New Energy Bill Is A Disaster

  • Date: 23/05/12

London, 23 May: With the publication of its draft Energy Bill, the government has announced its intention to reverse the course of energy deregulation.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation warns that any attempt to turn back the clock to the dark period of centralised energy planning will not only damage Britain’s economy, but will almost certainly end in failure, just like other attempts to impose a centralised system of energy controls have failed in the past.

Nigel Lawson, the GWPF’s Chairman, who as Energy Secretary was the architect of Britain’s energy market deregulation in the 1980s, warned:

“The Energy Bill constitutes a disastrous move towards a centrally planned energy economy with a high level of control over which forms of energy generation will be favoured and which will be stifled. The government even seeks to regulate the prices and profits of energy generation.”

The government bases the case for green – and more expensive – energy in large part on the assumption that gas prices will significantly rise in the future. This argument is no longer credible in the light of the growing international abundance of shale gas, not to mention the likely shale gas potential in Britain itself.

North American gas prices have dropped from $15 per million British thermal units to below $2 in just 7 years. This price collapse is an indication of things to come in Europe, once its own vast shale deposits are allowed to be extracted.

“At a time when most major economies are gradually returning to cheap and abundant fossil fuels, mainly in form of coal and natural gas, Britain alone seems prepared to sacrifice its economic competitiveness and recovery by opting for the most expensive forms of energy,” said Dr Benny Peiser, the GWPF’s director.

In any case, the complex and inconsistent measures of the draft Energy Bill are unlikely to provide investors with the certainty they require to make substantial investments.

The proposed contracts for difference (CfDs) are extremely complex and convoluted. Neither the profit guarantees offered for different technologies nor the duration of CfDs is known. The government has not provided any numbers and price guarantees for its favoured green technologies. Investors are therefore thrown into limbo since they cannot calculate whether expensive renewables or nuclear reactors are viable and can compete with less expensive conventional power plants.

This lack of clarity will inevitably lead to constant government amendments and continual intervention, which will act as additional barriers to new entrants in the UK electricity market.

In light of government indecision and investors’ uncertainty, the Energy Bill proposes to give the Secretary of State the exclusive authority to offer green energy companies ‘letters of comfort,’ promising them that they will be guaranteed profits once the specifics of CfDs are finalised and introduced. This is both arbitrary and unconstitutional.

Moreover, it is doubtful that what is proposed is actually workable, let alone economically viable. After all, similar interventions in the past have proved inept and uneconomic. They will almost certainly prove to be highly unpopular when the costs of these measures are reflected in energy bills.