|Allegedly, the United Kingdom is about to break free from the Dark Ages of subsidies, and enter the glorious light of a free and light-touch regulated, competitive electricity market.
The Electricity Market Reform is being sold to us as the way to create a level playing field between low carbon electricity generation technologies, whether they be established or new, baseload or variable, costly-up-front or cheap-and-quick-to-grid.
Personally, I do not accept the mythology of the Free Market. I do not accept that a fully competitive, privatised energy sector can be delivered, regardless of the mechanisms proposed. The Electricity Market Reform is less Englightenment and more Obscurantism, in my view – the call of the Magic Flute is going to fall on deaf ears.
Who will play the pipe ? Who will call the tune ? Who will be the Counterparty ?
The shadow cast by the nuclear industry
After the National Grid meeting, I went to an EcoConnect meeting, where Eric Machiels of Infinis said, in reference to the strong influence of EdF (Electricite de France) in proposing new nuclear reactors in the UK, “The EMR was set up to meet two requirements. [First] to justify incredibly high investments. [And] nuclear – if you need to invest £10 billion or more, 10 years away, you need regulatory certainty…[But you have to know, decisions on nuclear development] will rely on decisions made in the Elysee Palace and not in Number 10.”
Well, it seems clear that the steer is still towards the UK taxpayers and billpayers stumping up to support the ailing French atomic power fleet.
A bit of a big fudge
At the EcoConnect meeting, Diane Dowdell of Tradelink Solutions warned of the risks of going back to the kind of electricity markets of former decades, “Unless you worked under the Pool, you wouldn’t know how it works. It is a derivative…DECC need to look at Ireland – their Pool system has been utterly destroyed. Please don’t follow in the footsteps of Ireland – get the balancing right.”
The big issue is the macroeconomic need to incentivise investment in new electricity generation plant and infrastructure – something that will not be achieved by flipping microeconomic market trading conditions to benefit low carbon generators. How can new low carbon generators come onto the grid ? By placing focus on investment decisions. New generation has to clear a higher hurdle than how much it can sell green power for on the half-hourly market. Funds and financing are not going to be directed to choose low carbon investment just because marginal costs (the Carbon Floor Price and the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme) are applied to high carbon players already in the market. The guarantees of profits into the future from the institution of Contracts for Difference (Feed in Tariff) and the Capacity Mechanism will maybe trigger a slice of investment in new nuclear power, but it won’t ensure that new gas-fired power plants are built with Carbon Capture and Storage.
At the EcoConnect meeting later on, another DECC man reported back on the UK Government’s call for evidence on the EMR. DECC’s Matt Coyne said that amongst the conclusions from the consultation with industry there were concerns about the conditions for Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) under the EMR. (Securing a PPA is the guarantee that investors need to be able to commit to backing new electricity generation capacity). He said that developers are finding it hard to secure finance for new generation investment and that it was a widely-held view that the EMR would not improve that, although he said that “it is our view that the Contracts for Difference will improve things.” Other people at the meeting were not so sure. Diane Dowdell said, “I desperately hope the EMR works. It’s got to work. [Conditions] seem to be edging out the small- and mid-sized players.” Eric Machiels said, “The Big Six vertically integrated energy suppliers are in the best position to retain their position.”
In my notes, I scribbled that Michael Ware, a dealmaking matchmaker for renewable energy projects, offered the view that “Government does resemble toddlers driving a steam train – there are lots of buttons to push…[The UK is] just a rainy little island at the edge of Europe. Capital is truly international. It all feels much easier to do business elsewhere. [The EMR looks] almost designed to turn off investors.”
There were several calls to retain the Renewables Obligation – to oblige energy suppliers to keep signing up new clean power from smaller players if they couldn’t make it themselves.