These EU documents are politically important because:
1.1Recognising their shared interest in the development of offshore renewable energy, particularly in the North Sea, the UK and EU agreed in the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) to cooperate in that regard. In our of 3 February 2021, we summarised the TCA’s provisions on offshore renewable energy cooperation as well as the Commission’s recent on offshore renewable energy (document(a)) and its (document(b)), suggesting changes to the EU Regulation on guidelines for trans-European energy infrastructure (the “TEN-E Regulation”). In that proposal, the Commission suggested a new category of “projects of mutual interest” between at least one EU country and at least one third country. Such cooperation will require that the third country or countries involved have a high level of regulatory alignment or convergence to support the overall policy objectives of the EU, and an energy system which is on a trajectory towards decarbonisation.
1.2The Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth (Rt Hon. Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP) has to our of 3 February 2021 in which we raised a series of queries about future UK-EU cooperation in this area.
1.3Concerning implementation of the joint EU-UK commitment in the TCA to cooperate in the development of offshore renewable energy, the Minister indicates that the EU and UK are considering a Memorandum of Understanding to enable a “specific forum” to be created for technical discussions, building on the existing North Seas Energy Cooperation. In the meantime, the EU and UK are looking at ways to ensure that informal cooperation between the UK and other North Sea countries can resume as soon as possible.
1.4In our letter, we noted that the Specialised Committee on Energy to be established under the TCA needs to meet to adopt guidance allowing for cooperation to begin between relevant UK and EU organisations, notably between National Grid and ENTSO-E (the European Network of Electricity Transmission System Operators). The Minister explains that, during the negotiation of the TCA, the UK and the Commission agreed that—because it was important for cooperation between UK Transmission System Operators (TSOs) and ENTSO-E to begin as soon as possible—the Parties would disseminate what would be contained in this guidance in advance of the commencement of the work of the Specialised Committee.
1.5The UK has therefore sent out letters to all UK TSOs asking them to develop and implement, as soon as possible, a Memorandum of Understanding to set out efficient and inclusive working arrangements for effective cooperation with ENTSO-E. Commission officials sent equivalent letters to ENTSO-E. Similar letters were also sent to UK gas TSOs and ENTSO-G (the European Network of Gas Transmission System Operators) and to the UK regulatory authorities and the Agency for Cooperation of European Regulators (ACER).
1.6Concerning the prospect of the involvement of UK entities in “projects of mutual interest”, the Minister notes that leaving the EU means the UK can now regulate in a way that suits the UK economy and UK businesses—doing things in a more innovative and effective way, without being bound by EU rules. The Government remains alert to cooperation opportunities with the EU that are in the UK’s interest and expects that the revised TEN-E framework may provide opportunities to further UK interests.
1.7The Minister confirms that it would be premature for any discussions to take place between the UK and EU about possible projects involving the UK. The TEN-E Regulation, she says, is unlikely to be in force until sometime in 2022. Even then, the revised TEN-E will only be relevant for projects that will feature in the next but one biennial list of projects around the end of 2023.
1.8We welcome the news that informal engagement is already underway concerning future North Sea offshore renewable energy cooperation and concerning cooperation between relevant UK and EU bodies.
1.9The Minister does not engage with the question of whether the Government would be content for UK projects to be involved even if it required the UK to maintain a high level of regulatory alignment with the EU. While we accept that the Government does not want to engage with this tension at the moment, it is a factor which will need to be considered if the UK chooses to diverge from EU retained law in the area of energy.
1.10We will monitor developments in this area with interest but require no further information from the Minister. We draw the Minister’s letter to the attention of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee.
1 (a) Commission Communication: An EU Strategy to harness the potential of offshore renewable energy for a climate neutral future (b) Proposal for a Regulation on guidelines for trans-European energy infrastructure and repealing Regulation (EU) No 347/2013; (a) + ADD 1, COM(20) 741, (b)—, ; Legal base: (a)—(b) Article 172 TFEU, QMV, Ordinary legislative procedure; Department: Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; Devolved Administrations: Consulted; ESC numbers: (a) 41672, (b) 41742.
2 Thirty-fifth Report HC 229–xxxi (2019–21), (3 February 2021).