Nearly a year after it was first introduced into Parliament, the Energy Bill has been passed into law. The main focus of the bill was the oil and gas sector but it also contained provisions for the early closure of the Renewables Obligation (RO) to onshore wind generation.
The Energy Act drives forward the government’s energy goals and commitments which include new powers for the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) to better support North Sea industry, providing local communities the decision making power on new onshore wind farm planning decisions and bringing forward the closure of costly subsidies for new onshore wind developments across the UK. The OGA has been established on the recommendations of the Wood Review into North Sea Oil and Gas, in order to maximise collaboration and management of resources from the UK Continental Shelf.
In summary the Act:
- Creates the framework to formally establish the OGA as an independent regulator, taking the form of a government company giving it the power to act with greater flexibility and independence.
- Enables more comprehensive charging of the offshore oil and gas industry in relation to the environmental regulatory functions carried out by the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
- Makes local communities the primary decision makers on new onshore wind developments and removes the need for the Secretary of State’s consent for large onshore wind farms (over 50 megawatt) in England and Wales under the Electricity Act 1989.
- Brings forward the early closure of the Renewables Obligation subsidy scheme to new onshore wind developments.
Last month the government confirmed that early closure of the RO would not be enforced retrospectively after the original planned closure date of 31st March 2016 came and went before the bill was passed. In recent months the Lords has been battling the Commons over amendments to the bill which would have extended the grace period for the early closure. The bill required projects to have obtained planning permission by the 18th June 2015 in order to be eligible for the subsidy.
An amendment tabled by Lord Grantchester would have granted eligibility to those projects which had not received planning permission by the cut-off date but had already secured democratic local consent. The amendment was defeated in the Commons, as was a second iteration, which only extended eligibility to projects that went on to receive planning permission within three months of the cut-off date. On Tuesday evening the Lords finally gave in to the will of the Commons, voting down a third attempt to introduce the amendment. With no more amendments outstanding, the bill has received royal assent and has become law. The Act has been widely met with dismay as ministers appear to be so ideologically opposed to wind farms.
The Energy secretary, Amber Rudd, said: “The Energy Act is a vital part of our plan to ensure our families and businesses have access to secure, affordable and clean energy supplies they can rely on, while keeping bills down.” It seems that, yet again and disappointingly, the Government has prioritised its commitment to lower energy costs over the need for increased generation to ensure security of supply. If environmental targets are to be achieved, this need must be met though renewable generation not though extending the life of high pollutant generation plants.