Clause 15 - Regulations about revenue collection contracts

Nuclear Energy (Financing) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 23 Tachwedd 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Welcome back to the Chair, Ms Fovargue. For the benefit of colleagues, I will speak briefly on the clause, which introduces part 2 of the Bill, and what that is all about. The clause gives a power to the Secretary of State to make regulations about revenue collection contracts, which operate between a revenue collection counterparty and a designated nuclear company, referring back to part 1. Contracts will require the revenue collection counterparty to collect payments from Great Britain electricity suppliers and pass them to the licensee nuclear company so that it can receive its allowed revenue. Subject to consent being given, we expect the Low Carbon Contracts Company to take on the role of the counterparty.

Clauses 16 to 24 set out in further detail what the regulations may cover in relation to the contracts. They could include, for example, the duties of the counterparty, the amounts that electricity suppliers must pay and how the authority will enforce the contract. The legislation will enable payments to flow in the opposite direction if necessary, such as in circumstances where the nuclear company receives more than its allowed revenue. The regulations will ensure that the nuclear company can receive its allowed revenue in a consistent and stable flow. Importantly, the regulations throughout this part are based on existing regulations governing the revenue model under the contracts for difference regime, taking precedent from the Energy Act 2013. Regulations relating to clauses to 16 to 22 and the first regulations made under clauses 23 or 24 will be made using the affirmative procedure. They will therefore be subject to a greater level of scrutiny, as we know, as such statutory instruments must be approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Fovargue. Like the Minister, I would like to spend a moment announcing, as it were, this part of the Bill, which I hope we can get through in an orderly and suitably speedy fashion. It is however important to share an understanding of what we think this part is about. As the Minister said, it concerns the setting-up of revenue collection contracts; the setting-up of a counterparty to hold the revenue collected from suppliers to underpin action by the nuclear company in terms of construction; and, importantly, as he said—he seemed a little concerned when I mentioned this in our previous sitting—revenue collection and distribution during both the construction and production phases of a nuclear project.

My understanding is that during the production phase, the nature of the revenue collection changes. During the construction phase, within the overall allowable costs architecture, the nuclear company is likely to absorb whatever comes its way from the counterparty for the purposes of underpinning the construction costs of the nuclear plant. Obviously, there are debates to be held on that and further regulations to be put in place concerning how the revenue stream for a nuclear company is carried out and the requirements of the construction at various phases.

We have debated to some extent the instance whereby the allowable costs ceiling is breached because of rising costs, particularly during production; whether the regulator would have the opportunity to revisit the allowable costs ceiling; and what effect that would have on the run through the regulated asset base process to customer bills as a result of those recalculations. However, there are issues with what revenue stream goes into the nuclear company, and at what stage during construction, but that is within the overall costs ceiling, or should be, in the first instance.

During the production phase of a nuclear plant, the relationship between collection, distribution and re-disbursement becomes a little more complicated. I would be obliged if the Minister could shed a little light on some of the things that happen during the production process, which are still slightly unclear. That is important because, in the production process, the receipt of funding under the RAB process becomes a comparative issue. The company is making money and producing electricity, and one would expect that, as a result of the RAB model, the money that is being made by the company would sit within the parameters of what has been agreed for the regulated rate of return under the RAB model. If the company is making more money from its production of electricity than is allowed within the overall model’s parameters, that money starts coming back to the counterparty or, at least indirectly, through to customers.

Conversely, if the company is making less money from its production than is allowed within the RAB model for production purposes, money continues to come in under the allowable costs ceiling. The best explanation is given on page 21 of the consultation document on a RAB model for nuclear, which suggests:

“Suppliers could pass the cost of the payment obligation onto their consumers, as they do with other regulated costs and could likewise reimburse their consumers (as happens under a CfD) in periods where suppliers receive payments from the project company (e.g. when the Allowed Revenue is lower than the project company’s revenue from power sales). The design process would need to consider how these charges could be made in more detail, in consultation with suppliers and consumer representatives.”

That is essentially the model during the production phase: it is potentially a two-way process.

That issue reflects, at least to some extent, the amendments that we wish to discuss this afternoon —an understanding of how the money goes into the counterparty, what the counterparty does with the money, what the counterparty does when the money is held, and what the counterparty does if that money may not be needed, or money has been paid back into it by the nuclear company during the production phase. Consideration of how that happens, where that money goes and what sort of requirements one should place on that process are at the heart of some of our amendments.

I thought it important to check whether we have a shared understanding with the Minister of how the process works. Assuming that we do, we can discuss the amendments on the basis of that shared understanding of what this part of the Bill sets out to do. That is essentially a contribution to the clause stand part debate, but I hope that it clarifies how we will proceed with part 2 as a whole, and that it will be helpful to the Committee.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Ms Fovargue. It was interesting that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test spoke about a shared understanding. I wish I had one; I do not think that the Bill is good enough to have any shared understanding of what it is about. Part 1 is clearly all about the definition of designating a nuclear company, and then a blank cheque in terms of defining costs. It seems to me that part 2 is all about how the blank cheque moneys are recouped in revenue collection.

I have one point to put to the Minister. Explanatory note 119 states:

“The terms of a revenue collection contract will be bilaterally negotiated between the Secretary of State and an eligible nuclear company to be designated under Part 1.”

Would he enlighten me on what expertise the Secretary of State has in negotiating a revenue collection contract for a new nuclear power station, how that will be undertaken in a transparent manner, and what options are available for scrutiny of that?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

I thank both hon. Gentlemen for their contributions. I will try to be as helpful as I can. Rather than setting any hares running, it is essentially a very similar process to how contracts for difference work under the Energy Act 2013. There is nothing essentially different here, other than the fact that it is about nuclear power generation and has the RAB model. What we are talking about in this part of the Bill is essentially the same process that is being used for contracts for difference under the 2013 Act. I am always slightly reluctant when an Opposition Member asks whether we have a shared understanding. It strikes me as often being slightly dangerous to give a blank cheque on that. My understanding of the process, and I think the Opposition would agree, is that it is essentially the same process that we have been using for contracts for difference through the collection company.

Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I substantially agree that that is essentially how the process works, except that of course with CfDs the customer contribution does not change at all once the CfD has been implemented because there is a constant price. The difference is in the company getting the difference between the reference and the strike price, not what the customer pays for electricity bills or pays into the process itself.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Here there will be a frequent resetting, which is likely to be twice yearly, in terms of the amount of money that has been collected, followed by a reconciliation at the end of the period, but a lot of the detail will be set out in the draft regulations. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun asked what expertise the Secretary of State has to negotiate such a deal. As I said, this has been a tried-and-tested methodology over the past eight years. When we say “the Secretary of State”, we mean that the individual who is the Secretary of State is the decision maker, but acts with the advice of a group of excellent officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. That is the normal way in which any reference to a Secretary of State is made in primary legislation. As I say, the legislation is very much based on the Energy Act 2013 and how it looks at the contracts for difference regime.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change) 2:15, 23 Tachwedd 2021

The other point that I was making was about transparency. What options are available for the likes of me, an opposition MP, to scrutinise and challenge what is being signed off as a good deal?

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

The regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, will mean a debate in a Committee Room like this, and the potential to take the legislation to the Floor of the House and have a Division of the House of Commons. In that sense, the scrutiny available to Members of Parliament—if that is what he is referring to—is considerable. That is why the regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure. I think it is reasonable for Parliament to see the regulations when they are made, although we do not envisage that further technical changes to those regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure. As laid out in later clauses, those changes will be subject to negative procedure. I hope that the Committee will agree to clause stand part.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 15 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.