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Evergy bill cap could cause "unacceptable" risk to green companies

The spending cap could cause consumers "unneccesary costs", say MPs.

The UK government must rethink its plans to shake-up of the electricity market as the proposals in the new draft energy bill could impose unnecessary costs on consumers,  according to MPs on the energy and climate change committee.

The MPs, who examined the draft legislation, argue that the new proposals will introduce new system of long-term contracts to give power companies a guaranteed price for the low-carbon electricity they produce.

The electricity market revamp is intended to reduce the risk of investment in projects with high up-front capital costs, such as nuclear reactors and offshore wind farms.

Tim Yeo MP, chair of the energy and climate change committee, said: “The government is in danger of botching its plans to boost clean energy, because the treasury is refusing to back new contracts to deliver investment in nuclear, wind, wave and carbon capture and storage.

Initial consultation last year led investors to believe that the "Contracts for Difference" (CfD) would be guaranteed by the State – therefore lowering the cost of capital. But the Treasury has apparently intervened to ensure that the contracts are not government guaranteed.

The new model for contracts will spread the liability across various energy companies instead; raising concerns that the plans are now too complex and possibly not legally enforceable. The MPs are calling on the government to use its AAA-credit rating to underwrite the new contracts in order to keep the costs of energy investment down for consumers.

Yeo added: “Electricity market reform is essential, but the new contracts proposed by the government will not work for the benefit of consumers in their present form. The government has a lot of work to do over the summer to make sure that the Bill is fit for purpose in the autumn and is not subject to any further delays.”

Yeo continued: “Nobody wants to see a blank cheque written out for green energy, but the government must provide investors with more certainty about exactly how much money will be available.”

The committee is also concerned that the new contract system will reinforce the dominance of the "Big Six" energy companies and prevent new entrants into the electricity market. The government says it wants to increase competition and improve the opportunities for new entrants in the electricity market. But witnesses told the committee that the energy bill as it stands will in fact deliver the exact opposite of this ambition, threatening the viability of smaller-scale independent energy companies.

“Community owned energy projects and small independent generators are in danger under the current plans of being squeezed out. The committee is worried that decisions about support for new nuclear power stations are being made "behind closed doors" and calls for an independent expert to inspect any agreements to ensure that they are delivering value for money. Energy efficiency could be one of the cheapest way of cutting carbon and improving energy security and the MPs urge the government to consider incentives for power companies to reduce demand. The Government should also set a clear target to largely decarbonise the electricity sector by 2030 to provide investors greater certainty about the direction of energy policy.”

The committee says that the government must come up with a stronger contract design before the Bill is expected to be introduced to Parliament in the autumn.

Yeo concluded: “If the energy bill does not set a target to largely decarbonise the electricity sector by 2030, then the UK may miss one of the biggest opportunities it has to create a low-carbon economy in the most cost effective way.”

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.