Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
My Lords, this is a set of changes to the capacity market system following a consultation. As a serial responder to consultations—although not in fact to the one relating to this—I must say that I am surprised by how few responses some get. In this instance, there were 38, although some were from trade associations, so, collectively, it covers more than 38 entities. But it still seems a low number, although, if I remember correctly, there have been fewer on some other electricity generation SIs.
I do not expect that the Minister can easily do anything about that, and there are so many consultations that I can understand if there is consultation fatigue—I have suffered from that myself—but it worries me if responses are obtained only from directly interested parties, important though they are. They are public consultations and the clue is in that name. The consultation informing this instrument seems to have received only one potentially non-industry submission from an individual respondent. Yet, as the Minister has explained, the capacity market is an important part of maintaining a secure and reliable electricity system and even this instrument is not devoid of public interest, as against producer interest, points.
Our capacity auction system is neutral in that all types of generation are included and, as the Explanatory Memorandum says at paragraph 7.2, and as the Minister has alluded to, the purpose of the payments is to,
“incentivise the necessary investment to maintain and refurbish existing capacity,”
and in some instances to support new-build projects. However, there is also a secondary market in capacity agreements and this instrument now breaks the link between the continuing existence of the original capacity agreement owner and the ongoing validity of capacity agreements that they have sold on.
I have some reservations about that change in that it might have perverse incentives to encourage overbidding for the purpose of secondary trading. It could be counterproductive to encouraging investment and, more to the point, knowing where that investment is to be made, and makes trading for cash more likely, which is not really what it was all meant to be about. For example, what pressures might there be from shareholders for certificates to be sold rather than for investment to be made?
Therefore, I am not entirely convinced that the public interest, which is substantial in terms of security of supply, is served by this. I can see that there may be arguments on the other side about maintaining the capacity that has been auctioned, and I should be interested if the Minister elaborated on those more fully and on what other mechanisms compensate for the fact that what was originally a kind of safeguarding mechanism has been removed.
Not surprisingly, the consultation responses agreed with the proposition. However, as I have pointed out, given that all those responses, bar one, have been entirely from industry and therefore from those who would benefit by it, either by way of enhanced secondary-market value of an agreement or from ongoing value irrespective of the status of the original owner, that is hardly a response that can be said to have the public interest uppermost.
I turn now to the reductions in the length of capacity agreements when a provider has breached obligations. I have no objection to the basic fairness of allowing appeals. I cannot help wondering how that might interact with a potentially lively secondary market and keep up with the obligations that attach to the traded certificates. I would welcome more explanation as to how that works. For example, can the Minister assure me that purchasing an agreement and obligation on the secondary market does not give, of itself, an excuse for non-performance or leniency?
The third change relates to allowing the delivery body to take into account changes in non-material errors in pre-qualification applications during appeals. This seems to be eminently sensible and I wonder whether that is, or can be, part of a wider approach within BEIS to a whole range of matters where non-material points or presentation prevent access to grants and other assistance, in particular for smaller entities. I note the value of the change to smaller entities, as explained in the memorandum. I would welcome that becoming a more general approach in BEIS.
I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about the issues that I have raised and especially whether the effects on the trading changes will be monitored for any detriment and whether that may have been necessitated because of Covid, rather than the previously-existing steady state?