Bryony Worthington on the latest developments in the Lords over the Energy Bill
The Lords Committee stage of the Energy Bill has seen some lively debate this week, discussing the necessity of an independent advisory board on longer term energy investment. And also whether the government’s proposal for introducing carbon emissions controls on fossil fuel fired plant passes the test of logic.
It all helped highlight just how much of a bind the Department of Energy and Climate Change has got itself into, having been forced to sign up to an alternative pro-gas energy strategy by the Treasury. There are now glaring illogicalities in the Bill, and Ministers are being forced into the unenviable position of defending the indefensible. Given this, it would be sensible for them to look favourably on Lord Oxburgh’s suggestion that an independent expert body should be established to publish advice to Parliament.
Ministers certainly could have done with some sound advice yesterday, when they were left floundering, reading out quotes from the CBI – that font of all wisdom on energy investment certainty. Although, as Lord Deben has pointed out, many CBI members have also been calling for a decarbonisation target – something on which the government seems to be exhibiting selective hearing.
Another proposal covered in Committee is the Emissions Performance Standard. A curious piece of legislation, this is far more proscriptive than the rest of the Bill, containing an equation, a fixed emissions limit and a timeline for how long that limit will be in force. Details of who the limit will and won’t apply to are also detailed.
This need not be a problem. Indeed, it could provide clarity on an otherwise vague and troubling Bill, if there was any confidence that we were settled on the right details. Sadly, there isn’t. The level of emissions limit won’t apply until 2044 – some 31 years away. Plus the level it is set at is equivalent to unabated gas, despite the fact that just six years later, by 2050, emissions from the power sector will need to be close to zero if we are to hit our legally binding climate targets. The limit also does not apply to old coal, even though it has become increasingly clear that our remaining coal stations do not want to retire gracefully from our energy system.
Sadly, Ministers have been unable to deviate from the DECC line that everything is hunky-dory as it is with no risk that a dash for unabated gas, coupled with a clinging to old coal, is going to make meeting decarbonisation targets impossible. I fear this will come back to haunt them. And as Lord Teverson said in the debate, the approach also seem to be at odds with both DECC’s desire to give certainty to low carbon investors and the Treasury’s desire to see more gas on the grid.
I hope, over the summer, the need for Ministers to give a much higher degree of certainty finally hits home; and that at Report stage (with the prospect of votes) we don’t get such an illogical defence of the indefensible on these issues. But either way, the case for an expert independent energy advisory body is just going getting stronger and stronger.
Baroness Bryony Worthington is Shadow Energy and Climate Change Minister in the Lords
Published 17th July 2013