When something happens that you knew was going to happen, and its as bad as you thought it would be, there ought not to be any additional sense of surprise or concern attached to it. It’s happened; it’s bad; you knew it would be, so what’s new?
But there usually is, if only that what has now happened sweeps away any putative alternatives, and then you’ve got to get along with the reality.
This is where we are with the Energy Bill, published this week. I knew it probably would be published around now, and I knew it would probably be very thin and unformed, and I knew that there would be a great deal of work to be done to get it into any sort of shape to address the issues it claims to do.
I’m still slightly taken aback at just HOW thin it is. The draft bill consists of 109 clauses, 44 of which are concerned with the establishment of the Office of the Nuclear Regulator. Seventeen deal with selling off the government strategic pipelines (?) and miscellaneous bits and pieces, and nine clauses set up a ‘strategy and policy’ statement to be set out each year, leaving just thirty nine clauses for everything discussed in the White Paper and all the EMR reform supposedly required. Not only that, but of the ten schedules set out in the draft bill, only three deal with anything other than the Office for Nuclear Regulation and associated odds and sods.
And… it gets worse. Of the thirty nine clauses dealing with what one might call ‘actual EMR’ six go about setting up what are called ’Investment Instruments’ which are, not to put too fine a point on it notes of comfort for nuclear generators ahead of the actual date on which Contracts for Difference can actually start. They certainly won’t be notes of comfort for anyone else, because they will all be able to obtain Renewables Obligation Certificates until 2017: so a whole section devoted to shoring up EDF ahead of whatever else comes out of the Bill.
This means, of course that most of the business of making EMR work will be the subject of secondary legislation, most of which still seems to be under intensive discussion. Here’s the sole substantive entry on demand side response and management in the whole Bill, for example (sorry, correction: it’s not actually in the Bill, but might be, …or might not. The mention is in the preamble piece to the Draft bill):
‘…we are currently reviewing the potential for incentivising further demand reduction in the electricity sector. This work will report over the summer, in time to fit legislative timetables, should it be required.’
This sort of mention and a number of other hanging ideas and items in progress (such as who if anyone is actually going to be the counterparty for CfDs), make one wonder exactly what it is that the Energy and Climate Change Select committee will actually be scrutinising in the five weeks it has got to do the job before summer. Not much by the looks of it, since most of the meat of scrutiny is still locked in someone’s drawer waiting to be worked on. I would imaging that, if the Select Committee does its job properly and takes the three to four months on pre-legislative scrutiny recommended by Cabinet Office guidelines, then it will be accused of holding the progress of the bill up, but if it doesn’t most of the content of EMR will tunnel past it underground, emerging only once ‘scrutiny’ is over and the committee can be prayed in aid of whatever emerges. Not a happy prospect either way.