On fat ladies and Kenneth Wolstenhome


I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but I am less than impressed by the seemingly premature crowing about how the Energy Bill is ‘now in the statute books’, and that ‘the way is now open for new market arrangements.’ It’s true that the Bill now has royal assent but a quick look at what is in the statute books will underline just how far off we really are from the entrance of the eponymous singing fat lady.

A good way to describe what is now down on paper is to imagine the Bill (sorry, Act) as a wardrobe; it looks OK from the outside but if there are no coathangers on the rails once you open the door. And so you can hardly say that it performs the essential functions of a wardrobe. And as far as the Energy Act is concerned there are precious few hangers currently in evidence. This is because of the extraordinarily high count of consequent pieces of secondary legislation written into it – clauses that require the practicalities of what has been outlined (often in very rudimentary terms) to be set out in Orders. And these Orders will either have to be laid down on the Parliamentary order paper and (hopefully) not objected to, or, more seriously, will be subject to finding an afternoon in a committee room to debate and agree a raft of secondary measures.

The to do list now numbers no less than seventeen affirmative resolutions (the afternoon’s debate) and twenty-three negative resolutions, some of which may need to be fully debated depending on other parts of the Act. Subjects in the queue for debate include: how the Secretary of State is going to decide on a decarbonisation target; the carbon intensity of electricity generation; how to make electricity capacity regulations; the capacity agreements themselves; how auctions are carried out; the settlement body that will oversee them; a huge raft of regulations relating to CfD investment contracts and payments; how to make renewable obligation transitional arrangements; what emission performance standards will consist of; arrangements for altering licences… In short, most of the meaty content of the Act.

Some of this to do list is, of course, bound by time constraints, so one might imagine that some of the entries will need to be on the statute books by the end of the year at the latest. This means that there remain fewer full weeks in the Parliamentary calendar than resolutions that need to be laid down. And this is certainly true as far as affirmative resolutions are concerned; there is roughly one committee session for every eight sitting days up to the end of the year.

That is if they have been written, of course, and the first week back has gone by without anything appearing. So I wish the put-upon scribes and drafters below DECC bon voyage. The only saving thought is that there seems to be very little primary legislation now going through the House because members of the coalition are increasingly vetoing each other’s pieces of pet legislation. And because of this no secondary legislation will appear to compete with the needs of the Energy Act.

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