Industry panel is not skewing network charging reforms to the advantage of established companies, says chair

Smaller players in the energy sector are getting a fair hearing on changes to network charging, despite claims to the contrary, the head of an industry panel has said. 

The Connection and Use of System Code (CUSC) panel which reviews potential modifications is not acting in the interests of “any particular section of the industry”, said its independent chair Mike Toms.

He was responding to comments by the Association of Decentralised Energy and UK Power Reserve, which claimed the process for altering network charging arrangements is skewed in favour of large established energy companies as a number of of the panel’s members are also employed by said companies.

Seven of the its members are elected to represent the views of all parties subject to the CUSC and they are obliged to act impartially throughout their two-year terms. “This is not a self-appointed club,” Toms noted. Any signatory to the CUSC can nominate someone for election and the chair said he has never heard any suggestion of lobbying by energy companies to get their candidate voted in.

Although he cannot “search the souls” of individual members, Toms said the CUSC panel “tries its best” to be objective.

“On occasion, I have seen panel members express preferences for positions which would not be positions which their employers would necessarily like, because they are true to their obligation.” If they were not “the system would become untenable”.

He pointed out that all CUSC members can put forward proposals and that code modifications are not only scrutinised by the panel but by a wider working group as well. “Anyone who is interested in the issue, and they don’t have to be a CUSC party, can ask to be on the working group.”

In the case of the panel’s recent review of the triad avoidance payments available to distributed generation, the working group had 29 members, a number of which were distributed generators. “The panel was fully informed of the views of the embedded community and they were properly reflected in the working group report.

“The conclusions of the panel were then sent out to industry consultation, from which anyone is entitled to respond, and indeed many people did respond. So, it would be untrue to suggest that the voice of the embedded community was not heard in this process.”

Toms disputed UK Power Reserve’s claim that Ofgem merely “rubber stamps” the panel’s recommendations. The regulator can go against them but must give a reason and the decision can be appealed. “Ofgem does disagree with the panel’s conclusions time to time… I am not at all concerned that Ofgem would not have the ability, or courage, or energy to go against the panel if it felt it was right to do so.”

He also raised concerns over the suggestion that the regulator should appoint a panel member to represent smaller, newer companies, saying it should only do so if there is need for a particular area of expertise. “To say we’re going to appoint someone on the panel because we want a different voting outcome – it’s quite a dangerous thing to do.” 

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