Lenders pressuring DEPA to leave retail natural gas market

DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, an energy-sector issue in the bailout’s current second review, is being pressured by the lenders to withdraw from Greece’s retail natural gas market, a development that would destabilize the corporation’s future and the prospect of widened natural gas use around Greece.

Thought this latest request is not a bailout prior action, government officials fear the lenders will apply relentless pressure.

Already forced to increase its gas release, the proportion of low-priced natural gas offered by DEPA through its annual auctions as a means of generating market competition, the corporation is under pressure to abandon its 51 percent stakes in Greece’s three existing regional EPA gas supply companies covering the wider Athens area, Thessaloniki and Thessalia, without compensation. This would effectively leave DEPA out of the retail market.

The lenders, especially the European Commisson, represented by its Senior Economist for Greece, Carlo Viviani, want DEPA to abandon its retail role as of January 1, 2017, when distribution and retail activities of gas companies in the country’s natural gas market need to be split. Sources said the lenders are pushing for this move to further liberalize the gas market.

Shell holds a 49% stake in the EPA supply company serving the wider Athens region, while the Italian multinational Eni holds 49% stakes in the Thessaloniki and Thessalia ventures.

This demand will surely prompt major legal issues as the public utility is being asked to abandon assets without any form of compensation. The prospect of expanding Greece’s natural gas network to parts of the country without access is also expected to be set back. The country’s role in prospective international gas transmission projects, through DEPA, would also be affected if the gas company’s role is diminished.

Regardless of this latest request by the lenders, DEPA needs to split its retail and distribution divisions at an administrative level.