Bill limiting DESFA network hikes casts doubts over sale

Seeking to limit a planned customer-burdening network usage fee hike at DESFA, the natural gas grid operator, energy minister Panos Skourletis has submitted an amendment to Greek Parliament that will reduce the operator’s regulatory asset base (RAB) by about 200 million euros for the period covering 2012 to 2015.

The next step in the process to ensure that the network usage hike will remain subdued is to lower the interest rate for DESFA outstanding amounts. The interest rate reduction will be determined by RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy. The authority also needs to revise pricing regulations.

Skourletis, the energy minister, told Parliament that existing regulations would have led to “extreme and provocative” network usage fee hikes of about 68 percent at DESFA, noting such a development would negatively impact households and, primarily, local industrial enterprises using natural gas, as well as DESFA’s prospective buyer, the Azeri energy company Socar.

The existing conditions would have entitled Socar to receive 66 percent of 829 million euros, an estimated recoverable amount, Skourletis said.

It remains unknown how Socar and Italy’s Snam, an additional prospective buyer, may respond to the initiative.

Socar had agreed to purchase a 66 percent stake of DESFA after winning an international tender in 2013, but, more recently, the European Commission intervened to demand that a 17 percent share be offered to a certified European operator, which will reduce the Azeri firm’s control to 49 percent.

TAIPED, the State Privatization Fund, apparently had not been informed of the energy minister’s move. The fund’s response also remains unknown.

Some sources contend that both the Greek government and Socar would essentially like to see the deal cancelled, without being held responsible.

For Greece’s energy minister Panos Skourletis, the sale’s failure would be a success as it would serve his Syriza party line, seeking to maintain as much state control as possible over Greece’s energy networks. An end to the current DESFA plan could lead to an alternative part-privatization along the lines of the plan prepared for IPTO, the power grid operator.

As for the Azeris, who initially entered the DESFA sale primarily to facilitate their wider energy interests, they would like to withdraw as the drastic fall of oil and natural gas prices over the past year-and-a-half has placed great pressure on the company and the energy-dependent Azeri national economy, leading to the need for cost cuts. Even so, Socar is remaining covert about its DESFA intentions as a means of protecting its future energy interests in the wider region.