Motion on Amendment 17

Energy Bill [HL] - Commons Amendments – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 12 September 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Callanan:

Moved by Lord Callanan

That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 17.

17: Clause 56, page 50, line 15, at end insert—““carbon dioxide transport and storage counterparty” has the meaning given by section 59(3);“carbon dioxide transport and storage revenue support contract” has the meaning given by section 59(2);”

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

My Lords, with the leave of the House I will speak also to the other amendments in this group, which concern new policy that was introduced in the other place. I turn first to the amendments on hydrogen transport and storage infrastructure. These amendments will enable business models to be brought forward to provide investors with the long-term revenue certainty that they will need to establish and scale up the deployment of hydrogen transport and storage infrastructure. I am sure this will be of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, who spoke about this earlier in the Bill’s passage.

The development of this infrastructure represents the critical next step in the growth of the hydrogen economy to support the Government’s ambition to have up to 10 gigawatts of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030. The business models are intended to help overcome the key barriers to investment in this infrastructure, such as high capital costs, lengthy development lead times and uncertain financial investment returns in what is a very nascent market.

Next, on carbon capture storage information and samples, the amendments support the role of the North Sea Transition AuthorityNSTA—as the regulator of carbon dioxide storage in the UK continental shelf. They achieve this by ensuring that it has the relevant powers to access and share information and samples collected through relevant carbon-storage activities. This reflects similar powers already held by the NSTA for the petroleum industry and will enhance knowledge sharing across the carbon capture, usage and storage industry. It will support innovation for the effective utilisation of the UK’s geological storage potential and help encourage private investment in the UK’s growing green economy.

The Government have also tabled amendments relating to Great British Nuclear. These amendments will enable GBN to support government in rebuilding our civil nuclear industry and facilitating the delivery of nuclear projects to achieve our net-zero ambitions. GBN will play a critical role in strengthening the UK’s energy security. By legislating for GBN, we are working to undo decades of underinvestment and inspire trust in the UK civil nuclear industry, restoring the global leadership that the UK used to have in civil nuclear power.

I move on to discuss the amendments to provide relief on network charging for energy-intensive industries. High industrial electricity prices are one of the key barriers that inhibit the most carbon-intensive sectors from adopting greener technology. The measures deliver on a fundamental element of the British industry supercharger set out in February. These amendments will give the Government the powers to deliver a scheme that will provide relief on electricity network charges for Britain’s strategic energy-intensive industries. It will bring electricity prices for these UK businesses in line with some of their global competitors, thereby helping to preserve thousands of jobs and investment and enabling greater electrification of industrial processes, removing one of the major barriers to decarbonisation. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendments 259A to 271A inclusive; your Lordships will be pleased to know that I do not intend to speak to each one individually. For technical reasons these had to be split up but, essentially, this is a chance for your Lordships’ House to reconsider again the whole Great British Nuclear introduction that the Minister just outlined.

This debate follows on in many ways from that secured for last Thursday by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, about nuclear power. I will not revisit all the many issues raised there, although I note that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, expressed rightful and strong scepticism about the progress of both Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C, on cost and other factors. There is also the continuing cost of the clean-up of dinosaur technology from the last century of £260 billion, and issues of waste that we have still not tackled.

I said that I will not go through these amendments one by one, but I do want to speak to Amendment 262A, which disagrees with the financial assistance. In our discussion yesterday on the failure of the offshore wind contract for difference bidding process, the Minister said my suggestion that we should look at a higher strike price for offshore wind was not thinking about the bill payer. I do not know how many Members of your Lordships’ House have looked closely at the detail of government Amendment 262, but it is utterly an open slather:

“The Secretary of State may provide financial assistance … to facilitate the design, construction, commissioning and operation of nuclear energy generation”.

Proposed new subsection (2) says that this assistance

“may be provided … by way of grant, loan, guarantee or indemnity … the acquisition of shares … the acquisition of … assets … a contract, or … by incurring expenditure for the benefit of the person assisted”.

Proposed new subsection (3) says that the assistance may be considered “without interest”—it goes on and on. I will not go through the whole lot, but basically this allows the Secretary of State the open slather to do whatever they like to fund nuclear—and one thing we know about nuclear energy generation is that it costs, and the cost just keeps going up.

I am afraid there is currently a great deal of speculation. Many people accept that, essentially, Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C are ongoing disasters. We have this wonderful new idea of small-scale nuclear plants scattered all over the countryside, as a noble Lord suggested in last Thursday’s debate. Really, my Lords, how realistic is this? We are talking about something that simply does not scale down.

I am aware of the desire of your Lordships’ House to move on to votes, but I want to quote one person who perhaps has a different perspective from mine. Markus Krebber, the chief executive of RWE, suggests that investors should not and will not back nuclear plants. This comes back to the issue of finance. If there will not be private money coming in, we are talking about massive sums of government money. He told the Australian Financial Review:

“I would have a big question mark whether building new ones is really a good strategy, because if you look at the cost overruns and the delays, I think purely a renewables-based energy system including the necessary storage is probably in most of the regions already today cheaper than new nuclear”.

I think that is unarguable.

I will briefly address the issue of Sizewell C. We are talking as Japanese fishermen around the Fukushima nuclear plant suffer massive economic loss as a result of the dumping of wastewater into the sea there. In Suffolk we will see the local economy facing massive loss if Sizewell C goes ahead. Studies by the Suffolk Coast destination management organisation show that visitors would stay away, losing the tourism industry up to £40 million a year and an estimated 400 jobs.

If we look at the environmental impacts of the proposed Sizewell C, we can see that it is opposed by both the RSPB and the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. The site is surrounded by protected wildlife habitats. When it comes to water, the Planning Inspectorate was unable to recommend that Sizewell C be granted planning consent due to the lack of an identified long-term supply of potable water. There is a huge problem with access to the site. It will require a 60-metre cut-off wall so that it can be dewatered and existing soil can be swapped out for more suitable material and huge, as yet undesigned, sea defences. Looking at the state of our climate now, we are seeing significant runaway with very serious potential risks in the impact on our sea levels. I note that Cefas said that

“it is generally only possible to predict detailed changes to the coastline over the next 10 years”.

I have focused a little on Sizewell C and the deep uncertainties and concern because of the point about money. Under the government amendment, we are letting a Government go ahead and do whatever they like and spend whatever they like on a project that is so deeply problematic.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench 4:45, 12 September 2023

The Minister waxed lyrical about the scheme to provide subsidies for energy-intensive industries. We were deeply moved by his enthusiasm. He was silent on the clause that follows. He was talking about Clause 177, but Clause 178 sets out how the subsidies are to be paid for—by levies on all electricity users. I do not want this moment to pass without making the old-fashioned comment that I think it is best that subsidies are paid for out of taxation, rather than by levies.

Subsidies are a political decision by the Government; they are absolutely entitled to make those political decisions. But all electricity users are, at the moment, suffering from the political decision to instruct Ofgem to prioritise competition, which has led to the collapse of more than 30 supply companies. The costs of these collapses are being borne by us all in the levies on our electricity bills. You can debate whether it is honest or dishonest for political decisions to be paid for in a concealed fashion of this kind, but what is certain is that it is regressive. I am therefore slightly less enthusiastic about the combination of Amendments 177 and 178 than the Minister was about Amendment 177.

Photo of Lord Lennie Lord Lennie Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Net Zero)

All I would like to say is that, in response to the comments by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, we are interested in keeping the lights on and we are interested in nuclear being part of the mix of fuels that will keep the electricity going, particularly now that coal will no longer be part of the electricity production in this country.

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

I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I will first deal directly with the points by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. What should I say about this? He is, of course, prescient in his observations, but this has been a long-standing policy—effectively of the Treasury, which is unwilling to fund many of these policies from general taxation. Therefore, a lot of previous subsidies, such as the warm home discount, are levied on energy bills. That has been a long-standing policy through a number of Governments and different Treasuries. I wish the noble Lord luck in his campaign to change the mind of His Majesty’s Treasury on these matters.

Moving on to the other issues, let me deal first with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. The problem for the Greens on this is that any sensible energy system in the UK—this is recognised also by the Opposition and we are grateful for their support—needs nuclear power, because it is a source of carbon-free electricity. Of course, many Greens, the more progressive Greens who have looked at our energy system properly, also support the use of nuclear power. I would point the noble Baroness to a very interesting website that I was looking at, called Greens for Nuclear Energy. This is a statement from a series of members of the Green Party who take a sensible and progressive view about this. Looking at the needs of the energy supply system and the need for decarbonisation, they have come to the same conclusion as many other sensible experts: that there is a need for nuclear power in this country.

The website says:

“Greens For Nuclear Energy seek to influence the Green movement’s key organisations and institutions” in favour of nuclear energy because

“We need every available low carbon power source to combat catastrophic climate change”.

They therefore believe that

“the increasingly urgent need to deal decisively with our emerging climate crisis makes continued opposition to nuclear energy irrational for environmentalists and reduces our chances of averting a climate catastrophe.”

Perhaps the noble Baroness would want to go away and look at some of the more sensible members of her own party.

The invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent rise in global energy prices have demonstrated the paramount importance of accelerating our homegrown power and strengthening our national energy security. This is in addition to the significant contribution, as I have just said, that nuclear would make to achieving our net-zero objectives because it is very low carbon. Nuclear technology generates zero direct carbon or other greenhouse gas emissions and has one of the lowest life cycle emission rates among generating technologies. The Committee on Climate Change, the International Energy Agency and the UN Economic Commission for Europe—alongside some sensible Green members—have all highlighted the role that new nuclear electricity generating capacity, in partnership with renewables, can play as part of our diverse energy mix while helping us to achieve net zero.

Great British Nuclear will de-risk new nuclear developments by, among other things, co-funding selected technologies through their development. This will provide greater certainty for investors to develop projects over the long term required to deliver new nuclear generation capacity on to the electricity grid. We intend to fund Great British Nuclear’s initial operating costs via grant in aid. It will be subject to standard NDPB reporting and accountability requirements, which will be set out in Great British Nuclear’s framework document.

The terms of investment in development projects will be bespoke and negotiated on an individual basis. The key goal will be to deliver on the Government’s commitment to increase nuclear energy capacity in Britain, while of course ensuring, as always, value for money for the taxpayer and the bill payer. We are legislating to ensure that Great British Nuclear has the long-term operational mandate needed to carry out the role that government intend for it. The amendments set out the framework within which Great British Nuclear shall operate in facilitating the deployment of nuclear reactors in Britain.

I spoke earlier about the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. The EII support levy, like the other measures in the British Industry Supercharger, would simply constitute a rebalancing of existing electricity costs away from EIIs and on to other energy users, who have traditionally received more protection from higher energy prices than some in industry.

At the end of these debates, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed. In particular, I thank my colleague in the other place, Andrew Bowie, for guiding the Bill through the House of Commons. I also thank the department’s Bill team and all the other policy and legal officials across various government departments who have been involved in this huge and landmark piece of legislation. They who have worked tirelessly to deliver it. I particularly thank the House authorities, parliamentary staff, clerks and doorkeepers, and all noble Lords who have contributed to the evolution of this landmark Bill.

Amendment 17 agreed.

Photo of Lord Geddes Lord Geddes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

We now come to the largest single group I have come across in 23 years.