UK Capacity Market suspended by European Court of Justice

Somewhat lost amongst the noise surrounding the proposed Brexit Agreement comes the news that UK’s Capacity Market (CM) will undergo a temporary suspension.

 

What is the Capacity Market?

The Capacity Market allows plant to offer capacity to the electricity system at a price set by auction. The market has been introduced to prevent a short-fall in electricity generation due to the closure of older fossil fuel plant. Every year, the Government decides how much capacity will be needed to safeguard the system. Both generators that are currently operating, and those that are being developed, can take part in the scheme.

 

The Court’s Ruling

The ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) follows Tempus Energy’s challenge to the UK Government that took place in 2014. The company took issue with the decision to grant the UK’s Capacity Market with State Aid approval, making claims that the design was biased against small, clean energy, making it easy for coal, gas, and diesel generators to control the market.

The ECJ said that the European Commission was wrong to not more closely investigate the UK’s plans to establish the CM in 2014, when the organisation was originally responsible for assessing whether the policy complied with State Aid rules.

Under EU State Aid rules, it is required that member states need to consider alternative options to meeting power demand before subsidising fossil fuel generation. The rules also require any measures taken to increase capacity to be designed in a way that encourages operators of new clean technologies.

 

What’s next?

The ECJ’s decision means that payments made under the Capacity Market scheme will be frozen until the UK Government can obtain permission from the European Commission to continue.

Furthermore, the UK will also not be allowed to conduct any further CM auctions for energy firms to bid on new contracts. The nearest auctions were scheduled for early 2019.

Sara Bell, CEO of Tempus Energy, said: “This ruling should ultimately force the UK Government to design an energy system that reduces bills by incentivising and empowering customers to use electricity in the most cost-effective way – while maximising the use of climate-friendly renewables.”

 

How will this affect you?

The Government has released a statement saying that security of supply will not be impacted over this winter.

They acknowledge a ‘standstill period’ on the Capacity Market during which they will be working closely with the European Commission in order to aid their investigation and seek approval for the Capacity Market.

The cost of the Capacity Market is recouped via customers and currently accounts for 2.9% of an electricity bill.

The suspension of the payments to generators may result in customers receiving a refund, or at least a halt to ongoing payments while the suspension is in place.

However, if the scheme is cancelled all together it would lead to the removal of one cost to customers; the Capacity Market charge is just one of numerous non-commodity charges, paid on top of the wholesale price of energy, that are rapidly increasing.

 

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Capacity Market under review

The overall objectives of this review are to assess whether:

  • the CM is needed in future;
  • the CM currently meets its objectives of ensuring security of supply, cost effectiveness, and avoiding unintended consequences;
  • these objectives remain appropriate; and
  • they can be achieved in the future in a way that imposes less regulation.

 

The call for evidence

Both the CM and EPS were introduced five years ago as part of the Energy Act 2013. The announced ‘call for evidence’ is the first step in the review process.

The Government believes both the Capacity Market and the Emissions Performance Standard are working broadly as intended. The initial document states they “do not foresee the need for fundamental change.” However, this review will allow feedback to help them understand more about stakeholder issues and whether there are any changes to be considered. With this in mind, the Government has already indicated that there are some desirable changes that could improve the CM to ensure it continues to meet its objectives in the future.

Based on stakeholder feedback, two initial priority issues have been noted for the Capacity Market review:

  1. There needs to be consideration as to whether, and how, to enable participation by subsidy-free renewables in the CM.
  2. Following the latest round of CM auctions there has been feedback in relation to interconnectors. It’s been suggested that the contribution to security of supply made by interconnectors added to the system in future will face diminishing returns, as they are reliant on the same limited pool of spare capacity in the interconnected countries. The Government will consider whether changes to the methodology are required to ensure future interconnectors are not over-compensated relative to their real contribution.

 

Ofgem review

In addition to the Government review, energy regulator Ofgem will carry out a separate review on the Capacity Market to support the process. Ofgem will be announcing the details concerning the content and arrangements of their review at a later date. However, it can be assumed that it will seek to address very similar themes.

 

The Emissions Performance Standard

The objective of the EPS is to ensure that new fossil-fuel-fired electricity generation helps improve security of supply but still contributes to the UK’s decarbonisation objectives. The mechanism is a limit on the carbon dioxide emissions produced by new fossil-fuel generation plants. The Government is seeking stakeholder views on the effectiveness of the EPS. The five-year review of the EPS will answer similar high-level questions to the CM Review.

 

What to look out for

The call for evidence will be open between 8 August and 1 October 2018. A summary of the responses will be published later this year. The outcomes of these reviews will then be reported to Parliament in summer 2019.

 

Impact on consumers

The Capacity Market’s annual auctions define both how much capacity has been bought and at what price. The overall costs for both the capacity bought and the administration of the scheme are passed on to consumer bills, with the cost of capacity being the largest element.

EIC supports security of supply and any move to maintain a fairly structured scheme that keeps price impact to customers at a minimum. We can help you prepare for and control the impact of all your non-commodity costs, including Capacity Market Charges, with the help of our Long-Term Price Forecast Report.

With this report, you can access year-on-year price projections for the next five years. The report calculates future energy prices which include the ever-increasing green subsidies, network costs, and taxes.