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On the way to a smart, flexible GB energy system? Part 1 (overview and storage)

Things may be starting to move a bit faster in the world of GB energy policy after what you could be forgiven for thinking was a Brexit-induced slowdown. On 24 July 2017, the UK government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the energy regulator Ofgem published a number of documents that reveal their evolving thinking about the future of the GB electricity system. These publications followed on from some significant initiatives by Ofgem and National Grid. This is the first of series of posts assessing where all this activity may be leading.

The full holiday reading list from 24 July was as follows.

Other recent official publications that are relevant in this context and referred to below include:

Overview

The Response and the Plan cover a broad range of subjects; many of the other documents are rather more monothematic. We will follow the topic headings in the Response, referring to the other documents where they are relevant. However, it is helpful to start by framing some of the key themes underlying this area of policy by turning to the Pöyry / Imperial Report.

The CCC has recommended that in order to achieve the ultimate objective of the Climate Change Act 2008 (reducing UK greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050), the carbon intensity of the power sector should fall from 350 gCO2/kWh to about 100 gCO2/kWh by 2030.  Pöyry / Imperial observe that in any future low carbon electricity system, “we should anticipate:

  • a much higher penetration of low-carbon generation with a significant increase in variable renewable sources including wind and solar and demand growth driven by electrification of segments of heat and transport sectors;
  • growth in the capacity of distribution connected flexibility resource;
  • an increased ‘flexibility’ requirement to ensure the system can efficiently maintain secure and stable operation in a lower carbon system;
  • opportunities to deploy energy storage facilities at both transmission and distribution levels; and
  • an expansion in the provision and use of demand-side response across all sectors of the economy.

System flexibility, by which we mean the ability to adjust generation or consumption in the presence of network constraints to maintain a secure system operation for reliable service to consumers, will be the key enabler of this transformation to a cost-effective low-carbon electricity system. There are several flexibility resource options available including highly flexible thermal generation, energy storage, demand side response and cross-border interconnection to other systems.”.

This explains why technologies and mechanisms that can increase system flexibility are a dominant theme in current GB electricity sector policy-making. But Pöyry / Imperial then go on to discuss the extent of the uncertainty that, based on their modelling, they consider exists about how much the main types of flexible resource may be needed on the way to achieving the CCC’s target. This is clearly shown in the table, reproduced below, setting out their assessment of “the required range of additional capacity of different flexible technologies to efficiently meet 2030 carbon intensity targets”.

With the exception of interconnectors, the table shows the amounts of each flexible technology in the low and high scenarios, at each of the three dates, varying by a factor of 5 or more. As regards interconnectors, an illustration of the potential uncertainties in the different scenarios modelled by National Grid in FES 2017 is provided by the two FES 2017 charts below.


Source: National Grid, FES 2017


Source: National Grid, FES 2017

The need for more flexible resources is clear, and Pöyry / Imperial calculate that integrating them successfully, as compared to the use of “conventional thermal generation based sources of flexibility”, could save between £3.2 billion and £4.7 billion a year in a system meeting the CCC’s 2030 target.  But it is also clear that there are many different possible pathways that could be followed to achieve this level of flexibility, and that even if we get to 100 gCO2/kWh by 2030 – which is by no means guaranteed – there will inevitably be, at least relatively speaking, “winners” and “losers” in terms of which flexible technologies, and which individual projects, end up taking a greater or lesser share of what could be loosely called the “flexibility market”.

What will determine who wins or loses out most in this competition will be the same factors as have driven changes in the generation mix in the UK and elsewhere in recent years – in particular, the interplay of regulation and technological change.  In 2016, as compared with 2010, the UK consumed 37% less power generated from fossil fuels and more than twice as much power generated from renewable sources: see the latest Digest of UK Energy Statistics. That shift is the result of subsidies for renewable generating capacity and reductions in the cost of wind and solar plants combined with other regulatory measures that have added to the costs of conventional generators. But whereas in the initial stages of decarbonising the generating mix, the relationship between regulatory cause and market impact has been relatively straightforward, making policy to encourage flexible resources is more complex: it is like a puzzle where each piece put in place changes the shapes of the others.

This is perhaps why the actions recommended by Pöyry / Imperial as having a high priority, summarised below, all sound difficult and technical, and require a large amount of collaboration.

Pöyry / Imperial recommended high priority actions for the flexibility roadmap (emphasis added)
Action Responsible Time frame
Publish a strategy for developing the longer-term roles and responsibilities of system operators (including transitional arrangements) that incentivises system operators to access all flexibility resource by making investments and operational decisions that maximise total system benefits. Ofgem in conjunction with industry 2018
Periodical review of existing system planning and operational standards for networks and generation, assessing whether they provide a level-playing field to all technologies including active network management and non-build solutions (e.g. storage and DSR), and revise these standards as appropriate. Industry codes governance and Ofgem Initial review by 2019
Review characteristics of current procurement processes (e.g. threshold capacity level to participate, contract terms / obligations) and the procurement route (e.g. open market, auctioning or competitive tendering) that enable more efficient procurement of services without unduly restricting the provision of multiple services by flexibility providers. Ofgem in conjunction with SO, TOs and DSOs By 2020
Assess the materiality of distortions to investment decisions in the current network charging methodology (e.g. lack of locational charging, double-charging for stored electricity), and reform charging methodology where appropriate. SO, DSOs and Ofgem By 2020
Assess the materiality of distortions to investment decisions in the absence of non-network system integration charging (i.e. back up capacity and ancillary services) and implement charging where appropriate SO, DSOs and Ofgem By 2020
Publish annual projections (in each year) of longer-term future procurement requirements across all flexibility services including indication of the level of uncertainty involved and where possible location specific requirements, to provide greater visibility over future demand of flexibility services SO and DSOs 2020 onwards

Storage

We looked at the current issues facing the UK energy storage sector and recent market developments in some detail in a recent post, so we will not dwell too much on the background here.

Storage – conceptually if not yet in practice – is the nearest thing there is to a “killer app” in the world of flexible resources.  It has the potential to be an important asset class on a standalone basis, but it can also be combined with other technologies (from solar to CCGT) to add value to them by enabling their output to match better the requirements of end users and the system operator.

In GB, as in a number of other jurisdictions, there is intense interest in developing distributed storage projects based on battery technology (for the moment at least, predominantly of the lithium ion variety), and a strong focus on doing so in a way that allows projects to access multiple revenue streams. There is also a general feeling that the regulatory regime needs to do more to recognise storage as a distinct activity but at the same time to do less to discriminate against it in various ways.

So, what do the Response and the Plan tell us about the vision for storage?

  • The Response points to National Grid’s SNaPS work, “which specifically considers improving transparency and reducing the complexity of ancillary services”.
  • It also points to work that has been done and/or is ongoing to clarify how storage can be co-located with subsidised renewable electricity generating projects and to provide guidance on the process of connecting storage to the grid. BEIS / Ofgem note that they see no reason why a network operator should not “promote storage…in a connection queue if it has the objective of helping others…to connect more quickly or cheaply”, and point out that Ofgem can penalise DNOs who fail to provide evidence that they are engaging with and responding to the needs of connection stakeholders.
  • BEIS / Ofgem highlight the proposals in the TCR Consultation on reducing the burden faced by storage in terms of network charges, notably the removal of demand residual charges at transmission and distribution level, and reducing BSUoS charges, for storage. A response to that consultation is to be published “in the summer”.
  • In relation to behind the meter storage, BEIS / Ofgem observe that at present: “technology costs and the limited availability of Time of Use (ToU)/smart tariffs are greater barriers…than policy or regulatory issues”. This may invite the response from some readers that it is precisely a matter for policy and regulation to promote time of use / smart tariffs: the CEPA Report makes interesting reading in this context.
  • BEIS / Ofgem “agree with the view expressed by many respondents” that network operators should be prevented from directly owning and operating storage” whilst slightly fudging the extent to which this may already be the case as a result of existing EU-based rules on the unbundling of generation from network operation, but “noting” the current EU proposals in the November 2016 Clean Energy Package to prohibit ownership of storage by network operators except in very limited circumstances and with a derogation from the Member State.
  • Flexible connections “should be made available at both transmission and distribution level”.
  • BEIS / Ofgem agree that the lack of a legal definition or regulatory categorisation of storage is a barrier to its deployment. Legislation will be introduced to “define storage as a distinct subset of generation”. This will enable Ofgem to introduce a new licence for storage before the changes to primary legislation are made. The “subset of generation” approach will also “avoid unnecessary duplication of regulation while still allowing specific regulations to be determined for storage assets” – such as whether the threshold for requiring national rather than local planning consent should be the same for storage as for other forms of generation.
  • The prospect of storage facilities benefiting, as generation, from relief from the climate change levy is also noted – although since the principal such relief (for electricity generated from renewable sources) no longer applies, this may be of limited use to most projects.

What the Response says about storage is typical of its approach to most of the issues raised in the CFE. If one wanted to be critical, it could be said that although, on the whole, BEIS / Ofgem engage with all the points raised by stakeholders, there is rarely an immediate and decisive answer to them: there is always another workstream somewhere else that has not yet concluded that holds out the prospect of something better than they can offer at present. On the other hand, perhaps that just highlights the points implicit in the Pöyry / Imperial Report’s recommendations: no one body can by itself create all the conditions for flexibility to be delivered cost-effectively, and it will be difficult fully to judge the success of the agenda that BEIS and Ofgem are pursuing for another two or three years.

But wait a minute.  On the same day as it issued the Response and the Plan, BEIS also published the CM Consultation. The sections of the Response on storage say nothing about this document, but it is potentially the most significant regulatory development in relation to storage for some time.

  • The Capacity Market is meant to be “technology neutral”. Above a 2 MW threshold, any provider of capacity (on the generation or demand side) that is not in receipt of renewable or CCC subsidies can bid for a capacity agreement in a Capacity Auction that is held one year or four years ahead of when (if successful) they may be called on to provide capacity when National Grid declares a System Stress Event.
  • A key part of the calculations of any prospective bidder in the Capacity Market, particularly one considering a new build project, who is hoping that payments under a capacity agreement will partly fund its development expenses, is the de-rating factor that National Grid applies – the amount by which each MW of each bidding unit’s nameplate capacity is discounted when comparing the amount of capacity left in the auction at the end of each round against the total amount of capacity to be procured, represented by the demand curve. Some of the de-rating factors applied in the 2016 T-4 Auction are set out below.
Technology class Description De-rating Factor
Storage Conversion of imported electricity into a form of energy which can be stored, the storing of the energy which has been so converted and the re-conversion of the stored energy into electrical energy. Includes pumped storage hydro stations. 96.29%
OCGT / recip Gas turbines running in open cycle fired mode.
Reciprocating engines not used for autogeneration.
94.17%
CCGT Combined Cycle Gas Turbine plants 90.00%
DSR Demand side response 86.88%
Hydro Generating Units driven by water, other than such units: (a) driven by tidal flows, waves, ocean currents or geothermal sources; or (b) which form part of a Storage Facility. 86.16%
Nuclear Nuclear plants generating electricity 84.36%
Interconnectors IFA, Eleclink, BritNED, NEMO, Moyle, EWIC, IFA2, NSL (project specific de-rating factors for each interconnector) 26.00% to 78.00%
  • In the table above, storage has, for example, a de-rating factor approximately 10 percentage points higher than DSR and hydro and, if successful at auction, would receive correspondingly higher remuneration per MW of nameplate capacity than those technologies.
  • The typical potential storage project competitor in the Capacity Market is now more likely to be a shed full of batteries than a pumped hydro station. This has prompted industry participants to question whether such a high de-rating factor is appropriate to all storage. Ofgem, in considering changes to the Capacity Market Rules proposed by stakeholders, declined to take a view on this, deferring to BEIS.
  • BEIS, in the CM Consultation, finds merit in the arguments that (i) System Stress Events may last longer than the period for which a battery is capable of discharging power without re-charging; (ii) batteries degrade over time, so that their performance is not constant; (iii) a battery that is seeking to maximise its revenues from other sources may not be fully charged at the start of a System Stress Event. It proposes to take these points into account when setting de-rating factors for the next Capacity Auction (scheduled to take place in January 2017, and for which pre-qualification is ongoing), and splitting storage into a series of different categories based on the length of time for which they can discharge without re-charging (bands measured in half-hourly increments from 30 minutes to 4 hours). Bidders will be invited in due course to “self-select” which duration-based band they fall into.
  • Of course, deterioration in performance over time is not unique to batteries – other technologies may also perform less well by the end of the 15 year period of a new build capacity agreement than they did at the start. And, as with other technologies, such effects can be mitigated: batteries can be replaced, and who knows by what cheaper and better products by the late 2020s. However, a fundamental difficulty with the CM Consultation is that it contains an outline description of a methodology, based around the concept of Equivalent Firm Capacity, but no indicative values for the new de-rating factors.
  • It may be that BEIS’s concerns about battery performance have been heightened by the fact that the parameters for the next Capacity Market auctions show that it is seeking to procure an additional 6 GW of capacity in the T-1 auction (i.e. for delivery in 2018). There is reason to suppose that battery projects could make a strong showing in this auction, given their relatively quick construction period and the number of projects in the market, some of which may already have other “stacked” revenues (see our earlier post). Clearly it would be undesirable if a significant tranche of the T-1 auction capacity agreements was awarded to battery storage projects which then failed to perform as required in a System Stress Event.
  • It is arguable that the three potential drawbacks of battery projects are not necessarily all best dealt with by de-rating. For example, the risk that a battery is not adequately charged at the start of a System Stress Event is ultimately one for the project’s operator to manage, given that it will face penalties for non-delivery. Nor is it only battery storage projects that access multiple revenue streams and may find themselves without sufficient charge to fulfil their Capacity Market obligations on occasion: pumped hydro projects do not operate only in the Capacity Market, and even though they may be able to generate power for well over four hours, they too cannot operate indefinitely without “recharging”.  Moreover, National Grid is meant to give 4 hours’ notice of a System Stress Event, which may provide battery projects with some opportunity to prepare themselves.
  • However, the real objection to the de-rating proposal is not that it is not addressing a potentially real problem, but that it is only doing so now – given that the issue was raised by stakeholders proposing Capacity Market Rules changes at least as long ago as November 2016 – and with no published numbers for consultees to comment on.
  • The de-rating proposal illustrates a fundamental feature of the flexible resources policy space: one technology’s problems provide an up-side for competing technologies. Self-evidently, what may be bad news for batteries is good news for other storage technologies to the extent that they are not perceived to have the same drawbacks.
  • Seen in this light, the CM Consultation appears to be the main (perhaps only) example of a policy measure that supports the “larger, grid-scale” storage projects (using e.g. pumped hydro or compressed air technology) about which the Response has relatively little to say. However, a few percentage points more or less on de-rating may not make up for the lack of e.g. the “cap and floor” regulated revenue stream advocated by some for such projects.

In Part 2 of this series we will focus on the role of aggregators (featuring the analysis in the CRA Report on independent aggregators) and the demand-side more generally.

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On the way to a smart, flexible GB energy system? Part 1 (overview and storage)

Strong and stable, or storing up trouble? The outlook for energy storage projects in the UK

While strength and stability have taken rhetorical centre stage in the run-up to the UK’s snap General Election on 8 June, the GB energy system faces radical uncertainty on a number of fronts at a time when its stakeholders need it least. So far, the main election focus on energy has inevitably been price caps for household gas and electricity bills. But once the excitements of the campaign and polling day are over, the new government will need to make up for lost time on some less potentially vote-grabbing issues that are central to the continued health of the GB energy sector. None of these is more pressing than how to respond to the possibilities opened up by energy storage technology.

This post will summarise the benefits of energy storage as an enabler of system flexibility, look at the technology options and market factors in play and consider both some of the practical issues faced by developers and the regulatory challenges that – General Election and Brexit notwithstanding – urgently need to be addressed by the government and/or the sector regulator Ofgem.

Benefits of energy storage

The most widely cited benefit of energy storage is the ability to address the intermittency challenge of renewable sources. For more than 100 years, the general lack of bulk power storage in the GB electricity system (other than a small amount of pumped hydro capacity) did not matter. Fluctuations in demand could easily be met by adjusting the amount of power produced by centralised fossil fuel plant that generally had fairly high utilisation rates. But in a power industry transformed by the rise of wind and solar technology, things are different. As a greater proportion of the generating mix is made up of technologies that cannot be turned on and off at will, often in areas where grid capacity is limited, storage offers the possibility that large amounts of power could be consumed hours or days after it is generated, reducing the otherwise inevitable mismatch between consumers’ demands for electricity and the times when the sun is out, the wind is blowing or the waves are in motion.

In a world that increasingly wants to use low carbon sources of electricity which are inherently less easy to match to fluctuations in demand than fossil fuelled generation, storage reintroduces an important element of flexibility. More specific advantages of energy storage range across value chain.

  • For generators, power generated at times of low demand (or when system congestion makes export impossible) can be stored and sold (more) profitably when demand is high, exploiting opportunities for arbitrage in the wholesale market and potentially also earning higher revenues in balancing markets. But storage does not just help wind and solar power. It can also help plants using thermal technologies that work most efficiently operating as baseload (such as combined cycle gas turbines or nuclear plants), but which may not find it economic to sell all their power at the time it is generated. Even peaking plants can use storage to their advantage by avoiding the need to waste fuel in standby mode (using e.g. battery power to cover the period in which they start up in response to demand).
  • For transmission system operators and distribution network operators, energy storage can mitigate congestion, defer the need for investment in network reinforcement and help to maintain the system in balance and operating within its designated frequency parameters by providing a range of ancillary or balancing services such as frequency response.
  • For end users, particularly those with some capacity to generate their own power, and providers of demand-side response services who aggregate end users into “virtual power plants”, energy storage can increase household or business self-consumption rates. And in a world of tariffs differentiated by time of use (enabled by smart metering), storage opens up the possibility of retail-level arbitrage or peak shaving: buying power when it is cheaper (because not many people want it) and storing it for use it at times when it would be more expensive to get it from the grid (because everybody wants to use it).

What could all that mean in practice? Estimates in National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios 2016 suggest that over the next 25 years, deployment of storage in the UK could grow at least as rapidly as deployment of renewables has grown over the last 20 years. Also in 2016 the Carbon Trust and Imperial College London published a study that modelled the implementation of storage and other flexible technologies across the electricity system, and showed projected savings of between £17 billion and £40 billion between now and 2050. In a consultation published in May 2017, distribution network operator Western Power Distribution (WPD) invited comment on its proposed planning assumptions for the growth of storage in GB from its current capacity of 2.7 GW (all pumped hydro plants): these are a “low growth” scenario that anticipates 4-5 GW (6-15 GWh) by 2030 and a “high growth” scenario of 10-12 GW (24-44 GWh) by that date. Growth of storage at that higher rate would see it outstripping or close to matching current government estimates for the development of new gas-fired or nuclear generation, or new interconnection capacity over the same period. (Although it should be noted that the government’s own projections for the growth of storage are more in line with WPD’s low growth scenario: see this helpful analysis by Carbon Brief.)

Technology options

As is the case in Europe and the rest of the world, energy storage in the UK is currently mostly supplied by pumped hydropower plants, which account for almost all storage capacity and are connected to the transmission system. Until very recently, the much less frequently deployed technique of compressed air energy storage (CAES) was the only other commercially available technology for large-scale electricity storage. The two technologies are similar in that both use cheap electricity to put a readily available fluid (water or air) into a state (up a mountain or under pressure) from which it can be released so as to flow through a turbine and generate power. They differ in that pumped hydro requires a specific mountainous topography, whereas CAES can use a variety of geologies (including salt caverns, depleted oil and gas fields and underground aquifers).

But it is batteries that are currently attracting the keenest investor interest in storage. There are many different battery technologies competing for investment and market penetration. Those based on sodium nickel chloride or sodium sulphur have made advances, but most storage attention surrounds batteries based on lithium-ion structures, also the battery of choice for the electric car industry, where competition has driven down costs. Just before the General Election got under way, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced £246 million of funding for the development and manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles. Electric car batteries need to be able to deliver a surge of power far more rapidly than those deployed in the wider power sector: in Germany, car manufacturers are already exploring the use of electric car batteries that no longer up to automotive specifications in grid-based applications. In the North East of England, distribution network company Northern Powergrid is collaborating with Nissan to look at how integration of electric vehicles can improve network capacity, rather than just placing increased demands on the grid.

The cost of batteries has come down because of improvements in both battery chemistry and manufacturing processes, as well as the economies of scale associated with higher manufacturing volumes such as with Tesla and Panasonic’s new battery Gigafactory in Nevada. Underlining rising global expectations about low cost and set-up time for battery production, in March 2017 Tesla’s Elon Musk offered to build a 100 MWh battery plant in Australia within 100 days, or to give the system away for free if delivery took any longer.

Batteries are ideally suited to many applications, but they also have some drawbacks. They are less good at providing sustained levels of power over long periods of discharge, and on a really large scale, than CAES or pumped hydro. The non-battery technologies also have other selling points. For example, CAES also has a unique ability, when combined with a combined cycle gas turbine, to reduce the amount of fuel it uses by at least a third. Given the likelihood that the UK power system will continue to need a significant amount of new large-scale gas fired plant, even as it decarbonises, and given the current slow development of carbon capture and storage technology, the potential reduction in both the costs and the carbon footprint of new gas-fired power that CAES offers is well worth consideration by both developers and government. Finally, as regards future alternative technology options, hydrogen storage and fuel cells are the subject of significant research efforts and funding. Most enticing from a decarbonisation perspective, is the prospect of electrolysing water with electricity generated from renewables to produce “green hydrogen”, which can then be used to generate clean power with the same level of flexibility as methane is at present.

Models and market factors

In the abstract, it might be thought that energy storage projects could be categorised into five basic business models:

  • integrated generator services: storage as a dedicated means of time-shifting the export of power generated from specific generating plants (renewable, nuclear or conventional), with which the storage facility may or may not be co-located, and so optimising the marketing of their power (and in some cases, where there are grid constraints, enabling more power to be generated, and ultimately exported, than would otherwise be the case);
  • system operator services: providing frequency response and other ancillary or balancing services to National Grid in its role as System Operator (and potentially, in the future, to a distribution system operator that is required to maintain balance at distribution level): a distinction can be made between “reserve” and “response” services, the latter involving very quick reaction to instructions designed to ensure frequency or voltage control;
  • network investment: enabling distribution networks to operate more efficiently and economically, for example by avoiding the need for conventional network reinforcement. This was notably successfully demonstrated by the 6 MW battery at Leighton Buzzard built by UK Power Networks (UKPN). The results of WPD’s Project FALCON were a little more equivocal, but it is trying again, using Tesla batteries to test a range of applications at sites in the South West, South Wales and the East Midlands);
  • merchant model: a standalone storage facility making the most of opportunities to buy power at low prices and sell it at high prices, with no tie to particular generators, and perhaps underpinned by Capacity Market payments (see further below);
  • “behind the meter”: enabling consumers to reduce their energy costs (retail level arbitrage or peak shaving, as noted above, as well as maximising use of on-site generation where this is cheaper than electricity from the grid).

These models are far from being mutually exclusive. Indeed, at present, they are best thought of as simply representing different categories of potential revenue streams: the majority of storage projects will need to access more than one of these streams in order to be viable. Some will opt to do so through contracts with an aggregator, for whom a relationship with generation or consumption sites with storage, particularly if they have a degree of operational control over the storage facility, offers an additional dimension of flexibility.

In the short term, the largest revenue opportunity may be the provision of grid services. The need for a fast response to control frequency variations is likely to increase in the future as a result of the loss of coal-fired plant from the system.

Growing interest in energy storage also owes much to the decline in the UK greenfield renewables market, with the push factor of the removal or drastic reduction of subsidies previously available for new renewable energy projects and the pull factor of the battery revolution. According to a report published in May 2017 by SmartestEnergy, an average of 275 solar, wind and other renewable projects were completed in each quarter between 2013 and the last quarter of 2016, when the figure plummeted to 38. Only 21 renewable projects were completed in the first quarter of 2017.

So why, when UKPN, for example, report that between September 2015 and December 2016 they processed connection applications from 600 prospective storage providers for 12 GW of capacity, is the amount of battery capacity so far connected only in the tens of MW?

Tenders and auctions

It may help to begin by looking at another very specific factor that drove this extraordinary level of interest in a technology that had been so little deployed to date. This was National Grid’s first Enhanced Frequency Response (EFR) tender, which took place in August 2016. A survey by SmartestEnergy, carried out just before the results of the tender were announced, found that 70 percent of respondents intending to develop battery projects in the near future were anticipating that ancillary services would be their main source of revenue.

National Grid were aiming to procure 200 MW of very fast response services. Although “technology neutral”, the tender was presented as an opportunity for battery storage providers and as expected, storage, and specifically batteries, dominated. All but three of the 64 assets underlying the 223 bids from 37 providers were battery units. Perhaps less expected were the prices of the winning bids: some as low as £7/MWh and averaging £9.44/MWh. The weighted price of all bids was £20.20/MWh.

This highly competitive tender gave the UK energy storage market a £65 million boost. The pattern of bids suggested that alongside renewables developers and aggregators, some existing utilities are keen to establish themselves in the storage market, and are prepared to leverage their lower cost of capital and accept a low price in order to establish a first mover advantage.

Independent developers who regard storage as a key future market might also have been bullish in their calculations of long-term income while accepting lower revenues in the near term to compete in a crowded arena. For all bidders, one of the key attractions was the EFR contract’s four-year term, which makes a better fit with their expectations of how long it will take to recoup their initial investment than the shorter duration of most of National Grid’s other contracts for balancing / ancillary services.

Aspiring battery storage providers also responded enthusiastically to the regular four year ahead (T-4) Capacity Market (CM) auction when it took place for the third time in December 2016. To judge from the Register for the T-4 2016 auction, some 120 battery projects, with over 2 GW of capacity between them, were put forward for prequalification in this auction. (This assumes that all the new build capacity market units (CMUs) described as made up of “storage units” and not obviously forming part of pumped hydro facilities were battery-based.) Although almost two-thirds of these proposed CMUs are described on the relevant CM register as either “not prequalified” or “rejected”, of the remaining 33 battery projects, no fewer than 31 projects, representing over 500 MW of capacity between them, went on to win capacity agreements in the auction.

There are a number of points to be made in connection with these results.

  • Taking the CM and EFR together, the range of parties interested in batteries is noteworthy, as is the diversity of motivations they may have for their interest.  It includes grid system operators (UKPN), utilities (EDF Energy, Engie, E.ON, Centrica), renewables developers (RES, Element Power, Push Energy, Belectric), storage operators, aggregators / demand side response providers (KiWi Power, Limejump, Open Energi) and end-users, as well as new players who seem to be particularly focused on storage (Camborne Energy Storage, Statera Energy, Grid Battery Storage).
  • Developers of battery projects are evidently confident that the periods during which they may be called on to meet their obligations to provide capacity by National Grid will not exceed the length of time during which they can continuously discharge their batteries – in other words, that the technical parameters of their equipment do not put them at an unacceptable risk of incurring penalties for non-delivery under the CM Rules: a point that some had questioned.
  • The CM Rules are stricter than those of the EFR tender as regards requiring projects to have planning permission, grid connection and land rights in place as a condition of participating in the auction process. This is presumably one reason why fewer battery projects ended up qualifying to compete in the T-4 auction as compared with the EFR tender.
  • For batteries linked to renewable electricity generation schemes that benefit from renewables subsidy schemes such as the Renewables Obligation (RO), the EFR tender was an option, but the CM was not, since CM Rules prohibit the doubling up of CM and renewables support. So, for example, the 22 MW of batteries to be installed at Vattenfall’s 221 MW RO-accredited Pen-y-Cymoedd wind farm was successful in the EFR tender but would presumably not have been eligible to compete in the CM.
  • Accordingly, CM projects tend to be designed to operate quite independently of any renewable generating capacity with which they happen to share a grid connection. But some of these projects are located on farms that might have hosted large solar arrays when subsidies were readily available for them. Green Hedge, four of whose projects were successful in the T-4 2016 CM auction, has even developed a battery-based storage package called The Energy BarnTM. Others CM storage projects are located on the kind of industrial site that might otherwise be hosting a small gas-fired peaking plant. UK Power Reserve (as UK Energy Reserve), which has been very successful with such plants in all the T-4 auctions to date, won CM support for batteries at 12 such locations.
  • The Capacity Market may be less lucrative than EFR, measured on a per MW basis, but it offers the prospect of even longer contracts: up to 15 years for new build projects.
  • Batteries are still a fairly new technology. The clearing price of Capacity Market auctions has so far been set by small-scale gas- or diesel-fired generating units using well established technology. In a T-4 auction, the CMUs, by definition, do not have to be delivering capacity until four years later – although the Capacity Market Rules oblige successful bidders to enter into contracts for their equipment, and reach financial close, within 16 months of the auction results being announced. Other things being equal (which they may not be: see next bullet), it will clearly be advantageous to developers if they can arrange that the prices they pay for their batteries are closer to those prevailing in 2020 than in 2016. It has been pointed out that although internationally, battery prices may have fallen by up to 24 percent in 2016, the depreciation of Sterling over the same period means that the full benefit of these cost reductions may not yet be accessible to UK developers.
  • The proportion of prequalified battery-based CMUs that were successful in the T-4 2016 CM auction was remarkably high. But may not have been basing their financial models solely or even primarily on CM revenues. In addition to EFR and other National Grid ancillary services, such as Short Term Operating Reserve or Fast Reserve, and possible arbitrage revenues, it is likely that at least some projects were anticipating earning money by exporting power onto the distribution network during “Triad” periods. This “embedded benefit” would enable them to earn or share in the payments under the transmission charging regime that have been the main source of revenue for small-scale distributed generators bidding in the CM, enabling them to set the auction clearing price at a low level and prompting a re-evaluation of this aspect of transmission charges by Ofgem. From Ofgem’s March 2017 consultation on the subject, it looks as if these payments will be drastically scaled down over the period 2018 to 2020. This may give some developers a powerful incentive to deploy their batteries early (notwithstanding the potential cost savings of waiting until 2020 to do so) so as to benefit from this source of revenue while it lasts. Those who compete in subsequent CM auctions may find that the removal of this additional revenue leads to the CM auctions clearing at a higher price.
  • As with EFR, some developers may be out to buy first mover advantage, and most already have a portfolio of other assets and/or sources of revenue outside the CM. But what they are doing is not without risk, since the penalties for not delivering a CMU (£10,000, £15,000 or £35,000 / MW, depending on the circumstances) are substantial.
  • Meanwhile, a sure sign of the potential for batteries to disrupt the status quo can be seen in the fact that Scottish Power has proposed a change to the CM Rules that would apply a lower de-rating factor to batteries for CM purposes than to its own pumped hydro plant.

Finally, one other tender process, that took place for the first time in 2016, could point the way to another income stream for future projects. National Grid and distribution network operator Western Power Distribution co-operated to procure a new ancillary service of Demand Turn Up (DTU).

The idea is to increase demand for power, or reduce generation, at times when there is excess generation – typically overnight (in relation to wind) and on Summer weekends (in relation to solar). DTU is one of the services National Grid use to ensure that at such times there is sufficient “footroom” or “negative reserve”, defined as the “continuous requirement to have resources available on the system which can reduce their power output or increase their demand from the grid at short notice”.

National Grid reports that over the summer of 2016, the service was used 323 times, with “10,800 MWh called with an average utilisation price of £61.41/MWh”. The procurement process can take account of factors other than the utilisation and availability fees bid, notably location. Successful tenders in the 2017 procurement had utilisation fees as high as £75/MWh.

At present, the procurement process for DTU does not appear to allow for new storage projects to compete in DTU tenders, but once they have become established, they should be well placed to do so, given their ability to provide demand as well as generation. They could be paid by National Grid to soak up cheap renewable power when there is little other demand for it. If National Grid felt able to procure DTU or similar services further in advance of when they were to be delivered, the tenders could have the potential to provide a more direct stimulus to new storage projects.

Battery bonanza?

Those who have been successful in the EFR or CM processes can begin to “stack” revenues from a number of income streams. And the more revenues you already have, the more aggressively you can bid in future tenders (for example for other ancillary services) to supplement them.

But even if all the projects that were successful in the EFR and CM processes go ahead, they will still represent only a small fraction of those that have been given connection offers. Moreover, it looks as if the merchant and ancillary services models are the only ones making significant headway at present.  Why are we not seeing more storage projects integrated with renewables coming forward, for example? Why, to quote Tim Barrs, head of energy storage sales for British Gas, has battery storage “yet to achieve the widespread ‘bankable status’ that we saw with large-scale solar PV”?

Technology tends to become bankable when it has been deployed more often than batteries coupled with renewables have so far in GB. But even to make a business case to an equity investor, a renewables project with storage needs to show that over a reasonable timeframe the additional revenues that the storage enables the project to capture exceed the additional costs of installing the storage. What are these costs, over and above the costs of the batteries and associated equipment?  What does it take to add storage to an existing renewable generating project, or one for which development rights have already been acquired and other contractual arrangements entered into?

  • The configuration and behaviour of any storage facility co-located with subsidised renewable generation must not put the generator’s accreditation for renewable subsidies at risk because of e.g. a battery’s ability to absorb and re-export power from the grid that has not been generated by its associated renewable generating station. The location of meters is crucial here. According to the Solar Trade Association, only recently has Ofgem for the first time re-accredited a project under the RO after storage was added to it. While an application for re-accreditation is being considered, the issue of ROCs is suspended. Guidance has been promised which may facilitate re-accreditation for other sites. Presumably in this as in other matters, the approach for Feed-in Tariff (FIT) sites would follow the pattern set by the RO. For projects with existing Contracts for Difference (CfDs), there is no provision on energy storage. For those hoping to win a CfD in the 2017 allocation round, the government has made some changes to the contractual provisions following a consultation, but, as the government response to consultation makes clear, a number of issues still remain to be resolved.
  • An existing renewables project is also likely to have to obtain additional planning permission. There may be resistance to battery projects in some quarters. RES recently had to go to appeal to get permission for a 20 MW storage facility by an existing substation at Lookabootye after its application was refused by West Lothian Council. It will also be necessary to re-negotiate existing lease arrangements (or at least the rent payable under them), and additional cable easements may be required.
  • Unless it is proposed that the battery will take all its power from the renewable generating station (which is unlikely), it will be necessary to seek an increase in the import capacity of the project’s grid connection from the distribution network operators. Even if the developer does not require to be able to export any more power at any one time from the development as a whole, in order to charge the battery at a reasonable speed from the grid it will need a much larger import capacity than is normal for an ordinary renewable generating facility. The ease and costs of achieving this will vary depending on the position of the project relative to the transmission network. There may be grid reinforcement costs to pay for: UKPN has noted that there are few places on the network with the capacity to connect a typical storage unit without some reinforcement. They will also treat the addition of storage as a material change to an existing connection request for a project that has not yet been built, prompting the need for redesign and resulting in the project losing its place in the queue of connection applications.
  • A power purchase agreement (PPA) for a project with storage will need to address metering. For the purposes of the offtaker, output will either need to be measured on the grid side of the storage facility (the same may not be true of metering for renewable subsidy purposes), or an agreed factor will need to be applied to reflect power lost in the storage process. Secondly, in order to maximise the opportunities for arbitrage by time-shifting the export of its power, a project with storage may want more exposure to fluctuations in the wholesale market price, and even to imbalance price risk, than a traditional intermittent renewables project. The detail of how embedded benefits revenues are to be shared between generator and offtaker may also require to be adjusted if the addition of storage makes it more likely they will be captured.

For the moment, most renewables projects probably fall into one of two categories with regard to integrated storage.

  • On the one hand, there are those that are already established and receiving renewable generation subsidies, or which have been planned without storage and now simply need to commission as quickly as possible in order to secure a subsidy (for example, under RO grace period rules for onshore wind projects). For them, introducing storage into an existing project may be more trouble than it is worth for some or all of the reasons noted above. They have little incentive to deploy storage unless it is an economic way of reducing their exposure to loss of revenue as a result of grid constraints or to imbalance costs: these have been increasing following the reforms introduced by Ofgem in 2015 and will increase further as the second stage of those reforms is implemented in 2018, but for many renewable generators are a risk that is assumed by their offtakers.
  • On the other hand, for projects with no prospect of receiving renewable subsidies, it would appear that the cost of storage is not yet low enough, or the pattern of wholesale market prices sufficiently favourable to a business model built on  time-shifting and arbitrage to encourage extensive development of renewables + storage merchant model projects. If it was generally possible easily to earn back the costs of installing storage through the higher wholesale market revenues captured by – for example – time-shifting the export of power from a solar farm to periods when wholesale prices are higher than they are during peak solar generating hours, the volume and profile of successful storage + renewable projects in the CM and elsewhere would be different from what it now is.

However, battery costs will continue to fall, and wholesale prices are becoming “spikier”. It may only be a matter of time before GB’s utility-scale renewables sector, whose successful players have so far built their businesses on the predictable streams produced by RO and FIT subsidies, can get comfortable with business cases that depend more fundamentally on the accuracy of predictions about how the market, rather than the weather, will behave. Moreover, there is nothing to stop a storage facility co-located with a renewables project that has no renewable subsidy from earning a steady additional stream of income in the form of CM payments.

Arguably, the UK has missed a trick in not having adopted pump-priming incentives for combining storage with renewables, such as setting aside a part of the CfD budget for projects with integrated storage. But with the door apparently generally closed for the time being on any form of subsidy for large-scale onshore wind or solar schemes in most of GB, it is probably unrealistic to hope for any such approach to be taken in the near future.

Regulatory challenges

There are undoubtedly already significant commercial opportunities for some GB storage projects, but it does not feel as if the full power of storage to revolutionise the electricity market is about to be unleashed quite yet. This is perhaps not surprising.

Almost as eagerly awaited among those interested in storage as the results of the EFR tender was a long-promised BEIS / Ofgem Call for Evidence on how to enable a “smart, flexible energy system”, which was eventually published in November 2016. This Call for Evidence, the first of its kind, represented a significant step forward for the regulation of storage in the UK, but although it pays particular attention to storage and the barriers that storage operators may face it is not just “about” storage. It ultimately opens up questions about how well the current regulatory architecture, designed for a world of centralised and despatchable / baseload power generation, can serve an increasingly “decarbonised, distributed, digital” power sector without major reform. (At an EU level, the European Commission’s Clean Energy Package of November 2016 tries to answer some of these questions, and there is generally no shortage of thoughtful suggestions for reforming power markets, such as the recent Power 2.0 paper from UK think tank Policy Exchange, or the “Six Design Principles for the Power Markets of the Future” published by Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.)

However, whilst it is important to take a “whole system” approach, it would be unfortunate if the breadth of the issues raised by the Call for Evidence were to mean that there was any unnecessary delay in addressing the regulatory issues of most immediate concern to storage operators. Government and regulators have to start somewhere, and it is not unreasonable to start by trying to facilitate the deployment of storage since it could facilitate so many other potentially positive developments in the industry.

On 25 April Ofgem revealed that it had received 240 responses to the Call for Evidence, with around 150 responses commenting on energy storage. Barriers to the development of storage identified by respondents include the need for a definition of energy storage, clarity on the regulatory treatment of storage, and options for licensing. The response from the Energy Storage Network (ESN) offers a good insight into many of the issues of most direct concern to storage operators. Some of the other respondents who commented on storage also demonstrated an appetite for fundamental reform of network charging (described by one as “probably not fit for purpose in its current form”) and for significant shifts in the role of distribution network operators.

Interest in a definition of energy storage is unsurprising. It is arguably hard to make any regulatory provision about something if you have not defined it. But at the same time, the Institution of Engineering and Technology may well be correct when it says in its response to the Call for Evidence: “lack of a definition is not a barrier in itself…as the measures are developed to address the barriers to storage, it will become clear whether a formal definition is required and at what level…agreeing a definition should be an output of regulatory reform, not an input.”. In other words, how you define something for regulatory purposes – particularly if that thing can take a number of different forms and operate in a number of different ways – will depend in part on what rules you want to make about it.

Under current rules, energy storage facilities end up being classified, somewhat by default, as a generation activity – even though their characteristic activity does not add to the total amount of power on the system. But because storage units also draw power from the grid, they find themselves having to pay two sets of network charges – on both the import and the export – even though they are only “warehousing” the power rather than using it. Both these features of the current regulatory framework are strongly argued against by a variety of respondents to the Call for Evidence.

Treating storage as generation complicates the position for distribution network operators wishing to own storage assets. Under the current unbundling rules (which are EU-law based, but fully reflect GB policy as well), generation and network activities must be kept in separate corporate compartments. These rules are designed to prevent network operators from favouring their own sources of generation (or retail activities). The issue is potentially more acute when you have a storage asset forming part of the network company’s infrastructure and regulated asset base, but having the ability to trade on the wholesale power and ancillary services markets in its own right as well as to affect the position of other network users (by mitigating or aggravating constraints). UKPN considers that the approach it has adopted with its large battery project could provide a way around this problem for others as well – essentially distinguishing the entity that owns the asset from the entity responsible for its trading activity on the market. However, such an arrangement is not without costs and complexity, both for those involved to set up and for the regulator to monitor. The ESN has also made proposals in its response to the Call for Evidence about the conditions under which distribution network operators should be permitted to operate storage facilities.

It may be that the most useful contribution that transmission and distribution network operators could make to the development of storage would be to determine as part of their multi-year rolling network planning processes where it would be most beneficial in system terms for new storage capacity of one kind or another to be located. But the underlying question is whether at least some storage projects should be treated more as network schemes with fixed OFTO or CATO-like rates of return rather than being regarded as part of the competitive sector of the market along with generation and supply. (Similar concerns about the status of US network-based storage projects, admittedly in a slightly different regulatory environment, have been addressed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in a recent policy statement and notice of proposed rulemaking.)

If storage is not to be treated as generation or necessarily part of a network (and required to hold a generation licence where no relevant exemption applies), what is it? Should it be recognised as a new kind of function within the electricity market? In which case, the natural approach under the GB regulatory regime would be to require storage operators to be licensed as such (again, subject to any statutory exemptions). That would require primary legislation (i.e. an Act of Parliament) to achieve, at a time when Parliamentary time may be at a premium because of Brexit – and then there would need to be drafting of and consultation on licence conditions and no doubt also numerous consequential changes to the various industry-wide codes and agreements.

The ESN’s Call for Evidence response has some helpful suggestions as to what a licensing regime for storage might look like. But is the licensing model is a red herring in this context? After all, the parallel GB regulatory regime for downstream gas includes no requirement for those wishing to operate an onshore gas storage facility to hold a licence to do so under the Gas Act 1986. And it is entirely possible to trade electricity on the GB wholesale markets (a key activity for storage facilities), without holding a licence under the Electricity Act 1989 (or even engaging in an activity requiring such a licence but benefiting from an exemption from the requirement to hold a licence).

As for some of the current financial disadvantages facing storage, it is encouraging that in consulting on its Targeted Charging Review of various aspects of network charging in March 2017, Ofgem provisionally announced its view that some double charging of storage should be ended. It consulted on a number of changes that, taken together, should have the effect of ensuring that “storage is not an undue disadvantage relative to others providing the same or similar services”. However, although welcome, these Ofgem proposals so far only cover the treatment of the “residual” (larger) element of transmission network charges for demand (applicable to distribution-connected projects), in respect of storage units co-located with generation. It remains to be seen whether – and if so, what – action will be taken to deal with other problems in this area, such the payment of the “final consumption” levies that recover the costs of e.g. the RO and FIT schemes by both the storage provider and the consumer on the same electricity when a storage operator buys that electricity from a licensed supplier. Storage operators can at present only avoid this cost disadvantage if they acquire a generation licence, which does not seem a particularly rational basis for discriminating between them in this context.

Speaking in March, the head of smart energy policy at BEIS, Beth Chaudhary, said that ending the double counting of storage “might require primary legislation”, adding that Brexit has made the progress of such legislation “difficult at the moment”. The General Election has only added to concerns of momentum loss, a sense of “circling the landing strip” in the words of the Renewable Energy Association’s chief executive, Dr Nina Skorupska.

“The revolution will not be televised”…but it probably needs to be regulated

What is the storage revolution? Storage will not turn the electricity industry into a normal commodity market, like oil, overnight – or indeed ever. We will still have to balance the grid. As before, what is being exported onto the grid will need to match what is being imported from it at any given moment. It’s just that storage will provide an additional source of power to be exported onto the grid (which was generated at an earlier time) and it will also facilitate more balancing actions by those on the demand side where they have access to it. It is also likely that increased use of micro grids, with the ability to operate in “island mode” as well as interconnected with the public grid, will result in the public grid handling a smaller proportion of the power being generated and consumed at any given time.

Of course, one could look at this and say: “Fine, but what’s the hurry?”. The UK developed a renewables industry when it was still a relatively new and expensive thing to do. Thanks to the efforts made by the UK and others, renewables are now both “mainstream” and relatively cheap. Those countries that are only starting to develop sizeable renewable projects now are reaping the benefit of the cost reductions achieved by the early adopters. Would it be such a bad thing if a GB storage revolution was delayed for a year or two while other markets experiment with the technology and help it to scale up, reducing the costs that UK businesses and consumers will pay for its ultimate adoption in the UK?

After all, we have to be realistic about the number of large and difficult issues the UK government and regulators can be expected to focus on and take forward at once. Is it not more important, for example, to reach agreement with the rest of the EU on a satisfactory set of substitute arrangements for the legal mechanisms that currently govern the UK’s trade in electricity and gas with Continental Europe (and the Republic of Ireland)? In addition, the General Election manifestos of each party prioritise other contentious areas of energy policy for action, such as facilitating fracking and reducing the level of household energy bills.

We do not deny the importance of these other issues, and BEIS and Ofgem resources are, of course, finite, but we would argue that storage and the complex of “flexibility” issues to which it is central should be high on the policy agenda after 8 June in any event.

  • GB distribution network operators have already done lot of valuable work on storage, much of it funded by various Ofgem initiatives (notably the Innovation Funding Incentive, Network Innovation Allowance and Low Carbon Networks funding). This has generated a body of published learning on the subject which continues to be added to and which it would be a pity not to capitalise on as quickly as possible.
  • Depending (at least in part) on the outcome of Brexit, we may find ourselves either benefiting from significantly more interconnection with Continental European power markets, or becoming more of a “power island” compared with the rest of Europe. In either case, a strong storage sector will be an advantage. Storage can magnify the benefits of interconnection but it would also help us to optimise the use of our own generating resources if our ability to supplement them (or export their output) through physical links to other markets was limited.
  • The UK has in some respects led the world on power market reform.  We have complex, competitive markets and clever companies that have learnt how to operate in them. Looking at storage from an industrial strategy point of view, the UK is may not make its fortune after by the mass manufacture of batteries for the rest of the world, but the potential for export earnings from some of the higher value components of storage facilities, and the expertise to deploy them to maximum effect, should not be neglected.
  • On the other hand, if the UK wants to maintain its position as an attractive destination for investment in electricity projects, it needs to show that it has a coherent regulatory approach to storage, both because storage will increasingly become an asset class in its own right and because sophisticated investors in UK generation, networks or demand side assets will increasingly want to know that this is the case before committing to finance them.
  • As the Call for Evidence and the other attempts to address the challenges of future power markets referred to above make clear, everything is connected. There is, arguably, not very far that you can or should move forward on any aspect of generation or other electricity sector policy without forming a view on storage and how to facilitate it further.
  • Finally, because some of the policy and regulatory issues are hard and resources to address them are finite, this will all take time, so that with luck, the regulatory framework will have been optimised by about the same time as the price reductions stimulated by demand from the US and other forward-thinking jurisdictions have started to kick in.

Almost whatever problem you are looking at, whether as a regulator or a commercial operator in the GB power sector, it is worth considering carefully whether and how storage could help to solve it. Storage has the potential, as noted above, to change the ways that those at each level in the electricity value chain operate, and with the shift to more renewables and decentralised generation, it has a significant part to play in making future electricity markets “strong and stable”. The “trouble” alluded to in the title of this post is change either happening faster than politicians and regulators can keep pace with, or innovation being stifled by the lack of regulatory adaptation as they find it too difficult to address the challenges it poses when faced with other and apparently more urgent priorities. Because the ways in which generators, transmission and distribution network operators, retailers and end users interact with each other is so much a function of existing regulation of one kind or another, it is very hard to imagine storage reaching its full potential without significant regulatory change. These changes will take time to get right, but since ultimately an electricity sector that makes full use of the potential of storage should be cheaper, more secure and more environmentally sustainable than one that does not, there should be no delay in identifying and pursuing them.

 

 

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Strong and stable, or storing up trouble? The outlook for energy storage projects in the UK

UK “early” Capacity Market auction produces cheapest prices yet

The provisional results of the “early” Capacity Market auction held last week have now been published.

This was an auction exclusively of 1-year capacity agreements, primarily to cover Winter 2017/18, after the UK Government decided that it did not want National Grid to carry on ensuring security of supply during Winter periods by means of a Contingency Balancing Reserve (CBR).  The CBR involved auctions open to generators who would not otherwise be operating in a given Winter period and to demand side response providers.  A Government consultation in March 2016 noted that the prices National Grid were paying under the CBR were increasing and that it introduced distortions into the market.

From Winter 2018/19, of course, the Capacity Market itself will ensure security of supply.  Those with capacity agreements beginning in 2018 will be the capacity providers who bid successfully in a four year ahead auction held in 2014, supplemented by those who win capacity agreements in any subsequent one year ahead auction for delivery in 2018.  Last week’s “early” auction was a one-off bridge between the CBR (now operating for the last time to cover Winter 2016/17) and the fully-fledged Capacity Market regime.  The key difference between the CBR and the Capacity Market is that the CBR (or at least the major part of it) focuses on securing capacity that would otherwise not be in the market, to fill the potential gap between existing generation and projected peak demand, whereas the Capacity Market provides a reliability incentive to all eligible generators and demand side response providers on the market.

Commentary on previous Capacity Market auctions (such as this post from December 2016) has tended to focus on the failure of the four year ahead auctions to result in the award of 15 year agreements to meaningful amounts of large-scale new gas-fired generation projects.  With new projects competing against almost all existing thermal generation, and new reciprocating engine projects able to bear much lower Capacity Market clearing prices than a CCGT project, the auctions have produced low clearing prices, but no obvious successors to the existing big coal-fired plants that the Government wants to close by 2025.

How to evaluate the results of the “early” auction, then?  The provisional results indicate capacity agreements going to 54.43 GW of capacity, at £6.95 kW / year, suggesting total costs to bill payers of around £378 million.  This might look like spectacularly good value compared with the results of the last four year ahead auction (for delivery starting in 2020), where the clearing price was £22.50 kW / year for 52.43 GW of capacity.  But that isn’t really a fair comparison, since about a quarter of the capacity that was awarded agreements for 2020 was new build, whereas less than 4 percent of the capacity awarded agreements in the “early” auction falls into this category.  All the rest will be paid £6.95 for just continuing to operate – which presumably most of them would have done anyway. 

An alternative point of comparison might be with the costs of the CBR.  The most recent Winter for which these are available is 2015/16, when National Grid spent just over £31 million on procuring, testing and utilising less than 3 GW of CBR capacity.  Obviously a much inferior system. 

 

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UK “early” Capacity Market auction produces cheapest prices yet

Close but no cigar? What’s different about the T-4 Capacity Market auction results of 2016?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so rather than writing a lengthy post on the provisional results of the four-year ahead GB Capacity Market Auction, published on 9 December 2016 by National Grid, we are focusing on two pictures and inviting you to spot the difference between them.

The first, immediately below, shows the progress of bidding in the 2016 auction.  In simple terms:

  • the process starts with all prequalified potential providers of capacity “in” at the cap price of £75/kw/year and the price then goes down by £5 with each round;
  • the auction clears when the purple line, whose progress from right to left shows how many bidders are left in after each round, converges with the red line “demand curve” drawn on the graph by the Government as part of the auction parameters;
  • all bidders still in at that point get a capacity agreement at the clearing price.

The big right to left moves occurred when the price moved between £35 and £30 and below £25.  In particular, each of these moves saw 6GW of capacity drop out.

2016 progress of bidding chart

Now look at the equivalent presentation of results from last year’s auction.  The purple line slopes more gradually, and the biggest right to left moves happen much earlier on in the bidding, between £60 and £50.  (The picture from 2014 is very similar to the 2015 one.)

2015 progress of bidding chart

It’s only an educated guess, of course, but it seems likely that much of the big leftward shifts in both auctions represented the exiting of bidders with plans to build large-scale proposed combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants.  As a group, they are almost certain to have higher per MW development costs than other categories of new build projects competing for capacity agreements (small gas or diesel projects based on reciprocating engines, open-cycle gas projects, or battery based storage).  And the amount of capacity involved corresponds roughly with the big CCGT projects in the auction.

If the above is correct, why where proposed new big CCGT plants apparently prepared to tolerate prices almost 50% lower this year?  Perhaps they were hoping that a price between £30 and £35 would be where the auction cleared this time, on the basis that:

  • the clearing price is effectively set by the bidding behaviour of a sub-set of the smaller-scale, distribution-connected, fossil fuel generators;
  • on top of their power sales revenue, these smaller-scale generators have two main projected sources of income: capacity agreements and so-called residual demand TNUoS benefits;
  • Ofgem has issued what amounted to a warning that residual demand TNUoS benefits could be very sharply reduced by the time plants bidding in this year’s auction are commissioned;
  • the anticipated loss in residual demand TNUoS benefit revenue would be enough to push the smaller-scale generators to want a significantly higher capacity market price than the clearing prices seen in 2014 and 2015, both of which were below £20;
  • lower gas prices and slightly higher projected wholesale power prices may make a low capacity market price more bearable for CCGT plant, and there may other ways to mitigate merchant risk through innovative trading arrangements.

Maybe Ofgem’s warning wasn’t strong enough.  Maybe the smaller-scale generators reckon that Ofgem’s bark will turn out to have been worse than its bite on this.  In any event, the outcome has shown that for now, simply expanding the amount of capacity to be procured under an auction, as the Government appeared to be hoping when it adopted a limited change of approach to the 2016 auction, isn’t enough to ensure that some new GB CCGT plant is financeable and gets built.  Instead, a somewhat higher price will be paid to all successful bidders, including existing plant, for a larger amount of capacity than the Government thought we really needed.

As usual on these occasions, the Government has professed itself happy with the result of the auction, and it is fair to note that of the two new gas-fired plants with a capacity of around 300 MW that have been successful in the auction, one is described in the Capacity Market register as being CCGT.  But if a new generation of big CCGT plants is an important part of our new lower carbon power mix, there is some way to go.  A possibly more promising approach to using a capacity market to stimulate new CCGT build is suggested by the European Commission’s recent Winter Package of Energy Union proposals: set a date beyond which existing coal-fired plant will be ineligible for capacity market payments.  This is not among the options canvassed in the Government’s recent consultation on achieving the closure of coal-fired plant by 2025.  There would of course be an element of risk in adopting such an approach (coal plant might stay open because it can still make money without a subsidy, resulting in overcapacity, or alternatively coal plant might close immediately, before the new CCGT plant is built, leaving a generation gap), but it might be worth considering.

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Close but no cigar? What’s different about the T-4 Capacity Market auction results of 2016?

Something for everyone? The European Commission’s Winter “Clean Energy” Package on Energy Union (November 2016)

On 30 November 2016, the European Commission officially unveiled the latest instalment of its ongoing Energy Union initiative, which will reform some of the central pieces of EU energy legislation.  Referred to in advance as the “Winter Package” (not to be confused with the rather more limited package released in February 2016), it has been published as the “Clean Energy for all Europeans” proposals and is the most significant series of proposals yet to emerge under the Commission’s “Energy Union” brand.  It will have far-reaching implications within and potentially beyond the existing EU single energy market.

There is a lot to consider in these proposals, and we will return to some of the issues they raise in more depth and from other perspectives in future posts. What follows is an overview and some initial thoughts from a predominantly UK-based viewpoint.

Important though it is, many of the Winter Package’s proposed reforms are evolutionary rather than revolutionary.  Some could even be criticised for lacking ambition.  The Commission’s proposals certainly provide opportunities for newer technologies such as storage and demand side response and for those seeking to make use of newer commercial models such as aggregation or community energy schemes, but all these groups are still likely to need to work hard in many cases to exploit the leverage that the new rules would give them.  It is interesting that what has been picked up most in early news reports of the Winter Package is the Commission’s move to end subsidies for coal-fired plant.  This is a significant step, but it is only one part of a complex and multi-layered set of draft legislative measures, and is one of the few instances in those measures of a provision that overtly tilts the playing field in favour of or against a particular technology in a new way.

The story so far

Let’s begin by reminding ourselves what Energy Union is about. The project is said to have five “dimensions”.  These are:

  • Security, solidarity & trust: the buzz-words are “diversification of supply” and “co-operation between Member States” – all informed by anxieties about over-dependence on Russian gas.
  • A fully-integrated internal energy market: going beyond the 2009 “Third Package” of gas and electricity market liberalisation measures (and their ongoing implementation through the promulgation of network codes) to achieve genuine EU-wide single gas and power markets.
  • Energy efficiency: using less energy can be hard, but it is the best way to meet environmental objectives and it can also be a significant source of new jobs and economic growth.
  • Climate action – decarbonising the economy: signing and ratifying the Paris CoP21 Agreement was the easy bit.  How is the EU going to achieve deep decarbonisation of not only its power but also its heat and transport sectors so as to meet its UNFCCC obligations?
  • Research, innovation & competitiveness: can European businesses still take the lead in developing technologies that will save the planet, and also make money out of commercialising them?

In other words, Energy Union is about everything that matters in EU energy policy.  To date, at least in relation to electricity markets, the initiative has involved a lot of consultation but not many concrete legislation proposals.  The new Winter Package goes a long way towards redressing this balance, but it shows there is still a lot of work to do.

What is in the Winter Package?

The documents published by the Commission (all available from this link) include legislative proposals and a range of explanatory and background policy documents.  The legislative proposals are for:

We comment below on what seem to us at this stage to be the most interesting points in these, and also on the Communication on Accelerating Clean Energy Innovation (the Innovation Communication).

The Revised IMED

Overall impressions

The legislative elements of the Winter Package are all inter-related, but the Revised IMED is as good a place to start as any.  Its early articles include two programmatic statements:

  • National legislation must “not unduly hamper cross-border flows of electricity, consumer participation including through demand-side response, investments into flexible energy generation, energy storage, the deployment of electro-mobility or new interconnectors”.
  • Electricity suppliers must be free to determine their own prices.  Non-cost reflective power prices should only apply for a transitional period to vulnerable customers, and should be phased out in favour of other means of support except in unforeseeable emergencies.

In some ways, this sets the tone for the more specific provisions that follow.  It often seems that the Commission never loses an opportunity to put forward legislation in the form of a directly applicable Regulation rather than in the form of a Directive that by definition requires Member States to take implementing measures in order fully to embed its effect within national regulation.  However, the revised IMED, like its predecessor, stands out as a classic old-school Directive, in which EU legislators tell Member States lots of results to be achieved, but do not prescribe many of the means by which this is to happen.  Moreover, even the expression of those objectives is (inevitably) qualified: in other words, get rid of the barriers to the Commission’s vision of Energy Union, except the ones you can justify.  Of course, that is slightly unfair: as noted below, there are at least one or two eye-catching points in the revised IMED, and there are significant changes proposed in other parts of the Winter Package that should further the objectives of the revised IMED, but it arguably demonstrates less willingness to get to grips with some of the most difficult of the longer-term and more fundamental changes in the market than the call for evidence on moving towards a smart, flexible energy system that was published on 10 November by the UK government and GB energy regulator Ofgem (although admittedly the UK authorities are only asking questions, not proposing solutions at this stage).

A market for consumers (and prosumers)

The revised IMED would enhance the rights of consumers generally in a variety of ways.  For example:

  • Price increases are to be notified and explained in advance, giving them the opportunity to switch before an increase takes effect.  Switching must take no longer than three weeks.
  • Termination fees may only be charged where a fixed term contract is terminated prematurely, and must not exceed the direct economic loss to the supplier.
  • All consumers are to be entitled, on request, to a “dynamic electricity price contract” which reflects spot market price fluctuations at least as frequently as market settlement occurs.  They will of course need smart meters to make this work (see further below).
  • All consumers are to be entitled to contract with aggregators, without the consent of their supplier, and to end such contracts within three weeks.

In addition, special consideration is given to two newly defined categories of persons.

  • “Active consumers” are defined as individuals or groups “who consume, store or sell electricity generated on their premises, including through aggregators, or participate in demand response or energy efficiency schemes”, but who do not do so commercially / professionally.
  • “Local energy communities” are defined as organisations “effectively controlled by local shareholders or members, generally non-profit driven or generally value rather than profit-driven…engaged in local energy generation, distribution, aggregation storage, supply or energy efficiency services, including across borders”.

Active consumers are to be:

  • entitled to undertake their chosen activities “in all organised markets” without facing disproportionately burdensome procedures or charges; and
  • encouraged to participate alongside generators in all organised markets.  Obviously in most cases they will do this through aggregators, who are to be treated “in a non-discriminatory manner, on the basis of their technical capabilities”.  For example, they are not to be required to pay compensation to suppliers or generators (contrary to some of the suggestions in the UK call for evidence referred to above).

Local energy communities:

  • are similarly not to be discriminated against;
  • may “establish community networks and autonomously manage them” and “purchase and sell electricity in all organised markets”;
  • must not make participation in a local energy community compulsory, or limit it to those who are shareholders in or members of the community; and
  • will be subject to the unbundling rules for distribution system operators if they are DSOs.

As in the original Directive 2009/72/EC, there are provisions requiring improvements to customer billing and encouraging the rollout of smart meters.

  • Customers should receive bills once a month where remote reading of the meter is possible.
  • Where a Member State has decided not to mandate smart meters for cost-benefit reasons, they are to revisit their assessment “periodically” and report the results to the Commission.
  • The draft Directive sets out functionalities that smart meters must include where a Member State mandates their rollout.  In such cases, the costs of smart metering deployment are to be shared between all consumers.  In other cases, every customer is entitled, on request, to receive a smart meter that complies with a slightly reduced set of functionalities.
  • The implementation of smart metering must encourage active participation of consumers in the electricity supply market (although this may be qualified by a cost-benefit analysis).
  • There are a number of provisions reflecting both concerns about cybersecurity and the importance of making useful data securely available to legitimate market participants.

DSOs (and EVs)

There has been no shortage of recent commentary on how the shift towards decentralised generation of electricity, combined with the potential for storage and more active consumer behavior, may require changes in the role of the 2,400 market participants that the IMED has always called distribution system operators, but which in many jurisdictions have historically not had, even within their own networks, the kind of “system operator” responsibilities of a transmission system operator.  The recent UK call for evidence on flexibility appears at least prepared to contemplate some significant realignment of the respective functions of DSOs and TSOs.  There is nothing so fundamental in the revised IMED, but there are a number of new provisions about DSOs.

  • DSOs are to be allowed, and incentivised, to procure services such as distributed generation, demand response and storage in order to make their networks operate more efficiently.  DSOs will be paid for this, and must specify standardised market products for these services.
  • Every two years, DSOs must update five to ten year network development plans for new investments, “with particular emphasis on the main distribution infrastructure which is required…to connect new generation capacity and new loads including re-charging points for electric vehicles”, as well as demand response, storage, energy efficiency etc.
  • DSOs serving isolated systems or fewer than 100,000 consumers can be excused from this requirement, but note that in general, those operating “closed distribution systems” are to be subject to the same rules as other DSOs under the revised IMED.

However, although DSOs are to facilitate the adoption of new technologies, such as storage and EVs, they are not encouraged to diversify into actually providing them to end users themselves.

  • Member States are to facilitate EV charging infrastructure from a regulatory point of view, but DSOs may only “own, develop, manage or operate” EV charging points if the regulator allows them to after an open tender process in which nobody else expresses an interest in doing so.  And even then, the service taken on by the DSO must be re-tendered every five years.
  • Similar rules would apply to the development, operation and management of storage facilities by either DSOs or TSOs.  For TSOs, there would be an additional requirement that the storage services or facilities concerned are “necessary” to ensure efficient and secure operation of the transmission system, and are not used to sell electricity to the market.

What makes these provisions significant is that until now, with the IMED in its original form silent on the subject of storage, the operation of storage facilities had been seen as potentially falling within the categories of generation or supply.  This appeared to make the involvement of DSOs or TSOs in storage projects (at least as investors) subject to the general unbundling restrictions, and so has tended to inhibit the progress of energy storage initiatives in a number of cases.  The proposed new rules are restrictive in some respects, but bring a degree of clarity and at least recognise storage as a distinct category.

The Revised Market Regulation

General organisation of the electricity market

Like the revised IMED, the Revised Market Regulation begins with firm statements of purpose: enabling market access for all resource providers and electricity customers, enabling demand response, aggregation and so on.  It goes on to list 14 “principles” with which “the operation of electricity markets shall comply” – starting with “prices are formed based on demand and supply” and finishing with “long-term hedging opportunities allow to hedge parties against price volatility risks”.

Entirely in keeping with these principles, the first specific provision is that all market participants are to be responsible for (or to delegate to a responsible third party) the consequences of any imbalance they create in the electricity system as a result of importing or exporting to or from the grid at a given time more or less than they had said would be the case at that time in previous notifications to the system operator.  This much-trailed provision may be a significant change for renewable generators in some jurisdictions (though not in GB, where imbalance charging reforms are already being implemented).  In an earlier draft, the Revised Market Regulation only permitted sub-500kW renewables or high-efficiency CHP to be exempted from this requirement.  In the published version, this exemption has been broadened to include RES projects that have received state aid that has been cleared by the commission and that have been commissioned before the Revised Market Regulation enters into force.  It also requires that “all market participants” are to have access to the balancing market on non-discriminatory terms, either directly or through aggregators.

There are a number of quite detailed provisions on the overall organisation of electricity markets. We pick out a few of the more notable ones below.

  • There is a shift from a national to a regional approach.  As the explanatory memorandum to the draft Directive puts it: “In certain areas, e.g. for the EU-wide ‘market coupling’ mechanism, TSO cooperation has already become mandatory, and the system of majority voting on some issues has proven to be successful…Following this successful example, mandatory cooperation should be expanded to other areas in the regulatory framework.  To this end, TSOs could decide within ‘Regional Operational Centres’…on those issues where fragmented and uncoordinated national actions could negatively affect the market and consumers (e.g. in the fields of system operation, capacity calculation for interconnectors, security of supply and risk preparedness).”.  Functions to be carried out at a regional level include “the dimensioning of reserve capacity” and “the procurement of balancing capacity”.
  • As far as possible, the organisation of markets is to avoid any rules that could restrict cross-border trading or the participation of smaller players.  So, for example, trades are to be anonymous and in a form that does not distinguish between bidders within and outside a bidding zone.  The minimum bid size is not to exceed 1 MW.
  • Market participants are to be able to trade energy as close to real time as possible, with imbalance settlement periods being set to 15 minutes by 1 January 2025.
  • Long-term (firm, and transferable) transmission rights or equivalent measures are to be put in place to enable e.g. renewable generators to hedge price risks across bidding zone borders.  Such rights are to be allocated in a market-based manner through a single allocation platform.
  • As a general rule, there must be no direct or indirect caps or floors on wholesale power prices, other than a cap at the value of lost load and a floor of minus €2000, or during a 2-year transitional period when a transitional maximum and minimum clearing price may be allowed.  Defined as “an estimation in €/MWh of the maximum electricity price that consumers are willing to pay to avoid an outage”, the value of lost load is to be defined nationally and updated at least every five years.  This concept will evidently need refinement, as there is a difference between what individual consumers may be prepared to pay and the kind of price spikes that it is reasonable for wholesale markets to bear for short periods of time.
  • Dispatching of generation and demand response is to be market-based.  Priority dispatch for renewables is to be brought to an end subject to certain exceptions (these are summarised in the section on the revised RED below).  On the other hand, where redispatch (changing generator output levels) or curtailment is imposed by the system operator other than on market-based criteria, the draft Regulation imposes restrictions on when RES, high-efficiency CHP and self-generated power can be redispatched or curtailed.
  • There is to be a review of the bidding zones within the single electricity market, so as to maximise economic efficiency and cross-border trading opportunities while maintaining security of supply.  In other words, the market coupling process should allow customers to benefit from the availability of lower-priced wholesale power in adjacent markets, but the bidding zone boundaries need to take account of “long-term structural congestion” in the network infrastructure for this to be workable and without adverse side-effects.  TSOs are to participate in the review, but the final decisions are to be taken by the Commission.
  • A significant piece of work is to be undertaken by ACER on “the progressive convergence of transmission and distribution tariff methodologies”.  This is to include, but not be limited to, some issues that have recently proved contentious in the GB context, including the respective shares of tariffs to be paid by those who generate and those who consume power; locational signals (how much more should generators pay if they are located a long way from where the power they generate used); and which network users should be subject to tariffs (would this, for example, open up the question of whether generators connected to the distribution network should pay a share of transmission network charges?).
  • Separately, the draft Regulation sets out some general principles about network charges and restricts both the circumstances in which revenue can be generated from congestion management and the uses to which such revenue can be put.

Resource adequacy (a.k.a. Capacity Markets)

The growth in the share of installed generating capacity in many Member States represented by intermittent renewable generators and the unattractive economics of new large-scale combined cycle gas-fired plant has left many governments in the EU concerned about security of power supply and turning to various forms of capacity market subsidy in order to ensure that the lights stay on.  The Commission has been concerned that capacity markets dampen the price signals that should drive new investment and potentially introduce new barriers to cross-border power flows.  A number of national capacity market regimes have been investigated by the Commission’s DG Competition; both the UK and French approaches to the problem have received state aid clearance.

The starting point of the draft Regulation in this area is an annual assessment of “the overall adequacy of the electricity system to supply current and projected demands for electricity ten years ahead”.  This European-level assessment will form the yardstick against which national proposals to introduce a capacity mechanism are to be judged.  If it has “not identified a resource adequacy concern, Member States shall not introduce capacity mechanisms” and no new contracts shall be concluded under existing capacity mechanisms.  Where capacity mechanisms are introduced, they must not distort the market unnecessarily; interconnected Member States should be consulted; and other approaches, such as interconnection and storage, should be considered first.

The draft Regulation prescribes common elements which capacity mechanisms must contain, including that they must be open to providers in interconnected Member States (unless they take the form of strategic reserves) and that the authorities of one country must not prevent capacity located in their territory from participating in other countries’ capacity mechanisms.  Those participating simultaneously in more than one capacity mechanism “shall be subject to two or more penalties if there is concurrent scarcity in two or more bidding zones that the capacity provider is contracted in”.  Maybe that will help to dampen industry’s appetite for capacity markets.

Finally, the draft Regulation sets an emission limit of 550 gCO2/kWh for plant on which a final investment decision is made after the Regulation enters into force.  Such plant must have emissions below this limit if it is to be eligible for capacity mechanism support.  The draft Regulation goes on to state that generation capacity emitting at this level or higher is “not to be committed in capacity mechanisms 5 years after the entry into force of this Regulation”.  These provisions may be motivated by laudable decarbonisation objectives, but they must at the very least risk precipitating a rush to take final investment decisions in new coal-fired generating capacity over the next two years.  It is possible, but unlikely, that they might stimulate further investment in carbon capture and storage (to bring the emissions of coal-fired plants below the threshold).  Previous experience with emissions limit rules also suggests that much will depend on how emissions are measured – the usual trick of polluting plant being to argue that they should be counted not per hour of generation, but averaged out over time so as to allow for plant to run above the limit for short periods.  This is bound to be an area for lively negotiations between Member States and in the European Parliament.

The Commission’s proposals in relation to capacity markets need to be read alongside DG Competition’s final report on its investigation and the accompanying Staff Working Paper.  We will look in more detail at this aspect of the proposals and how it might affect existing Member State initiatives in a future post.  For now, it is sufficient to note that although this part of the Winter Package is entirely consistent with the logic of the evolving single electricity market, for some, it may simply appear to be an unacceptable blow to the principle of Member States’ self-determination of their own generating mix.

Institutions

In addition to its existing roles, the TSO umbrella body, ENTSO-E, will acquire new responsibilities for the European resource adequacy assessment and in relation to the Regional Operational Centres, including adopting a proposal for defining the regions which each will cover, and generally monitoring and reporting on their performance.  A parallel umbrella body for DSOs, with consultative functions, is also to be set up.

The draft Regulation devotes a number of articles to the Regional Operational Centres. They will be limited liability companies established by TSOs (with adequate cover for potential liabilities incurred by the impact of their decisions).  Their role is to complement TSO functions by ensuring the smooth operation of the interconnected transmission system, but apparently from the perspective of planning and analysis rather than real-time  operational control.  Specific areas of their work (listed under 17 headings) include outage planning coordination, calculating the minimum entry capacity available for participation of foreign capacity in capacity mechanisms, and much else besides.

This area of the draft Regulation will need careful development and implementation if the proliferation of new bodies and functions is not to result in confusion and a lack of accountability.  However, the question of whether to grant Regional Operational Centres binding decision-making powers in relation to some of their potential functions is left to be decided by the national regulatory authorities of a system operating region.

The Revised RED

Target for 2030

The existing Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC) sets out the binding national targets for each Member State to achieve a specified proportion of its energy consumption to be obtained from renewable energy sources (RES) by 2020, contributing to an EU-wide goal of 20% of final energy from RES.  The revised RED starts from a slightly different point, since EU leaders decided in 2014 to move away from legally binding national RES targets imposed at EU level but to set a goal of achieving at least 27% of energy from RES across the EU by 2030.  The starting point of the revised RED, therefore, is that “Member States shall collectively ensure” that the 27% target is achieved by 2030, whilst, individually, ensuring that they continue to obtain at least as high a proportion of final energy from RES as they were obliged to achieve by 2020.

At this point, you may ask what the enforcement mechanism is for meeting the new EU-wide target.  An answer (of sorts) is to be found in the Governance Regulation – see below.

Power (plus)

With reference to subsidies for RES, the revised RED builds on the principles set out in the Commission’s 2014 guidelines on state aid in the energy and environmental sectors: competitive auctions in which all technologies can compete on a level playing field are to be the norm, with traditional feed-in tariffs limited to small projects.

The revised RED also makes provision on two points that have led to disputes in connection with RES subsidies.  First, picking up on a point that has in the past given rise to litigation under general EU Treaty principles, it would set quotas for the proportion of capacity tendered in RES subsidy auctions that each Member State must throw open to projects from other Member States.  Second, with an eye to the numerous cases brought against Member States either under domestic constitutional / administrative law or under the Energy Charter Treaty, the revised RED attempts to outlaw retrospective reductions in support for RES once that support has been awarded, unless these are required because a state aid investigation by the Commission has found the subsidy received by a project is unduly generous.  Note that while the first of these rules appears to relate only to RES electricity subsidies, the second is expressed in a way that suggests that it relates to all RES projects.   An additional measure of reassurance for investors is a requirement to consult on and publish “a long-term schedule in relation to expected allocation for [RES] support” looking at least three years ahead.

Other points of interest in the draft Directive in connection with RES power include:

  • In a magnificently brief reference to one of the most important market trends in the renewable power sector, the revised RED would require Member States to “remove administrative barriers to corporate long-term power purchase agreements to finance renewables and facilitate their uptake”.
  • The process of applying for permits to build and operate new RES projects is to be streamlined, with a single point of contact co-ordinating the permitting process (including for associated network infrastructure) and ensuring that it does not last longer than three years.  This provision would confers on all RES projects (again, the current language of the draft Directive does not limit this to power sector projects) a benefit currently only conferred at EU level under the Infrastructure Regulation on those projects singled out as Projects of Common Interest – although in its current form it is questionable if it would give a developer thwarted by slow decision-making in a given case a useful remedy.
  • The permitting procedures for repowering of existing projects are to be “simplified and swift” (i.e. not to last more than 1 year), although this may not apply if there are “major environmental or social” impacts.  If you were hoping to be able to demand fast-track treatment for applications to repower existing wind farms with fewer, taller turbines generating more power, don’t hold your breath.
  • The existing RED rules on priority dispatch for RES generators are to be abolished.  This point is reiterated in the Revised Market Regulation.  However, that draft Regulation provides for “grandfathering” of priority dispatch rights for existing RES (and high efficiency CHP) generators until such time as they undergo “significant modifications”.  Exceptions are also permitted for innovative technologies and sub-500kW installations (from 2026, sub-250kW), if no more than 15% of total installed generating capacity in a given Member State benefits from priority dispatch (beyond that level, the threshold is 250kW or 125kW from 2026).
  • The revised RED likes prosumers, or as it calls them, “renewable self-consumers”.  They are to be entitled to sell their surplus power “without being subject to disproportionate procedures and charges that are not cost reflective”, to receive a market price for what they feed into the grid, and not to be regulated as electricity suppliers if they do not feed in more than 10MWh (as a household) or 500MWh (as a business) annually (Member States may set higher limits).
  • The revised RED also likes “renewable energy communities”.  The draft definition of these is a little complicated, but essentially they are locally based entities that are either SMEs or not for profit organisations, which are to be allowed to generate, consume, store and sell renewable electricity, including through PPAs.

Heat, cooling and transport

The revised RED seeks to “mainstream” RES in heating and cooling installations, and in the transport sector.  The means by which it seeks to achieve this are not, at first sight particularly dramatic, given the acknowledged scale and difficulty of the challenge of decarbonising these sectors.

In relation to heat and cooling, Member States are to identify “obligated parties amongst wholesale or retail energy and energy fuel suppliers” and require them to increase the share of RES in their heating and cooling sales by at least 1 percentage point a year.  The obligation should be capable of being discharged either directly or indirectly (including by installing or funding the installation of highly efficient RES heating and cooling systems in buildings).  This does not seem hugely ambitious.  Mention is made of “tradable certificates” – it feels a bit like a combination of the Renewables Obligation, but applied to heat and cooling, and the Clean Development Mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol.  It is also relevant in this context that the revised RED envisages that renewable guarantees of origin (REGOs or GoOs) will in future be available for the production and injection into the grid of renewable gases such as biomethane.

The rules aimed at the transport sector are also based on mandatory requirements on fuel suppliers – in this case to incorporate both a minimum (annually increasing) percentage of certain kinds of RES fuel, waste-based fossil fuel and RES electricity into the transport fuel they supply and to ensure that the parts of that supply that take the form of advanced biofuels and biogas from specified sources (which must constitute a certain part of the overall RES percentage) contribute to an increasing reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  The provisions for calculating the various percentages are quite complex, involving as they do an element of lifecycle emissions calculation (e.g. considering the emissions from the generation of electricity used to produce advanced biofuels).

On district heating and cooling, the revised RED takes a three-pronged approach.

  • Member States are to ensure that authorities at local, national and regional level “include provisions for the integration and deployment of renewable energy and the utilisation of unavoidable waste heat or cold when planning, designing, building and renovating urban infrastructure, industrial or residential areas and energy infrastructure, including electricity, district heating, and cooling, natural gas and alternative fuel networks”.
  • The efficiency of district heating systems is to be certified.  Providers of such systems must grant access to new customers where they have the capacity to do so (unless they are new and meet exemption criteria based on efficiency and use of renewables).  Customers of systems that are not efficient may disconnect from them in favour of their own RES heat and cooling, but Member States may restrict this right to those who can demonstrate that the customer’s own heating or cooling solution is more efficient.
  • There is to be regular consultation between operators of district heating and gas / electricity networks about the potential to exploit synergies between investments in their respective networks.  Electricity network operators must also assess the potential for using district heating and cooling networks for balancing and energy storage purposes.

This is all unobjectionable.  It is not clear that in itself it will be enough to cause a major expansion of district heating and cooling where it does not already exist, or to significantly increase the take-up of RES heat and cooling options, but perhaps this is the kind of area where an effective policy push can only be delivered at national, or indeed municipal level.

Biomass

Following a trend that has been evident for some time in UK subsidies for RES electricity, the revised RED would appear to prohibit “public support for installations converting biomass into electricity” unless they apply high efficiency CHP, if they have a fuel capacity of 20 MW or more.  However, the precise words setting this out have been moved from the operative provisions of the draft Directive into a recital, which also clarifies that this would not require the termination of support that has already been granted to specific projects, but that new biomass projects will only be able to be counted towards renewables targets if they apply high efficiency CHP.

What is clear is that the revised RED would tighten the sustainability criteria applicable to biofuels and bioliquids at various points in the energy supply chain, with greenhouse gas emissions – for example those arising from land use to grow the raw materials that become biofuels – being designated as a distinct impact to be measured.  If you dig up soil with a high carbon content to grow something that will become biofuel, you may end up increasing rather than reducing overall GHG emissions, so this is obviously to be avoided.

The Governance Regulation

The Governance Regulation is meant to hold everything together.  In particular, it aims to give credible underpinning to the commitments on climate change that the EU as a whole has made under the Paris Agreement (but which must ultimately be delivered by Member State action) and to bridge the gap left by having an EU level 2030 renewables target but no correspondingly increased Member State level targets.  It also gives legislative expression to the EU’s Union-level energy and climate targets to be achieved by 2030, which are:

  • a binding target of at least 40% domestic reduction in economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions as compared with 1990;
  • a binding target of at least 27% for the share of renewable energy consumed in the EU;
  • a target of at least 27% for improving energy efficiency in 2030, to be revised by 2020, having in mind an EU level of 30%;
  • a 15% electricity interconnection target for 2030.

In outline, the Regulation works as follows.

  • Every 10 years, starting in 2019, each Member State is to produce an integrated national energy and climate plan covering a period of ten years, two years ahead (so e.g. the 2019 plan covers 2021 to 2030, and so on).  The plan is to set out, in relation to each of the five dimensions of the Energy Union, the current state of play in the relevant Member State; the national objectives and targets, policies and measures they have adopted; and their projections (including in relation to emissions) going forward to 2040.  The draft Regulation sets out in considerable detail the information which is required to be included.
  • In relation to RES and energy efficiency, Member States are expressly required to take into account the need to contribute towards achieving the relevant EU level targets, and to ensure, collectively, that they are met.  In relation to RES policies, they are also to take into account “equitable distribution of deployment” across the EU, economic potential, geographic constraints and interconnection levels.
  • The draft Regulation states that Member States must consult widely on the plans and suggests that there may also be a need for the preparation of and consultation on a strategic environmental assessment of the draft plans in some cases.
  • Every two years (starting in the first year to which the plans apply), Member States are to report to the Commission on the status of implementation of their plans; on GHG policies, measures and projections; on climate change adaptation and support to developing countries; on progress in relation to renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy security; on internal market benchmarks such as levels of interconnectivity; and on public spending on relevant research and innovation projects.  In addition, the draft Regulation specifies how Member States are to report annually on GHG inventories for UNFCCC purposes.
  • The plans and drafts are to be updated if necessary after five years (with the first draft update in 2023 and the first update in 2024), using the same procedures.  Updates cannot result in Member States setting themselves lower targets.
  • The plans are first to be submitted to the Commission for comment one year in advance, in draft (i.e. first draft by 1 January 2018).  Either at this point or in its annual State of the Energy Union reports, the Commission may make recommendations to individual Member States, for example about “the level of ambition of objectives and targets” in its draft plan, and Member States “shall take utmost account” of these when finalising the plan.  Member States are obliged to issue annual progress reports on their plans and these must include an explanation of how they have taken utmost account of any Commission recommendations and how it has implemented or intends to implement them.  Any failure to implement the Commission’s recommendations must be justified.
  • Member States whose share of RES falls below their 2020 baseline must cover the gap by contributing to an EU-level fund for renewable projects.  If it becomes clear by 2023 that the 2030 RES target is not going to be met, Member States must cover the gap in the same way, or by increasing the percentage of RES fuel to be provided by heat and transport fuel suppliers under the revised RED, or by other means.  Action may also be taken by the Commission at EU level.

The answer to the question of how the 2030 targets are enforced is therefore – and perhaps inevitably – somewhat incomplete.  Whilst one may doubt the usefulness, under the current RED, of the prospect of the Commission taking infraction proceedings against a Member State that fails to reach the required percentage of RES energy by 2020, there is arguably nothing in the Governance Regulation that has even this degree of legal bite when it comes to pushing recalcitrant Member States into action from the centre.  However, ultimately the whole edifice of the Paris Agreement, of which this is effectively a supporting structure, will only work on the basis of a combination of the economic attractions of better energy efficiency, cheaper renewables and other technological advances, and stakeholder pressure, including through democratic and judicial processes.  The Governance Regulation, like the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008 with its system of carbon budgets, certainly provides some scope for interested parties to challenge national authorities who are, for example, failing unjustifiably to implement Commission recommendations.

The Risk Regulation

The Risk Regulation exists to provide “a common framework of rules on how to prevent, prepare for and manage electricity crisis situations, bringing more transparency to the preparation phase and…ensuring that electricity is delivered where it is needed most”.  A common approach to identifying and quantifying risks is seen as essential to building the necessary “trust” and “spirit of solidarity” between Member States.  The draft Regulation would replace the rather less ambitious existing Directive 2005/89/EC.

ENTSO-E is tasked with developing a common risk assessment methodology, on the basis of which it is to draw up and update regional crisis scenarios such as extreme weather conditions, natural disasters, fuel shortages or malicious attacks.  Provision is made for emergency planning at both national and regional levels, with the Regional Operational Centres playing a significant role at various points.  As throughout the Winter Package, emphasis is laid on using market measures wherever possible, so that forced disconnections, for example, should be response of last resort, and Member States facing a crisis should not automatically seek to curtail outbound cross-border power flows.

The ACER Regulation

It comes as no surprise that the Winter Package proposes conferring more powers on ACER.  So, for example, the methodologies and calculations underlying the European resource adequacy assessment will require the approval of, and may be amended by, ACER – since, as one of the recitals to the draft Regulation notes, “fragmented national state interventions in energy markets constitute an increasing risk to the proper functioning of cross-border electricity markets”.  But the draft Regulation is far from representing a major transformation of ACER into an EU energy super-regulator.

The Innovation Communication

The Innovation Communication picks up on a number of the themes emphasised in the various legislative proposals.  It builds on existing initiatives, for example within the framework of the EU’s Horizon 2020 funding programme, for which it includes some new money.  The need to leverage more private sector investment in innovative energy-related technologies is noted, with some examples of where this has already been achieved.  The Communication also states that the Commission, with Member States, will take a leading role in two of the workstreams identified by the international Mission Innovation Initiative.

Four particular priorities are singled out as technology focus areas for EU innovation funding:

  • Energy storage solutions, including the (perhaps not unambitious) objective of “re-launching the production of battery cells in Europe”.
  • Electro-mobility and a more integrated urban transport system, which amongst other things will include tackling “fragmentation in the developing market of low-emission transport”.
  • Decarbonising the EU building stock by 2050: going beyond “today’s nearly zero-energy designs” to include e.g. the application of circular economy principles.
  • Integration of renewables: reducing the costs of existing established technologies; promoting new technologies like building-integrated photovoltaics; and intensifying efforts to integrate renewables through storage and the transport sector.

Energy Efficiency

Last but not least, energy efficiency. The two draft Directives on this make less wide-ranging changes to the existing legislation.

Under the revised Energy Efficiency Directive, Member States will be obliged to deliver the equivalent of 1.5% of annual energy sales (by volume) to final consumers over the period 2021-2030 – but with scope to determine how those savings are phased.

As regards the Energy Performance of Buildings Directives, there is an emphasis on encouraging the use of smart technologies.  There is also a requirement, when building or carrying out major renovations of buildings with more than 10 car parking spaces, to install one alternative fuel re-charging point for every 10 spaces in a non-residential context and to put in pre-cabling for re-charging points for EVs in all spaces in a residential context.  In the non-residential context at least, the re-charging point must be “capable of starting and spotting charging in relation to price signals”.  There are also some new requirements to monitor the energy efficiency of non-residential buildings, presumably in the hope that if their owners become aware of how much inefficiencies of design or operation are costing them, they will invest in improvements.

At the same time, the Commission has issued an ecodesign working plan for 2016-2019, reminding us as it does so that EU ecodesign and energy labelling deliver “energy savings equivalent to the annual consumption of Italy” and “save almost €500 per year” on household energy bills, as well as delivering approximately €55 billion extra revenue for industry.

Brexit

One of the many energy-sector questions raised by the UK’s decision to leave the EU is on what terms participants in the electricity markets in GB and Northern Ireland (and indeed the Republic of Ireland, until such time as it has a direct interconnection with Continental Europe) may be able to continue to participate in the EU’s single electricity market in a post-Brexit world.  Possible models for this include membership of the European Economic Area (as an EFTA, rather than an EU state) or joining the Energy Community (many of whose members are candidates for EU membership, but disputes within which are resolved by a political Association Council without reference to the Court of Justice of the EU).

The Winter Package in its published form casts no direct light on this subject.  However, in a version of the main legislative proposals that was leaked only a couple of weeks before they were published, a number of the draft measures (such as the draft revised IMED) included a couple of articles that appeared to offer some grounds for hope – if continued UK membership of the single EU electricity market is the sort of prospect that makes you hopeful.

  • Like the EU itself, the Energy Community is currently operating on (or is working towards) the version of the single electricity and gas markets set out in the Third Package of EU liberalisation measures adopted in 2009.  The leaked draft revised IMED set out a process for the Energy Community and the Commission to incorporate the revised Directive into the Energy Community’s legislative framework.  So if the UK was happy with the final form of the Winter Package legislation, the option of continuing to be subject to and getting the benefit of it as a member of the Energy Community would be a possible option.
  • On the other hand, once the UK ceases to be an EU Member State, and assuming it does not opt for EEA membership, it will simply become a “third country” (with or without the benefit of a bespoke EU / UK free trade agreement).  The leaked draft revised IMED suggested that third countries may participate in the single electricity market provided that they agree to adopt, and apply, “the main provisions” of the Winter Package legislation; EU state aid rules; the REMIT rules on wholesale energy market integrity; “environmental rules with relevant for the power sector”; and rules on enforcement and judicial oversight that require it to submit either to the authority of the Commission and the CJEU or “to a specific non-domestic enforcement body and a neutral non-domestic Court or arbitration body which is independent from the respective third country”.

Reading these provisions in the UK, it was hard not to see them as drafted with Brexit in mind.  Of course, the EU is, or aspires to be, physically connected to power systems in other non-EU countries as well (such as the potential solar energy exporters of North Africa), so it would be wrong to see them entirely in that light.

How the absence of such provisions, or the prospect of their potential reinsertion, will affect the dynamics of the UK’s participation in negotiations on the Winter Package (which is likely to take place while the UK is still a Member State) is another question.  In our view, the UK and its electricity industry stakeholders should in any event try to play a leading and constructive role in the whole of the negotiations on the Winter Package, as they have in negotiation on past internal energy market measures.

Maybe, in one sense, it is better that the draft provisions on third country participation have not been included at this stage.  Similar provisions could be negotiated on a standalone basis later, and include the gas as well as electricity single markets, for example.  By leaving them out of the Winter Package (for whatever reason), the Commission may have prevented the UK team from being unduly distracted from the main subject of the legislative proposals, or expending its negotiating capital on their Brexit dimension.

Provisional conclusions

The Winter Package covers a lot of ground, but then it needs to do so, since the next ten years are acknowledged to be crucial to the success of global efforts to avoid dangerous climate change.  It may not be as radical as some would like, but then whilst some of its requirements are already more or less met by a number of Member States, for others they may represent a considerable challenge.  In one sense it is a timely reminder of both the scope and the limitations of the European project.

There are a lot of links between the individual pieces of draft legislation.  There are also a number of areas where the drafting suggests that some key concepts have not yet been absolutely fully thought out.  Steering negotiations so as to result in a clear and coherent legal framework will be difficult.  The risks of (calculated or inadvertent) lack of clarity in the final texts may be higher than is usual with EU legislation, leading to wrangles with regulators and before the courts down the line – or simply having a chilling effect on what could be useful activity.  However, since the need for action is urgent, waiting for perfect legislation is not a luxury the EU can afford.  So it is vital that those with an interest in making Energy Union work scrutinise the parts of the Winter Package that matter to them carefully, and tell their national governments or MEPs where they find it wanting.

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Something for everyone? The European Commission’s Winter “Clean Energy” Package on Energy Union (November 2016)

First flesh on the bones of the new UK government’s energy policy?

The UK Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) chose 9 November 2016 to release a series of long-awaited energy policy documents.  The substance of some of the announcements, which primarily cover subsidies for renewable electricity generation and the closure of the remaining coal-fired generating plants in England and Wales, was first outlined almost a year ago when Amber Rudd, the last Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, “re-set” energy policy in outline in a speech of 18 November 2016.  Broadly speaking, the documents indicate that little has changed in the UK government’s thinking on energy policy following the EU referendum and the formation of what is in many respects a new government under Theresa May.

Contracts for Difference

BEIS has confirmed that the next allocation process for contracts for difference (CfDs) for renewable generators will begin in April 2017, aiming to provide support for projects that will be delivered between 2021 and 2023. There will be no allocation of CfD budget for onshore wind or solar, consistent with the Government’s view that these are mature and/or politically undesirable technologies which should no longer receive subsidies.  The only technologies supported will be offshore wind, certain forms of biomass or waste-fuelled plant (advanced conversion technologies, anaerobic digestion, biomass with CHP) wave, tidal stream and geothermal.

The budget allocation is a total of £290 million for projects delivered in each of the delivery years covered: 2021/22 and 2022/23. Details are set out in a draft budget notice and accompanying note.  CfDs are awarded in a competitive auction process, the details of which are set out in an “Allocation Framework” (the one used for the last auction, in 2014/2015, can be found here).  It is likely that most, if not all, of the budget will be taken up by a small number of offshore wind projects, as the size of the projects which could be eligible to bid in the auction is large in comparison with the available budget.

Competition for CfDs will be fierce and Government should be able to show progress towards achieving its target of reducing support to £85/MWh for new offshore wind projects by 2026. For the 2017 auction, “administrative strike prices” have been set at levels designed to ensure that “the cheapest 19% of projects within each technology” can potentially compete successfully.  Behind this terse statement and the methodology it summarises lies an extensive BEIS analysis of Electricity Generation Costs, underpinned or verified by studies or peer reviews by Arup, Imperial College, NERA, Prof Anna Zalewska, Prof Derek Bunn, Leigh Fisher and Jacobs and EPRI.

The heat is on

Alongside the draft budget notice, BEIS has published two documents about CfD support for particular technologies.

One of these is a consultation that returns to the long-unanswered question of what to do about onshore wind on Scottish islands: should it be regarded as just another species of onshore wind (and therefore not to receive subsidy, in line with post-2015 Government policy), or does it face higher costs to a degree that merits a special place in the CfD scheme, as was suggested by the 2010-2015 Government?  It comes as no surprise that the Government favours the former view: another item to add to the list of points on which the UK and Scottish Governments do not see eye to eye.

The second document is a call for evidence on the currently CfD-eligible thermal renewable technologies of biomass or waste-fuelled technologies (including biomass conversions), and geothermal.  These raise a number of issues, on which the call for evidence takes no clear stance.

  • Is continued support for the fuelled technologies in particular consistent with getting “value for money” by focusing subsidies on the cheapest ways of decarbonising the power supply (except onshore wind and solar), given that (with the exception of biomass conversions), they have a relatively high levelised cost of electricity generation?
  • Can they be justified on the grounds that they are “despatchable” (and so do not impose the same burdens on the system as “variable” renewable generation like wind and solar)?  Or on the grounds that (where they incorporate combined heat and power), they contribute to the decarbonisation of heat, as well as of power generation – an area in which more progress needs to be made soon in order to meet our overall target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Climate Change Act 2008 (and the Paris CoP 21 Agreement)?
  • Is the current relationship between the CfD and Renewable Heat Incentive support schemes the right one in this context?  Is a CfD for a CHP plant unbankable because of the risk of losing the heat offtaker?
  • Are all these technologies about to be overtaken as potential ways of decarbonising the heat sector on a large scale by other contenders such as hydrogen or heat pumps (and if so, is that a reason to abandon them as targets for CfD or other subsidy)?
  • Should more existing coal-fired power stations be subsidised to convert to burning huge quantities of wood pellets (is that really “sustainable” – and would such subsidies comply with current EU state aid rules, for as long as they or something like them apply in the UK)?

Against this background, the draft budget notice proposes to limit advanced conversion technologies, anaerobic digestion and biomass with CHP to 150MW of support in the next CfD auction.

Kicking the coal habit

Finally, BEIS is consulting on the best way to “regulate the closure of unabated coal to provide greater market certainty for investors in the generation capacity that is to replace coal stations as they close, such as new gas stations”.  The consultation needs to be read alongside BEIS’s latest Fossil Fuel Price Projections (with supporting analysis by Wood Mackenzie).  These set out low, central and high case estimates of coal, oil and gas prices going forward to 2040.  BEIS has significantly reduced its estimates for all three fuels under all three cases as compared with those in its 2015 Projections.

We are talking here about eight generating stations, which between them can produce 13.9GW. Their share of GB electricity supply tends to fluctuate with the relative prices of coal and gas.  Most are over 40 years old.  All can only survive by taking steps to comply with the limits on SOx, NOx and dust prescribed by the EU Industrial Emissions Directive – at least for as long as the UK is within the EU.

The Government’s difficulty is how to ensure that these plants close (for decarbonisation purposes), but on a timescale and in circumstances that ensure that the contribution that they make to security of electricity supply is replaced without a gap by e.g. new gas-fired plant, of which so little has recently been built. BEIS evidently hopes that by the time this consultation finishes on 1 February 2017, the results of next month’s four-year ahead Capacity Market auction will have seen a significant amount of new large-scale gas fired power projects being awarded capacity agreements at prices that make them viable (when taken together with expectations of lower-for-longer gas prices).

Although BEIS professes confidence in the changes that it has made to the rules and market parameters for the next Capacity Market auctions, one cannot help but wonder how convinced Ministers are that the 2016 auctions will succeed in this respect where those of 2014 and 2015 failed.  Because from one point of view, if the Capacity Market does result in new large gas-fired projects with capacity agreements, and gas prices remain low, the market should simply replace the existing coal-fired plants – which, as the consultation points out, aren’t even as flexible as modern gas-fired plant.  Maybe if a newly inaugurated President Trump pushes ahead with his plans to revive the use of coal in the US, higher coal prices will help accelerate the closure of some of our remaining coal-fired plants: BEIS calculates that with relatively low coal prices and no Government intervention, they could run until 2030 or beyond.

So how will Government make the plants close? Two options are proposed.  One would be to require them to retrofit carbon capture and storage (CCS), the other would be to require them to comply with the emissions performance standard (EPS) that was set in the Energy Act 2013 for new fossil-fuelled plant with a view to ensuring that no new coal plant was commissioned.  Neither path is entirely straightforward.  As it seems unlikely that operators would invest the kinds of sums associated with CCS on such old plant, there must be a risk that in trying to make CCS a genuine alternative to complete closure, regulations could end up allowing operators to run a significant amount of capacity without CCS whilst taking only limited action to develop CCS capacity.  With the EPS approach, there would be some tricky questions to resolve around biomass co-firing, as well as biomass conversion, if that were to remain an eligible CfD technology and budget were to be allocated to it.

When it comes to consider how to ensure that coal closure does not involve a “cliff-edge” effect, the consultation seems to run out of steam a bit: having mentioned the possibility of limiting running hours or emissions, either on a per plant basis or across the whole sector, BEIS says simply that it would “welcome any views on whether a constraint [on coal generation prior to closure] would be beneficial and, if so, any ideas on the possible profile and design”.

What next?

Nothing stands still.  The period of these consultations / calls for evidence, and the next Capacity Market auctions, overlaps with other processes.  Over the next few months, the Government is scheduled to produce over-arching plans or strategies in a number of areas that overlap with some of the questions posed in these documents.  It will also continue to develop its strategy for Brexit negotiations with the EU; and the European Commission will publish more of its proposals on Energy Union (including new rules on renewables, market operation and national climate and energy plans).

The documents state more than once that while the UK is an EU Member State, it will “continue to negotiate, implement and apply” EU legislation. But – at least in relation to coal closure – the Government is trying to make policy here for the 2020s.  By that time, it presumably hopes, it will no longer be constrained by EU law.  It remains to be seen how Brexit will affect the participation of our remaining coal-fired plants in the EU Emissions Trading System, which is at present a significant feature of the economics of such plant.  In the short term, the coal consultation points to an announcement in the Chancellor’s 2016 Autumn Statement (23 November) of the “future trajectory beyond 2021” of the UK’s own “carbon tax”, the carbon price support rate of the climate change levy.

After a period in which we have been relatively starved of substantive energy policy announcements, things are starting to move quite fast, and decisions taken by Government over the next few months could have significant medium-to-long-term consequences for UK energy and climate change policy.

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First flesh on the bones of the new UK government’s energy policy?

Thoughts on the death of DECC

Over the course of 13 and 14 July 2016, UK’s new Prime Minister, Theresa May, appointed the Secretaries of State who will lead the various Departments of Government.  By the end of the process, which was precipitated by the UK’s referendum vote to leave the EU, the Cabinet had gained two new Secretaries of State (for “Exiting the European Union” and “International Trade”).  At the same time, the position of Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change had been abolished, along with the Department which its holder led (DECC).  To anyone with a professional interest in energy and climate change policy, this will likely have felt like a backward step.  If nothing else, as pointed out by Angus MacNeill, Chair of the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee, it raises some important questions which will need to be answered quickly.

It is, of course, far too early to judge the new Government’s approach to any issue.  After a period of several months in which relatively little in the way of major policy emerged from DECC (no doubt partly because of pre-referendum stasis), there will be a temptation to fall on anything that the Ministers newly appointed to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) say in the next few weeks for clues about the future direction of energy and climate change policy – and possibly over-interpret them.  The new regime should be judged on its record rather than its name.

In practical terms, it was probably not feasible for an incoming Prime Minister to create two new Secretary of State posts without losing at least one existing one to compensate – and the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has lost a significant chunk of its previous responsibilities (higher education, and, presumably, at least some of international trade), so may have needed some additional bulk.  Historically, the energy portfolio has had its own Department within Government for over 50 of the last 100 years (variously as the Ministry of Power, 1942-1969; the Department of Energy, 1974-1992; and DECC, 2008-2016).  Otherwise (apart from a very brief period in the Ministry of Technology), it has been in the Board of Trade and its successors, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Business, Energy and Regulatory Reform – and now BEIS.  If one looks to international comparisons, practice varies: Germany has a Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy; Denmark has a Ministry of Energy, Utilities and Climate; in Italy, energy is a matter for the Ministry of Economic Development.  At EU level of course, DG Energy is very much a Directorate-General in its own right: energy has been a key policy area for the EU and its precursors and it will be an important element in both Brexit negotiations and international discussions about post-Brexit trade arrangements with the EU and others.

One thing that distinguishes the new configuration from those other occasions when “energy” has not had its own UK Department, is that on this occasion it does at least feature in the name of the Department that is responsible for it.  It will undoubtedly form a significant part of BEIS’s business.  It is true that “climate change” has lost some profile, but it is also noticeable, if one looks at the DECC organogram, that very few DECC teams could be said to have had an exclusively climate change focus (in any case, when DECC was originally created, only those Defra staff working on climate change mitigation joined the new Department: those working on climate change adaptation remained behind).  Arguably one of the achievements of DECC (and the period of policy formation that immediately preceded it) was to make climate change considerations part of the mainstream of energy policy-making.  The optimistic view would be that with the Climate Change Act 2008 – and its system of carbon budgets, based on work by the independent experts of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – well entrenched, there is less need for the symbolism inherent in the name of DECC.  One might also add, more cynically, that there was more than one occasion when having responsibility for climate change policy did not stop DECC Ministers from choosing the “less green” option.

But on a more positive note, there are clearly potential advantages in having “business”, “energy” and “industrial strategy” in the same Department.  As the CCC’s Report on the Fifth Carbon Budget made clear, if we are to achieve the kind of reductions in carbon emissions that we need in order to meet the overall goals of the Climate Change Act, not to mention contributing a fair share to the achievement of the aims of the CoP21 Paris Agreement of December 2015, we will need to go a long way beyond the task of decarbonising the electricity generation sector (admittedly still work-in-progress though that is).  There is a lot to be done in relation to heat and transport, for example, and the challenges are formidable.  Some of this is very much to do with industrial energy use, and having one Department, rather than two, focusing on this area could well make a positive difference (given the inevitable friction that exists between all public sector bodies with shared interests).  Maybe it is even not too much to hope, in this context, that the new Government may revisit the decision to abandon large-scale sponsorship of carbon capture and storage, which is thought by many to have more to offer in a wider industrial context than it necessarily does purely in the electricity generation sector.  At the same time, a Secretary of State for BEIS (Greg Clark) who has come from the Department of Communities and Local Government may be an asset at a time when it is also becoming clear that some aspects of the development of new energy infrastructure are best considered locally, at least within cities.  And “industrial strategy” – unclear as yet though it is what this will involve – could also have a mutually beneficial intra-Departmental relationship with “energy”.  Finally, given that it is only seven years since DECC was partly carved out of one of BEIS’s predecessors, it is to be hoped that this change in the machinery of Government can be accomplished without distracting ex-DECC management too much from the policy agenda (now, of course, supplemented by Brexit).

In the post-Brexit world, nothing is necessarily what it seems.  Any or all of the above speculation may be naïve or misguided.  The new Department should be watched carefully, but today, objectively and at a policy level, it is far too early to say whether (or how much) we should mourn the passing of DECC.

 

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Thoughts on the death of DECC

Energy Brexit: initial thoughts

In the energy sector, as elsewhere, it is far too early to give any definitive view on the effects of the UK electorate’s vote to leave the EU, or to offer a comprehensive analysis of the merits of the options now facing the UK Government. Here we offer some initial thoughts on these subjects.  Further posts will follow in the coming weeks, months and years.  No doubt some of what we say here and subsequently will turn out in retrospect to have been wide of the mark, but this is an occupational hazard of providing current commentary in a fast moving area.

This is a rather long post. We hope that those that follow will be shorter.

  • We begin by looking briefly at the relationship between EU and UK energy policy to date.
  • We then consider the EEA as a possible model for developing that relationship post Brexit.
  • After glancing at the anomalous position of nuclear power, we move on to consider how the UK could reinvent parts of its energy policy if it were free of EU / EEA law constraints.

Overall, our conclusions are not surprising.

  • EU and UK energy policies are in many ways closely aligned.  Yet EU membership undoubtedly constrains UK policy choices in a way that some find detrimental to UK business and/or consumer interests.
  • Most of those constraints would remain if the UK were to leave the EU but remain a member of the European Economic Area (EEA).  But even this limited change would bring with it a need, or at least the opportunity, to re-evaluate quite a large number of (in some cases fairly significant) pieces of law and regulation.
  • If the UK were to seek its fortune outside both the EU and the EEA, Government would be able, at least from a legal point of view, to introduce some very radical changes to current energy policies – and in some cases it might well be tempted to do so (although it would still face some international law constraints and would no doubt need to factor in the effect of doing so on the terms that could be negotiated with other states and the tariffs that might be imposed as a consequence).
  • There will be no substitute, as energy Brexit unfolds, for keeping a close eye on what is proposed in relation to each policy area (even if it is not presented directly as a response to Brexit).  Even if “this country has had enough of experts”, Government will need clear advice from the energy industry more than ever over the next few years.

Putting things in perspective

This Blog will focus on how Brexit affects energy law and policy. We recognise that for many with interests in the UK energy sector, the most immediate concerns may well be about other aspects of Brexit: for example, how it affects their willingness to invest in Sterling assets; whether there will be positive adjustments to the UK’s tax regime; how it could affect the employment status of their non-British workers; or how the post-referendum ferment will simply delay key Government and business decisions.  We are happy to discuss any of those issues with you, but for now, an analysis of Brexit in areas of law and policy specific to the energy sector seems as good a place as any to start to appreciate the complexities opened up by the result of the 23 June 2016 referendum.

Common ground and policy continuity?

A few days after the referendum, Amber Rudd, then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, began a speech by saying: “To be clear, Britain will leave the EU”, and then went on to itemise at some length why this should not mean any big shifts in UK energy policy.  As she put it: “the challenges [securing our energy supply, keeping bills low and building a low carbon energy infrastructure] remain the same.  Our commitment also remains the same”.

It is not hard to find examples of the fundamental objectives of EU and UK policy being aligned.

  • The UK has been a leading advocate since the 1980s of the kind of liberalisation of electricity and gas markets that is now fundamental to the EU’s internal energy market rules.
  • EU and UK policy has favoured open and transparent markets in which free competition is promoted as a way of delivering lower prices and other benefits to consumers.
  • Both the EU and UK have sought to control the adverse environmental impacts of energy industry activities.  More recently, the threat of dangerous climate change has given added impetus to efforts to promote decarbonisation, renewables and energy efficiency.
  • In practical terms, the UK has been the most open of EU markets to the ownership of energy sector assets by foreign companies (although the most notable cases have involved acquisition rather than simply EU companies relying on freedom of establishment).
  • The UK can claim to have been promoting electricity generation from renewable sources for some time before the EU had an effective renewables policy.
  • The UK, having adopted the first national scheme of “legally binding” greenhouse gas emissions targets in the Climate Change Act 2008, played a leading role in developing the EU’s position on the CoP21 agreement reached in Paris in December 2015.

The first tangible indication of post-Brexit policy continuity came with the Government’s announcement on 30 June 2016 that it would implement the independent Committee on Climate Change’s recommendation for the level of the Fifth Carbon Budget, covering the period 2028-2032.  (It would perhaps be uncharitable, in the circumstances, to suggest that on a strict view of the Climate Change Act 2008, the relevant Order should have been debated by Parliament and made by 30 June 2016, and not simply laid before Parliament for approval by that date.)

Sources of irritation

Broad principles are one thing and the detail of regulation is another. There are plenty of examples of tension between EU energy sector policy and regulation and UK preferences.  We are not aware of any poll data on how many of those who voted to leave the EU had energy policy on their minds, but there have certainly been times when EU regulation has not developed as the UK Government would have wished.  At other times, the existence of EU law requirements of one kind or another as a constraint on freedom of action by the UK authorities has given some ammunition to those who argue that as it is a national Government’s function to “keep the lights on” (at a reasonable price) and choose the fuel mix, the EU’s energy policies have impermissibly eroded an aspect of UK sovereignty.

  • The UK was a strong proponent of the enlargement of the EU into Central and Eastern Europe, but the accession to the EU of countries such as Poland may well have helped to ensure that the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) has never set as tight a cap on emissions, and therefore as high a price on CO2 emissions, as the UK would like in order to drive decarbonisation of the power sector and industrial energy use.
  • Various EU rules on environmental, state aid, renewables and single market matters can arguably be blamed for fatally increasing the power costs of UK energy intensive industries to a point where the UK has hardly any steel or aluminium producers left.
  • EU Directives on industrial (non-CO2) pollution have driven a cycle of closures of coal-fired generating stations which some would see as having prematurely diminished the UK’s security of energy supply and limited its ability to benefit from cheap US coal prices.
  • Opposition to the granting of planning permission for onshore wind farms in many parts of the UK (or at least England and Wales) was probably materially intensified by developers arguing (supported by Labour Government policy) that planning authorities were under a duty to grant permission so as to facilitate the achievement of Renewables Directive targets.
  • Since the UK (unlike Germany, for instance) has no domestic PV manufacturing interests that it wishes to protect, it would prefer not to pursue the current EU policy of imposing a “minimum import price” on Chinese solar panels (thus helping the UK solar industry to come to terms more quickly with the Government’s decision to curtail subsidies to it).
  • Generally, as the body of EU energy regulation has grown in strength and reach, and as UK Government energy policy has involved increasing amounts of intervention in the market (for example so as to promote low carbon generation), EU law has become a significant constraint on how the UK Government achieves its objectives, even when those objectives are consistent with EU objectives.
  • The tension between EU and UK policies can be seen in the case of Capacity Markets.  The European Commission, which has no voters worried about “the lights going out” to answer to, sees these as essentially unwarranted interferences with market mechanisms which threaten artificially to partition the EU single market for electricity.  DG Competition is reviewing Capacity Markets in a number of EU Member States (not including the UK, whose regime it has approved under state aid rules already).  It is ironic that the Commission’s work at several points highlights the UK’s approach as a model of good practice, when many in the UK consider that its Capacity Market has failed in some of its primary objectives, and partly blame decisions taken to secure clearance from the Commission for the regime’s defects.
  • There is also a lingering suspicion that the UK sometimes makes matters worse for itself by taking a more conscientious approach to the implementation of EU law requirements (even those it does not entirely support) than some other Member States.

No doubt the UK is not the only Member State dissatisfied with aspects of EU energy policy and regulation. But for now, no other EU Member State has set itself on the course of withdrawal from the EU.

It is unlikely that energy policy will determine the UK Government’s Brexit implementation strategy. However, focusing just on this one area, if one assumes that the UK will not radically change the overall direction of its energy policies and will remain committed to tackling all three challenges of the familiar security-decarbonisation-affordability trilemma referred to by Amber Rudd, how might the UK Government and others seek to maximise the opportunities opened up by Brexit?

Back to the future?

We must begin by considering the “EEA option(s)” – putting to one side, for present purposes, the question of whether a way can be found to preserve existing free trade arrangements with the EU without continuing to allow all EEA nationals their current rights of free movement into the UK.

In 1972 the UK left the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) to join the European Economic Community, forerunner of the EU.  Subsequently, the remaining members of EFTA entered into bilateral trade agreements with the EU, many joining the EU.  The European Economic Area (EEA) was formed by an agreement concluded in 1993 between the European Community (not yet officially the EU), its Member States, and three of the four remaining EFTA states (Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein – Switzerland remained outside the EEA).  What would it mean for the UK to leave the EU and become a party to the EEA as an EFTA state once more?

First, consider the other members of the club that the UK would be (re-)joining.

  • In 2015, the UK had a population of 65 million and a nominal GDP of $2,849 billion.  The four current EFTA states had a combined population of less than 14 million (more than half of which is made up by non-EEA Switzerland) and GDP of just over $1,000 billion (of which, again, Switzerland accounted for more than half).
  • In 1992, Switzerland voted by a 0.3% margin not to join the EEA in 1992 and Norway voted by a 2.8% margin not to join the EU.  Iceland dropped its bid to join the EU in 2015: fisheries policy (not covered by the EEA Agreement) was a sticking point, not for the first time.
  • Norway is the EU’s second largest supplier of both oil and natural gas.  It accounts for almost 30% of EU gas imports, as compared with Russia’s 39%.  But virtually all of its electricity is generated from renewable sources (overwhelmingly hydropower).
  • Market structures in the energy sectors of EFTA States are somewhat different from those in the UK.  Norway and Iceland are both characterised by a degree of state ownership than has not been familiar in the UK for many years.  Switzerland’s power sector is highly fragmented.
  • Both Norway and Iceland could export considerable amounts of power via interconnectors.  For potential importers such as the UK, this is attractive because, unusually, most of these countries’ renewable power output, being hydropower or geothermal, is “despatchable” on demand rather than being a “variable” source of supply like wind or solar power.
  • Switzerland has electricity interconnection capacity approximately equal to its peak power demand.  It exports and imports power equivalent to more than half its total consumption to and from its EU Member State neighbours.  The UK is making progress on interconnection, but is still some way from meeting a 2005 EU target of 10% of installed capacity.
  • Norway, although not subject to the EU legislation that underpins the EU’s electricity cross-border “market coupling” regime, nevertheless manages to participate in it.  (Note that Switzerland is reported to have been excluded from the same mechanism after its referendum vote against “mass migration” – i.e. free movement of people.)

Next, consider how the EEA works legally.

  • The EEA Agreement sets out the basic “free movement” rules as they were in the EC Treaty in 1993 so as to create an extended free trade area.  This does not extend to all the goods covered by the EU single market, and it only applies to products originating in the EEA.  Most importantly, it does not include the provisions which create the EU customs union, so that the EFTA states are not obliged to maintain the same tariffs in respect of products from third countries as the EU does under its “common commercial policy”.
  • If the UK were within the EEA, other EEA states would not be able to discriminate against energy products which the UK exported, provided that they “originated” in the UK.  That would cover, for example, power generated in the UK and exported over an interconnector. The implications of the rules on origination for trading in oil and gas extracted in non-EEA countries but entering the EEA in the UK would need to be considered (along with applicable WTO rules) if the EU were to raise its tariffs for those products from its current level of zero.
  • Most EU legislation is comprised of Directives and Regulations.  These are proposed by the European Commission, negotiated by representatives of the EU Member States (the European Council), with amendments typically being proposed in parallel by the European Parliament and a political compromise being reached between Council, Parliament and Commission on a final text in the so-called “trilogue” procedure.   Once they have been adopted in this way, Regulations in principle do not require national implementing measures, because they are directly applicable throughout the EU, whereas Directives generally require Member States to enact specific legislation to implement them.
  • EEA law is meant to correspond to EU law within the scope of the EEA Agreement.  All EEA law originates from the EU legislative process described above and the EFTA States only have the right to be consulted on its terms – they have no representation in the European Council or Parliament, and they have no vote on the final text.
  • However, EU legislation does not have any effect in the EFTA States just by being adopted at EU level.  Once an EU Directive or Regulation has been adopted, it must first be determined whether it falls within the scope of the EEA Agreement.  The EFTA Secretariat leads this work, which is not always straightforward.  For example, the EEA Agreement essentially takes (parts of) the EC Treaty as it was after the Single European Act but before the Maastricht, Nice Amsterdam or Lisbon Treaties.  As such, it does not include a provision equivalent to Article 194 TFEU, which has formed the legislative base for a number of measures in the energy sector.  This immediately makes it harder to determine whether any Article 194-based measure is within EEA scope.
  • If a measure is in scope, Article 102 of the EEA Agreement states that it is to be adopted by the EEA Joint Committee “to guarantee the legal security and homogeneity of the EEA”.  In most cases, measures are adopted in their entirety with no substantive amendments.  However, amendments are possible if it is agreed that they do not affect “the good functioning” of the EEA Agreement.  Adoption, and any amendment, is recorded by making entries in the various topic-based Annexes to the EEA Agreement.  Energy is dealt with in Annex IV (which can be compared with the European Commission’s list of measures covered by its DG Energy), but Annex XX (Environment) and others are also relevant.  There is a helpful online facility for tracking what point a given piece of EU legislation has reached in the process of EEA adoption – or otherwise.
  • The EEA Joint Committee takes decisions “by agreement between the [EU], on the one hand, and the EFTA States speaking with one voice, on the other”.  Article 102 is in effect an “agreement to agree”.  Absent such agreement, it allows the relevant part of the relevant Annex to the EEA Agreement to be “suspended” – so far, apparently, an unused mechanism.
  • In order for an adopted measure to take effect within the laws of all the individual EFTA States, national implementing legislation is required.  Note that this is the case regardless of whether the original EU measure is a Directive or a Regulation, since Norway and Iceland apparently could not accept, as a matter of constitutional law, a process by which Regulations automatically take effect in their jurisdictions without national implementation (and the Norwegian and Icelandic legislatures do not appear to have been able to find a solution to this problem along the lines of the UK’s s.2(1) European Communities Act 1972).
  • Compliance with EEA laws that are brought into force in this way is enforced both by national courts in EFTA States and by the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA), whose position is analogous to that of the European Commission in that respect.  Amongst other things, the ESA performs the function of determining whether cases of state aid are compatible with the EEA Agreement just as the Commission does in respect of EU law.
  • Finally, the EFTA Court is there to hear cases brought by EFTA States against each other or by or against the ESA as regards the application of the EEA Agreement.  As in the case of EU law, failure by a Member State to implement EEA requirements can result in infringement proceedings before the Court.
  • Although the EEA legislative process is somewhat slower than that of the EU (see below), both the ESA and the EFTA Court tend to process cases more quickly than their EU counterparts (but then, so far, they have also had notably lighter workloads).

The EEA Agreement in action

The way in which some familiar pieces of EU legislation have been processed for the purposes of the EEA Agreement provides some interesting examples of how the EEA works in practice.

It can take a long time to adopt some measures.

  • The EU adopted its “Third Package” of electricity and gas market liberalisation measures in 2009 and they came into force in the EU in 2011: the process of EEA adoption has not progressed beyond submission of a draft decision to the European Commission (in 2013).
  • The REMIT Regulation on energy market transparency, adopted and in force in the EU since 2011 is still “under scrutiny” by EFTA.  Neither of the general Directives on energy efficiency, 2006/32/EC and 2012/27/EU, yet appears close to being adopted.
  • The EU Emissions Trading Scheme Directive of 2003 and the Industrial Emissions Directive of 2010 had to wait until 2007 and 2015 respectively for adoption into the EEA Agreement.  However, in the latter case, the process could at least package the adoption of the Directive itself with that of a large number of implementing measures taken under it at EU level.

Other EU energy measures have been considered to fall outside the scope of the EEA.

  • The Directives on security of gas or oil supply, such as the Oil Stocking Directive, 2009/119/EC do not form part of the EEA Agreement.
  • Since tax harmonisation falls outside the scope of the EEA Agreement, the Energy Products Taxation Directive has not been adopted by the EFTA States.
  • The EU’s continuing sanctions measures against Iran (those adopted “in view of the human rights situation in Iran, support for terrorism and other grounds”), like other EU Common Foreign and Security Policy measures, are not part of EEA law.

How flexible is the application of EU law in the EEA?

  • In some cases, adoption of EU measures has included significant derogations, such as for Iceland in relation to the energy performance of buildings and geothermal co-generation, and for Liechtenstein in relation to rules on renewable energy.  Derogations and other amendments involve a more protracted process of approval on the EU side, since they are a matter for the Council and not just for the Commission.
  • There have been a number of ESA proceedings in respect of alleged state aid of various kinds.  As is the case with European Commission decisions, these sometimes exhibit rigorous application of economic principles, and sometimes, to a cynical eye, could be thought to carry a slight hint of political expediency.

How would the UK fit in to the EEA / EFTA energy sector?

If the UK were to become an EFTA / EEA State tomorrow, it would find itself, by virtue of its generally fairly scrupulous past compliance with its obligations as an EU Member State, considerably ahead of its EFTA peers in implementing EEA law.

As in every other area of policy, legislating for Brexit at UK level involves, at least in theory, a large number of choices. Any domestic legislation that implements a Directive could in principle either be left as it is, amended or repealed.  The Government would also have to decide whether to legislate, if only on a transitional basis, to preserve (with or without amendment) the application of each EU Regulation that currently has effect in the UK without any implementing domestic legislation.

In some cases (such as the Regulations which impose the minimum import price for Chinese solar panels in the UK), allowing such Regulations to cease to have effect on Brexit would be an easy choice. In other cases (for example REMIT, or the various Regulations made under the Energy-using Products Directive that impose labelling requirements on electrical goods based on their energy efficiency), there could be a strong case for preserving their effect as a matter of domestic law even as they ceased to apply as a matter of EU law.

But for a Government of Ministers who have long harboured ambitions of doing more to “get rid of red tape”, Brexit is likely to be too good an opportunity to pass up. In so many previous attempts to shrink the statute book, Ministers have had to accept – however reluctantly in some cases – that measures which implemented EU law were untouchable.  This time, there will be pressure to get rid of some of those.  In each case where a straight repeal is contemplated, the consequences of having a regulatory vacuum in the relevant area should be carefully considered and the views of relevant stakeholders taken into account.  Business may need to be alert to what is proposed and ready to engage fully at short notice whenever this process takes place – which could either be in parallel with Brexit negotiations or after they are concluded.  It would make sense for the default position at the start of the UK’s EU-non membership to be one in which the effect of pre-Brexit Directives and Regulation is preserved, at least for an initial transitional period, by a widely-drafted general saving clause in the legislation that undoes s.2(1) of the European Communities Act.

However, if the Government plans to join the EEA as an EFTA State, the task of sifting through decades of EU legislation on this “pick ‘n’ mix” basis should arguably only be a priority in relation to two classes of measure: (i) those that fall outside the scope of the EEA Agreement; and (ii) those that have yet to be adopted at EEA level, to the extent that there would be a clear UK advantage in disapplying them or modifying their effect on a temporary basis.

In the first category (measures outside EEA scope) it is not clear there would be many “quick wins”.

  • One possible example is the suggestion made by Brexit campaigners during the referendum that leaving the EU would enable the Government to abolish VAT on domestic energy bills – a move that would help to offset the increases in electricity bills driven by levies on suppliers to pay for the cost of renewable electricity generation subsidies.
  • In other areas highlighted above as falling outside the scope of the EEA Agreement, it is less clear what would be gained by an immediate move away from the existing EU-based law.  For example, on the whole UK levels of taxation on energy products exceed the minima set out in the Energy Products Taxation Directive – although it may help to have additional room for manoeuvre in reforming business energy taxation.  As regards sanctions against Iran, the factors to be taken into account probably go well beyond energy policy considerations.  It is possible that increased flexibilities from the removal of Oil Stocking Directive requirements would assist the struggling UK refineries sector, but the UK would still remain subject to the parallel requirements of the International Energy Agency’s International Energy Program Agreement.  Refineries might benefit more from the removal of rules implementing the Industrial Emissions Directive (but, as noted above, this is part of the EEA Agreement, and so unlikely to be disapplied if the plan is to join the EEA).

In the second category (candidates for possible temporary disapplication), there may be more scope for opportunistic (de-)regulation, but it is not obvious what the overall strategy would be.

  • Pragmatically, the disapplication of a requirement based on EU law that the UK authorities do not like may be an unnecessary step to take in some cases.  For example, if the UK has left or is about to leave the EU and it looks as if the target set for reducing the energy consumption of public sector buildings in Regulations implementing the Directive 2012/27/EU is not met in 2020, and the Directive has not yet been adopted into the EEA Agreement, would the Government bother to repeal the Regulations, or simply do nothing?  That said, it is too early to be sure that the European Commission will abandon or slow-track any infringement proceedings against the UK for non-implementation of EU law: after all, it might, for example, be part of the arrangements for the UK’s withdrawal that, where the UK was subject to infringement proceedings at the time of leaving the EU – particularly in respect of failure to implement a measure that is also part of the EEA Agreement – those proceedings could be carried on to their conclusion, whether by the EU or EFTA authorities.
  • Similarly with Directives which have been adopted at EU level, and may be required to be implemented before the UK leaves the EU: the UK could take the view that it need not implement them unless and until they are included in the EEA Agreement.  The Medium Combustion Plant Directive, with a transposition date of 19 December 2017, could perhaps safely be included in this category – although there have been indications that in order to prevent undue exploitation of the Capacity Market and other incentives for distributed generation by diesel-fired plant, the Government may actually wish to implement this early.
  • Timing is everything in this context.  EU Regulation 838/2010 imposes a cap of €2.5/MWh on average electricity transmission charges in the UK.  This has been implemented in a provision of National Grid’s Connection and Use of System Code, which previously split the charges 27:73 between generators and suppliers, but now requires suppliers to pay a >73% share and is also the subject of some dispute because of the artificiality of imposing an ex ante Euro-denominated cap on a market that operates in Sterling.  After Brexit, the cap could simply be removed (at least until the Regulation becomes part of the EEA Agreement), but unless the current modification processes move very slowly or the Brexit negotiations move very fast, Ofgem is likely to have to grapple with the issues that it raises sooner than that.  Incidentally, this example illustrates two further points about implementation: (i) that it is sometimes necessary or appropriate to make provision in domestic law to give effect to an EU Regulation; and (ii) that (in the energy sector at least) it is not just the conventional categories of statute law (Orders and Regulations) that need to be combed when reviewing the implementation of EU law: licence conditions, industry codes and other regulatory documents are also part of the picture.

Another important question in this scenario, and one which there is not space to pursue in any depth here, is the impact of Brexit on the EU’s Energy Union project.  Some elements of the proposed Energy Union package may well fall outside the scope of the EEA Agreement, which will no doubt please those who were concerned that “UK business gas supplies could be diverted to households in Europe, under EU crisis plan” (referring to the proposed new principle of “solidarity” in the Commission’s gas security of supply proposals).  Other elements are likely to result in what would amount to a Fourth Package of internal electricity and gas market measures – parts of which the UK might wish to implement before the other EFTA States have  implemented the Third Package, but in the negotiation of which, even if it is completed during the time of the UK’s remaining EU membership, it is hard to see the UK playing a decisive role.  Amongst other things, Energy Unions is likely to confer more power on ACER, the collective body of EU energy regulators.  Yet there is no guarantee that Ofgem would retain its position within this body if the UK were no longer an EU Member State (even if it were an EEA State, unless and until the EEA adopted the new rules).

Confused? You won’t be alone.  But note in passing that one difference between the Second and Third Packages is that only the latter imposes an obligation to roll out smart meters to 80% of customers by 2020 (subject to a positive cost-benefit analysis).  Surely nobody would use the UK leaving the EU, and thus (even if temporarily) not being obliged to follow this requirement as a reason to repeal or not enforce Condition 39.1 of the Standard Licence Conditions of Electricity Supply Licences, which implements it in UK law?

For the avoidance of doubt, if the UK were to join the EEA as an EFTA state, it would remain subject to EU state aid rules, under which state aid which distorts competition is unlawful and liable to be repaid if it is not first cleared by the European Commission / ESA. Many of the UK’s key current energy policies, such as the Capacity Market and Contracts for Difference (CfDs), involve an element of state aid.  State aid clearance for them by the European Commission has been very carefully negotiated, and the need to seek clearance for any significant changes to them has been a constraint on recent policy development.  The ESA has adopted guidelines on state aid for energy and environmental protection that are effectively identical to those of the Commission and it is likely to take a similar view of UK energy policies involving state aid.

In the field of climate change, the UK would no longer be represented by the EU at future UNFCCC conferences. Like the other EFTA States, it would be required to submit its own nationally determined contribution (NDC) towards the achievement of the goals of the CoP21 Paris Agreement, rather than coming under the umbrella of the general EU-wide NDC.  The mechanisms of the Climate Change Act 2008 should provide a sound basis for this.

In short, in the “EEA scenario”, the energy sector is unlikely to see big changes from the UK side as a result of Brexit, but as there may be a sustained effort by Ministers to make the most of even temporary flexibilities, the industry will need both to be alive to the detail of proposed changes and prepared to advise the Government on how the inherent flexibilities described above can best be used in UK policy changes. It is also possible that the arrival of the UK would put some aspects of the way that the EEA operates under strain, both within EFTA itself and in its relations with the EU.  One can imagine the UK sometimes being impatient at the slowness of EEA adoption of some EU law and at other times wanting to push the boundaries of EFTA independence further than the EEA Agreement will easily tolerate.  Inevitably, a recalcitrant UK would be a bigger problem than a recalcitrant Liechtenstein.

Nuclear options?

It is a fair bet that very few voters on 23 June were asking themselves whether a vote to “leave the EU” was meant to suggest to the Government that it should cease to be a party to the Euratom Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community. For what it is worth, in strict legal terms, Brexit should not necessarily imply leaving Euratom, since it, alone of the three original “European Communities” has not been terminated or submerged in the EU.  (It also forms no part of the arrangements between the EU and EFTA States in the EEA Agreement.)

The UK Government may feel that these subtleties are not to be relied on in implementing the “will of the people”.  “Article 50” notices of an intention to withdraw could presumably be served in respect of both Euratom and the EU Treaties (relying on Article 106a Euratom as to Euratom).  Would leaving Euratom be a problem?  The UK had a nuclear industry (arguably a more successful one) before it joined the EEC in 1972, and for many years some of the key international safety, liability and other industry-specific rules were to be found only in the relevant IAEA Convention and not in any European Directive.  Ceasing to be party to Euratom would not affect those.

However, it is hard not to see leaving Euratom as a backward step for a country whose Government has strong nuclear aspirations.   For example, the ability to continue to participate in European nuclear research projects, including on nuclear fusion, is something that the Government would presumably want to safeguard, but beyond the next few years, it would not be guaranteed outside Euratom.  An alternative (if it was felt to be too politically uncomfortable for the UK to stay in Euratom) might be for the UK to suggest to the remaining Euratom States that they make use of Article 206 Euratom to conclude an association agreement with the UK (if that is politically acceptable to all parties) – although this could presumably have the disadvantage of the UK being obliged to follow rules and policies which it would not have input into on an equal footing.

Meanwhile, only time will tell whether French Government support for EDF’s proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station will survive Brexit. At this stage it is hard to say that there is any legal reason for the project not to go ahead if the UK is no longer an EU Member State, but Brexit could provide an excuse for either Government if they wanted to terminate the project for other reasons.  EDF’s Chinese partners, may, of course, have a view about that.

The Energy Community

Unlike in some other sectoral areas of law affected by Brexit, energy has the benefit of a ready-made multilateral precedent for the EU and non-EU states to enter into a “single market” agreement which does not (at least explicitly) involve free movement of persons. The Energy Community was formed in 2005 by a treaty between the European Community and a number of Balkan states.  It now comprises the EU, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia and Ukraine.  Georgia is in the process of joining; Armenia, Norway and Turkey are observers.

Some, but not all of these countries are candidates for EU membership and/or have signed up to forms of EU association agreement that commit them to comply with core single market rules, but with only limited provision for the free movement of persons. The Energy Community Treaty and associated Legal Framework commit the Contracting (non-EU) Parties to implement a number of key EU law energy provisions, including the Third Package, security of gas and electricity supply rules, the Renewable Energy Directive, energy efficiency rules, the Oil Stocking Directive, competition and state aid rules and key air pollution and environmental impact assessment rules.  Although supervision of the implementation of Contracting Parties’ obligations is by a Ministerial Council rather than an independent regulatory agency or court, there are sanctions for persistent and serious non-compliance (suspension of Treaty rights).

If energy was our only industry and the UK Government wanted to spare itself the pain of taking decisions on what to do with all current EU energy law applicable in the UK, the Energy Community might be a more attractive club to join than the EEA. But in practice, that option may not be available and other industries may rank higher in terms of political priority in negotiating Brexit.

Freedom and sovereignty

Those who campaigned for Brexit had relatively little to say specifically about energy matters.  But their general pitch to voters was that Brexit would give businesses operating in the UK freedom from unduly burdensome regulation and that it would restore to UK voters, or at least the UK Government, power to determine the UK’s economic and industrial policies.

Given the constraints that EEA membership would impose on the UK Government’s freedom of action in many areas of energy policy, it is necessary to consider what use it could make of the additional freedom or “sovereignty” it could acquire in energy matters if it chose, or was obliged, to forego the ready-made packages of the EEA Agreement and Energy Community for a non-EU law-based model.

Here are some changes that it would probably only be possible to make in a non-EEA UK.  We are not here speculating on whether the Government would be inclined or likely to follow any of these approaches: they are discussed only to illustrate the extent of the potential flexibility that may be available to change current policy.

  • The Government could abandon any further attempt to stimulate private sector investment in new renewable electricity generating capacity, or the uptake of other forms of renewable energy, on the basis that it would no longer have a 2020 target to meet and that it would be better for the UK to wait until renewable technologies have become cheaper by virtue of wider deployment elsewhere in the world.  It could impose a moratorium on all new consents for such projects and suspend or abolish all remaining subsidies for new projects (and it would not have to carry out a Strategic Environmental Assessment before doing so, as EU law would currently require).  Before taking this line, which would help to deliver lower increases in consumer bills over time, the Government would have to weigh carefully: the impact on UK jobs; the potential damage to the UK’s reputation as a place with a stable and supportive regime for energy infrastructure investment (arguably already damaged by the politically driven abolition of onshore wind subsidies and cancellation of support for the commercialization of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)); damage to the UK’s reputation as a leader on climate change issues; and the prospect of objectors being able to construct a successful legal challenge to one or more of the steps taken in pursuit of such a policy by arguing that it would make it impossible to keep within one or more of the UK’s carbon budgets, so breaching the Climate Change Act 2008.  (Although note that if a future Government were to wish to repeal that Act, it could do so whether the UK was in or out of the EU / EEA, if it was prepared to live with the resulting  damage to its international reputation.)
  • If the Government was content to carry on subsidising renewable power to some extent, it could – free from EU state aid rules – adopt a less even-handed approach to the allocation of CfDs to new projects.  This may make it easier for the Government to follow what may in any event be its natural inclination to make subsidies available only for offshore wind farms and a few much less established technologies.  Equally, it could choose to subsidise a further coal-to-biomass conversion at Drax even if the Commission’s current state aid scrutiny finds that the existing CfD terms offered to Drax are too generous to be given state aid clearance.  And it may be more able than it is under EU law to give substantial weight to “UK content” in the plans put forward by developers when awarding CfDs.  On the other hand, it could adopt a simpler form of CfD for smaller projects, rather than subjecting 5 MW generating stations to a form of contract much of which was developed for a 3.2 GW nuclear facility.
  • On the other hand, Government could take the view that the low carbon option that really needs subsidising is heat networks, and it could divert all funds notionally earmarked for renewable electricity generation into the provision of heat network infrastructure instead –  subsidising it to a degree that would not be given state aid clearance in order to give a real boost to a market that has been slow to develop for a long time.
  • A different approach would be to focus subsidy entirely on energy storage, with a view to enabling as much variable generating capacity as possible to become, in effect, despatchable.  This is arguably the next frontier for wind and solar power and by boosting demand for storage it could help to reduce its costs in the same way as subsidies have helped to do for solar panels in particular.  That much could possibly be achieved within the EU rules, but it might also help, in such a scenario, to make storage a regulated utility function, and to allow National Grid to invest in storage capacity in a way that EU unbundling rules at present may either not allow, or make it unduly difficult for it to do (if storage is classed as “generation”).
  • It seems unlikely that Brexit would constitute a Qualifying Change in Law (QCiL) for the purposes of the standard terms of CfDs, such that it would entitle the CfD Counterparty to terminate any CfD which has already been entered into solely because of Brexit, because a QCiL must, in essence, have an effect on a particular project, rather than all or most projects, or the whole economy.
  • Government has been disappointed, from an energy security point of view, at the failure of the Capacity Market auction system to produce a clearing price that can serve as the basis for financing large-scale CCGT power stations.  However, in its proposals to change the approach to be taken in the next two auctions, it did not feel able to go as far as to suggest an auction just for CCGT capacity, as this would be incompatible with the existing state aid clearance for the Capacity Market (which is subject to legal challenge).  With no state aid rules to follow, Government could choose to hold a CCGT-only auction.  Other more radical variants on the current rules could include separate auctions for CHP plant (or handicaps in the auction process for non-CHP generating units).
  • Without the constraints of the Industrial Emissions Directive, it might be possible for Government to allow coal-fired plants to follow a gentler path towards closing by 2023/2025 (as its current policy envisages that they will) in which they were allowed to run for a longer period of time without adapting to tighter emissions limits.  However, this might militate against new CCGT development (as well as carbon budget targets).
  • Unconstrained by state aid rules, Government could allow and encourage National Grid to develop an offshore pipeline system to distribute carbon dioxide to potential permanent storage sites under the North Sea, as part of its regulated business, so as to kick-start a CCS industry.
  • Government could escape the flawed EU ETS with its apparently inevitably too-low carbon price and join an emissions trading scheme that delivers a higher carbon price.  There is an increasing number to choose from internationally, from California to China.
  • If Government were to take the view that establishing some form of state-backed entity was the best way to make the decommissioning regime in the North Sea oil and gas industry work effectively, or to ensure that there was a “buyer of last resort” for strategically vital assets whose current owners lack the incentive to carry on running and maintaining them, this is something that would be easier outside the EU / EEA state aid rules.
  • Finally, if the Competition and Market’s Authority’s current proposals for a limited price cap for some domestic energy supply contracts, which were to some extent constrained by EU law, prove inadequate, future regulatory action could go further in this direction.

Depending on which horn of the energy / climate change trilemma you think is most inadequately served by current UK Government policy, you may find any of the above, or other steps that an EU / EEA UK could not take, very attractive. What we would emphasise here, though, is that removing the constraints of EU / EEA law could lead to significantly more volatile energy policy-making in the UK, and greater politicisation of energy regulation.  Note that even Ofgem’s independence is currently underpinned by requirements of EU law, as well as fairly consistent UK tradition.  If the UK were to go down the out-of-EU-and-EEA route, we would suggest that the Government, however radical any departures it decides to take from current energy policies may be, should take steps to ensure that they develop within a stable overall framework, in which business can plan sensibly for the long term.  It may be necessary to impose some more home-grown constraints (like carbon budgets) to make up for the EU ones which would have been shaken off.

A special deal with the EU?

There may be some who dream of the UK reaching a form of accommodation with the EU (going beyond the energy sphere) which is sui generis and somehow the best of all possible worlds.  Leaving aside the question of whether that is politically feasible, it is important to bear in mind that the Commission and the Governments of the other EU Member States may not be the only people to whom such a deal would have to be sold.  On other occasions where the EU has departed from established legal norms it has found itself having to deal with the unsolicited and not necessarily positive input of the Court of Justice of the EU: indeed in the case of the EEA, parts of its founding Treaty had to be renegotiated to accommodate the Court’s concerns.  This may complicate matters.

Non-EU / EEA law constraints imposed by international law

A non-EU / EEA UK would not be constrained by EU / EEA law, but it would not be free of other international law constraints that have a bearing on regulation of the energy sector. We will consider this topic in more detail in a later post, but for now, note the following examples.

  • If the UK were to negotiate and become party to a free trade agreement with the EU / EEA other than the EEA Agreement, it is likely that (as other such agreements have), it would include requirements to enforce competition law and a prohibition on state aid.  Accordingly, all the non-EU / EEA UK energy policy options referred to above which would be contrary to EU state aid rules could be the subject of disputes under a UK-EU / EEA free trade agreement if they were implemented.  If, on the other hand, the UK were not to negotiate such a bespoke free trade agreement and were to rely instead on WTO rules, such measures may still fall foul of the WTO rules against subsidies.
  • The decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure is regulated by the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (more familiarly known as the OSPAR Convention), one of a number of international conventions relevant to the environmental aspects of the energy industry.
  • The Energy Charter Treaty and bilateral investment treaties to which the UK is a party may offer protection for those who invest in the UK energy sector, and cause the Government to refrain from taking action that would create claims against it under them.

More generally, if the UK were to follow this path, it is possible that any radical departures in energy policy could affect the terms of trade deals that could be negotiated with other states, and any tariffs imposed by them.

Co-operating with EU / EEA countries outside the EU / EEA

It is to be hoped that Brexit will not mean the end of useful co-operation on energy matters between the UK and other EU / EEA States acting individually. We note in this context that the UK did not sign up to the recent political declaration by North Sea countries regarding their initiative on co-operation to develop a more co-ordinated approach to the development of offshore electricity transmission infrastructure in the North Sea (known as NSCOGI), despite having previously supported this initiative.  No doubt the fact that the document was signed less than three weeks before the June 23 referendum did not help, but given the potential strength of the UK’s offshore wind industry and the savings that could be made by developing offshore links on a “hub and spoke” rather than “point to point” pattern, it would be a pity if the UK were to drop out of NSCOGI.

Closer to home

This Blog, like many similar publications, has talked in bland terms about “the UK”. This overlooks:

  • the possibility that Scotland will ultimately leave the UK rather than the EU;
  • the fact that the devolved government in Northern Ireland has (nominally) complete and (practically) very extensive powers to make its own rules on energy matters;
  • the existence of a Single Energy Market across the island of Ireland and a single set of electricity trading arrangements (BETTA) across England, Wales and Scotland; and
  • the fact that post-Brexit the Republic of Ireland will be the only EU Member State whose connection to the EU single market in gas runs entirely through non-EU territory.

There will be more to say on these points, and on other intra-UK energy Brexit issues, in later posts.

On a practical level, businesses would do well to review those parts of their key existing contracts (and any important contracts under negotiation) that contain provisions where rights and obligations could be triggered by the occurrence of Brexit: obvious examples include provisions on force majeure, change in law, material adverse change, hardship and currency-related matters. Again, more on this to follow.

(Provisional) conclusions

EU and UK energy regulation have become so intertwined over the years, and the energy industry is so international in a variety of ways that it is inevitable that Brexit will affect all parts of the UK energy sector to some degree. And those parts of it that are arguably not so directly affected are themselves subject to other massive regulatory interventions at present in any event (notably the energy supply markets in the wake of the Competition and Markets Authority’s investigation).

What will change in the energy sector as a result of the UK electorate voting to leave the EU? At this stage, it is tempting to say simply: “If we stay in the EEA, nothing will really change.  If we try to go it alone, who knows?  The only certainty is years of uncertainty”.  We hope that the preliminary observations in this post have shown that the position is rather more complex and dynamic, and the range of issues to be addressed and possible outcomes is wider than is sometimes supposed.

For now, we would suggest that it is important to follow the details closely, because unless you believe that the result of the referendum will somehow not be implemented, there is no more justification for complacency about the ultimate consequences of Brexit for the energy sector than – if one supported remaining in the EU – there was about the result of the referendum itself.

If you have questions about the issues raised in this post, or about other aspects of Brexit as it relates to your business, please get in touch with the author or your usual Dentons contact.

 

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Energy Brexit: initial thoughts

The New North Sea – Part 2: the legal mechanics of “MER UK”

This is the second in a series of posts on the new regulatory regime for the North Sea oil and gas industry following the enactment of the Energy Act 2016.  In the first post we introduced the new regime.  Here, we look at how its central legal provisions work.

At the heart of the new regime is the concept of “MER UK”.  This is short-hand for the “principal objective” of “maximising the economic recovery of [offshore] UK petroleum”, which is set out in s. 9A of the Petroleum Act 1998 (inserted by the Infrastructure Act 2015).  The way that the principal objective governs both the regulators and those they regulate is summarised below.

Diagram

Two points are worth emphasising here.

First, obligations to act in accordance with the MER UK strategy apply to a very broad range of persons engaged in a very broad range of activities – the summary above slightly understates this. It does not, for example, have room to list all the categories of offshore installation (e.g. gas storage or accommodation facilities) that are covered.

Second, the key obligations in the legislation refer to the MER UK strategy, rather than the principal objective itself.  This gives DECC (for now) and the OGA (in the future) great flexibility to articulate the practical implications of the principal objective, and to do so in a document that, although it is legally binding, does not have to be (and is not) written with the precision that one would expect to find in legislative drafting.

The position in practice could almost be caricatured as being “you must do what the OGA says you must do to achieve MER UK”.  Courts would probably be reluctant to second-guess the range of factors contributing to an assessment of MER UK in any event, but this feels like a regime which has been very carefully set up with a view to minimizing the risk of administrative law challenges to the regulator’s decisions.

NOTE: The Energy Act 2016 is being commenced in stages, by regulations.  The first commencement regulations were made on 23 May 2016.  So far, only provisions which empower the Secretary of State to make further regulations or transfer schemes (e.g. relating to the transfer of property from DECC to OGA) have been made.  However, the substantive obligations on “relevant persons” and DECC / OGA described above are largely contained in the provisions which the Infrastructure Act 2015 inserted into the Petroleum Act 1998 with effect from 12 April 2015 (even though the MER UK strategy itself was not finalized until almost a year later).

So although it may be a few months before the sections of the Energy Act 2016 that will allow enforcement of MER UK obligations are brought into force by further commencement regulations, the substantive obligations to comply with MER UK principles are already in force and should be kept in mind by relevant persons (and DECC / OGA) in all the situations where they apply.  The next post in this series will explore some of these situations, with particular emphasis on exploration activities.

The New North Sea – Part 2: the legal mechanics of “MER UK”

The New North Sea – Part 1: the revolution begins here

How much of a difference will the recent reforms of UK offshore oil and gas regulation make to the industry and its stakeholders? It may be too early to say whether the creation of the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), the articulation of the “MER UK Strategy” and the other changes introduced by the Infrastructure Act 2015 and the Energy Act 2016 will facilitate solutions to all the significant problems faced by North Sea operators, but in our view it is already clear that the changes of the last two years will have a profound impact on the industry.

Government intervention in the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry is nothing new. It has taken different forms at different times, and has included, as well as numerous changes in taxation, Government participation (or at least the ability of Government to participate) in decision-making at the individual asset level through rights granted to state-owned entities.

More specifically, for almost 20 years, Government has been aware of, and has been taking action to address, the particular set of problems that the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) faces as a mature basin.  Between 1999 and 2004, the Department of Trade and Industry and its successors took a series of steps to foster investment and innovation in the industry and improve its efficiency: a joint Government / industry report (A Template for Change) was published in 1999; task forces were appointed; changes were made to the administration of the licensing regime; new types of licence were introduced.

PILOT and small-scale regulatory changes, 1999-2004
1999

 

 

Brent at $9/barrel – a record low – in February, but recovers to $25 by December.

Oil & Gas Industry Task Force report (September) set a vision for the UKCS in 2010, aimed at increasing investment and employment, and prolonging UK self-sufficiency in oil and gas.

2000 PILOT established to take over the work of the Task Force and give effect to its recommendations
2002 PILOT “Progressing Partnership” Work Group launched to address behavioural and supply chain barriers. Initiatives include transferring “fallow” assets to those best placed to exploit them.
2003 “Promote” licences offered for the first time to attract new small players.
2004 22nd offshore licensing round: largest number of blocks since 1965.   “Frontier” licences first offered.
   

However, by the time that Ed Davey, as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, commissioned Sir Ian Wood to carry out a review of the industry in 2013 and the Wood Review’s final report was issued early in 2014, it had become clear that all the good work done after the 1999 report had not resolved or prevented some fundamental problems, and that the “vision for 2010” which it articulated had not been fully realised.   Average production efficiency declined from 81% in 2004 to 60% in 2012.  There had been a downward trend in numbers of exploration wells drilled since 2008 (with about 70% fewer being drilled in 2013 than were drilled five years before).  Perhaps worst of all, costs of production per barrel had risen fivefold in ten years.  And all that was before global oil prices began a period of sharp decline which has seen them fall to levels at which most North Sea fields are said to be uneconomic, with no certainty of a rapid or sustained recovery.

A false sense of security? North Sea licensing events highlighted in Government reports, 2005-2012
2005 24 new companies enter the North Sea as part of a record offering of 151 licences.
2006 UK a net importer of gas in value terms for the first time since the early 1980s.
2007 Legislation to allow storage of natural gas under the seabed / unloading of LNG at sea announced.
2008 Brent crude tops $100 / barrel for the first time, rising to over $140 / barrel in June and July.
2010 Largest number of blocks applied for since the first licensing round in 1964.
2011 Brent crude tops $100 / barrel for the first time since 2008.
2012 Demand for offshore licences again breaks all records (applications covering 418 blocks).
   

Many of the concerns that were articulated in the 1999 report and addressed in the initiatives that followed from are echoed in the Wood Report. Both reports are in favour of such things as “collaboration in place of competition”, “improving relationships between licensees” and encouraging innovation, for example.  But the final results of Wood’s work are very different from those of the earlier report and its follow-up.  Where the 1999 report tends to talk about “deregulation”, the Wood Report has led to the creation of a new, more powerful and better resourced body to regulate the industry.  In the words of the Wood report itself: “In the early days with large fields to be found by major operators, the free market model worked well with a light touch Regulator…However, over time, the number of fields has increased, now to over 300, new discoveries are much smaller, many fields are marginal and very inter dependent, and there is competition for ageing infrastructure. Alongside this, the…Regulator has halved in size in 20 years and…is clearly struggling to perform a more demanding stewardship role.

There has been general agreement with Wood’s conclusion that “a stronger Regulator with broader skills and capabilities able to significantly enhance the level of co-ordination and collaboration” would “largely resolve” the problems that his review identified.  It is rare for an industry to be so apparently united in its desire for stronger regulation – even if it was clear from the first that a regulator based on Wood’s prescription would be different from many sector regulatory bodies in terms of its remit, composition, and its interactions with industry.  It has probably helped that the fall in oil prices has made the problems identified by Wood more acute, increasing the demand for a powerful independent regulator to get to work on solving them.  This, together with the compelling nature of Wood’s analysis and strong political support, has enabled the necessary legislative changes to be put in place rapidly.

The Wood Review and its implementation, 2013-2016
2013 Government commissions the Wood Review of offshore oil and gas recovery (June)

The interim report of the Wood Review is published (November)

2014 Final report of the Wood Review published   (February)

Sharp fall in oil price begins (June)

Government response to the Wood Review published (July)

Clauses on MER UK (to amend the Petroleum Act 1998) inserted into Infrastructure Bill (October)

Appointment of Andy Samuel as CEO of OGA (November)

2015 Andy Samuel asked to lead urgent study of key risks to North Sea oil and gas industry (January)

Infrastructure Act 2015, including revised provisions on MER UK receives Royal Assent (February)

OGA issues “call to action” document in response to DECC’s request to Andy Samuel (February)

OGA launched as an Executive Agency of DECC, carrying out DECC regulatory functions (April)

Energy Bill, dominated by provisions on the OGA, introduced into Parliament (July)

Oil & Gas UK launches efficiency task force (September)

OGA reports: call to action 6 months on (September)

OGA publishes draft corporate plan (November)

DECC launches consultation on MER UK strategy (November)

2016 Brent crude falls below $30 / barrel (January)

Government support package for UK offshore oil and gas (January)

Draft MER UK strategy laid before Parliament (January)

OGA publishes Corporate Plan 2016-2021 (March)

MER UK strategy finalised and comes into force (March)

Energy Bill receives Royal Assent, Energy Act 2016 published (May)

Why do we think that North Sea regulation from now on (or at least from the date on which the relevant provisions of the Energy Act 2016 come into force and the Regulator’s staff complement is up to full strength) will be radically different from what operators have been accustomed to? There are six main reasons.

For the first time, the UK offshore regulatory regime (excluding its environmental and health and safety aspects) has a single governing principle articulated on a statutory basis – the objective of maximising the economic recovery of UK petroleum (MER UK).

Although MER UK is defined in general terms in a strategy promulgated by DECC under the Infrastructure Act 2015, its specific meaning and impact in any given situation will in large measure be determined by the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA).

The obligation to act in accordance with MER UK, as so defined and interpreted, applies – or could be said to apply – to at least one person involved in the taking of almost any commercially important decision in the offshore industry.

Under the new regime, the OGA and DECC will potentially have access to vastly more information about North Sea assets and infrastructure, the commercial intentions of those with interests in them, and the relations between them, than DECC has had to date.

The OGA does genuinely appear to be a new kind of regulator, in terms of its composition, capabilities, culture and combination of functions. It is also likely to take a more proactive approach than its predecessors.

The terms of the MER UK strategy and the robustness of the enforcement tools at the OGA’s disposal suggest that it will enjoy unparalleled leverage over licence holders and others to ensure that collaboration “for the greater good” really does happen.

In future posts in this series, we will explain in more detail how the relevant provisions of the Infrastructure Act 2015, the Energy Act 2016 and the MER UK strategy achieve these results and how we think the application of the new rules by industry parties, DECC and the OGA will affect key moments in the life of North Sea infrastructure and assets.

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The New North Sea – Part 1: the revolution begins here