched the £10 million fund this summer, and it is larger than its predecessors. From what I have seen so far, it has been welcomed across the community energy sector. It will fund projects such as Congleton Hydro, which received £73,500 in funding from the former rural community energy fund—this fund will do a similar job. Thanks to that funding, it is producing affordable, clean and secure electricity from a local weir, enough to power the equivalent of 60 homes. Not only is the project reducing emissions in the area but its success has led to the creation of an annual £5,000 fund for local community projects.
Amendments 274A and 274B aim to commit us to a consultation on the barriers preventing the development of community energy schemes. The amendments set out with whom we should consult, and commit government to bringing forward proposals to remove identified barriers to community energy. But as I referred to earlier, the Government have already committed to consult on the barriers that the sector faces when developing projects. As part of this process, we will of course involve the community energy sector in designing the consultation, through the Community Energy Contact Group. We continue to believe that it is more appropriate to allow the small-scale export market to develop with minimum intervention than to introduce a support scheme that specifies minimum prices or contract lengths for generators.
I know that the House is keen on supporting community energy, and we are the same, but it has to be done in a cost-effective manner, because the cost is borne by every other bill payer. It might be advantageous to certain islands or rural community villages, but if there is a cost in excess of the system, it is borne by every other bill payer in the country. The amendments would place an additional obligation on government to bring forward proposals to remove these barriers within a specified timeframe.
“The additional context of developing roles for future energy system operation, reform of competition in delivery of network infrastructure, and wider reforms of electricity markets including energy retail” mean that the consideration of community energy needs to take into account this much wider context, rather than considering community energy “in isolation”, and that we need
“to give the Government, the regulator, and the industry time to fully consider” all those issues. We must be careful not to disadvantage the majority of the population to benefit a very small minority.
We obviously cannot be sure what the consultation will conclude until we have carried it out, so in our view it is not appropriate to make a commitment to do something the outcome of which, and what barriers or proposals will come forward, we do not know at this stage. But I reassure the House that the Government will continue to work closely with the sector and the wider industry on the best way forward.
I now move on to the somewhat contentious issue of coal. Amendment 272A, on prohibiting coal extraction, was raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Lennie, and of course the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I was particularly interested to hear the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, because of course we both come from the north-east of England, and there are still sitting Labour MPs in the north-east, whom the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, knows well, campaigning in favour of opening new coal mines. It is interesting that the Labour position seems to be developing from that.
A full prohibition on coal extraction is likely to prevent extensions in existing operational mining—even where that extension could enable site restoration or deliver public safety benefits. It would cut across heritage mining rights in, for instance, the Forest of Dean, which is important to its tourism offer, and perhaps also in Beamish, another area that we know well. Importantly, it would prevent domestic coal extraction projects from progressing that seek to supply industries that are still reliant on coal, such as steel manufacturing. Again, the Labour Party loses no opportunity to lecture us on the importance of the steel industry. That industry is going through a transformation, but many parts of it still require access to coal, so I hope the Labour Party has cleared its position with the steel unions, which I suspect would not support an amendment such as this—I will leave that little domestic argument to different Labour members.
The phasing out of future coal-powered generation, which we do agree with, is a more proportionate response to moving away from coal use than a complete prohibition on coal extraction. Such a ban would deny the prospect of access to domestic coal reserves for future generations, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the use it could be put to and regardless of the fact that it could perhaps play a role with CCUS in the future.
The Secretary of State for DLUHC’s decision on the mine followed a comprehensive planning inquiry that heard from over 40 different witnesses and considered matters including the demand for coking coal and its suitability. It went into all the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, recommended, the climate change impact and, crucially, the impact on that particular local economy. While the full reasons for the Secretary of State’s decision are set out in his published letter—which should perhaps be read in its entirety—he concluded that
“there is currently a UK and European market for the coal … it is highly likely that a global demand would remain”.
While coking coal may be required for steel production for quite some time—I assume the Labour Party is not proposing that we should close the steel industry down overnight; if so, that would be a fairly radical policy change from all that it has said before—to support the decarbonisation of that industry through its transition period, as well as other industries that still rely on coking coal, we have already put in place the £315 million industrial energy transformation fund. We think that is a better way to help industry move away from coal in the future, rather than just banning their fuel source, because you would be banning British coal—you would not be banning coal; you would just import those same supplies produced by miners in other parts of the world. This helps business, in our view, with their high energy use, to cut their energy bills and reduce their carbon emissions through investing in energy efficiency and low-carbon technologies—that is a more constructive way to proceed.
On sustainable aviation fuel, again the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, got excited and condemned us for something that we are not doing. Sustainable aviation fuel is the most developed technology pathway for aviation decarbonisation and will play a key role along with the other technologies as outlined in the jet zero strategy. Many experts view sustainable aviation fuel as the only alternative to kerosene for long-haul flights up until 2050. If the noble Baroness does not want that, she should have the courage of her convictions and say to people that what the Greens really want to do is to ban flying completely, to prevent people going on business or on their holidays. If that is her agenda, she should say so, rather than try to put amendments forward to prevent us developing those sustainable fuels that we could use in the future to decarbonise the sector.
We recognise that there is uncertainty around feedstock availability and we will continue to work closely with colleagues across government to ensure that the most up-to-date evidence and modelling are reflected throughout the policy design of the SAF mandate and the revenue certainty mechanism. We have already confirmed that the sustainable aviation fuel mandate will not support crop-based biofuels and that SAF must meet strict sustainability criteria. These measures will prevent negative environmental consequences, such as the loss of biodiversity, deforestation and the clearance of land with high-carbon stock that could be associated with the cultivation of raw materials that may be used in certain SAF production.
On energy efficiency and energy statements, of course I understand noble Lords’ desire to go further. I am passionately committed to the cause of energy efficiency, but I do not recognise some of the characterisation put forward in this House. We are making good progress in this country. In 2010, some 14% of UK homes were at EPC band C or above. Now it almost 50%. We have a particularly difficult problem because we have the oldest housing stock in Europe, but we are making progress on this matter. We could go further and faster, and we are endeavouring to do so, but we do have a good record in this country. I want to put that on the record before I talk about the specific issues.
As I referred to in my earlier remarks, the Government have already stated their ambitions, covering the points in the amendment in the heating and building strategy, our net zero strategy and the net zero growth plan. We have already consulted on improving standards in the private rented sector and we continue to refine the policy design to ensure that the burden of energy-efficiency improvements is fair and proportionate for both landlords and tenants. This is not an easy area to legislate in, because we want to make sure that there is still a decent supply of rental properties in many parts of the country—already we are seeing landlords withdraw from the market. So it is an important policy to get right.
In the 2020 Energy White Paper, the Government committed that the trajectory for minimum energy-efficiency standards for non-domestic rented buildings should be EPC band B by 2030, where that is cost effective. The Government will publish a full technical consultation for the future homes standard later this year and we intend to introduce the necessary legislation in 2024, ahead of full implementation in 2025. Furthermore, the Government already consult with the Climate Change Committee and we will respond to its progress report later this year. I thank the noble Baroness for raising these matters but, for the reasons I have set out, the Government cannot support her amendment.
Motion on Amendment 1 agreed.