Major battle seen for liberalized gas market in 2018

The natural gas retail market’s liberalization, a new reality in Greece that has arrived along with the New Year as a follow-up to the wholesale gas market’s opening, promises to lead to major changes.

Combined electricity-and-gas packages are already being offered by retailers in a local energy market whose natural gas sales have grown from 2.9 billion cubic metres in 2015 to 5 billion cubic meters in 2017.

The natural gas market is expected to gain further impetus as a result of the electricity market’s liberalization. Numerous gas market retailers, besides EPA Attiki, covering wider Athens, and Zenith, covering Thessaloniki and Thessaly, are examining the prospect of offering combined electricity-and-gas packages.

The main power utility PPC has hired a consultant to help prepare its entry into the natural gas market, while major independent electricity suppliers have already launched campaigns for gas supply. Also, DEPA, the public gas corporation, is considering entering the electricity market, either alone or along with a partner.

As of 2018, independent gas suppliers will seek to further bolster their presence in a market traditionally dominated by DEPA.

The degree of DEPA’s future retail presence in the EPA supply companies serving wider Athens, Thessaloniki and Thessaly, to be determined by ongoing negotiations between the shareholders involved in these ventures, remains to be seen.

The government appears to favor DEPA’s withdrawal from EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki and continued presence in EPA Attiki. DEPA currently holds 51 percent stakes in these ventures. Shell holds a 49 percent stake in EPA Attiki and ENI a 49 percent stake in EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki. Shell appears to want to withdraw.

EPA Attiki and Zenith, covering Thessaloniki and Thessaly, have both expressed an interest to broaden their geographic reach.

According to data released for 2015, the retail natural gas market in wider Athens, Thessaly and Thessaloniki exceeded 293 million euros. EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki posted a pretax profit of 45 million euros and EPA Attiki a pretax profit of 30.1 million euros, according to this data.

As for Greece’s wholesale natural gas market, DEPA, until recently, has stood as the undisputed dominant player owing to its overwhelming control of imports. In 2016, DEPA’s natural gas imports reached 42.7 million MWh, from 44.5 million MWh in total, a 96 percent share.

However, this picture began changing in 2017, beginning with Prometheus Gas, a joint venture of the Copelouzos Group and Gazprom Export, whose imports for the year reached one billion cubic meters, or 20 percent of the 5 billion cubic meter total. These amounts were imported from the gas pipeline at Sidirokastro, via Bulgaria.

According to sources, Prometheus Gas has already signed contracts for a greater amount in 2018. Clients include PPC, which has placed orders for its natural gas-fueled power plants.

M&M, a joint venture involving Motor Oil Hellas and the Mytilineos Group, has also made imports.

In recent comments to Reuters, Evangelos Mytilineos, chief executive of the Mytilineos Group, noted that the corporate group ranks as the country’s biggest natural gas consumer with a level of 1.5 billion cubic meters, adding that M&M Gas could soon start trading annual amounts of natural gas measuring around one billion cubic meters.

Despite the emergence of new players in Greece’s wholesale gas market, DEPA managed to increase its volume-based sales increase of 9 percent for 2017’s nine-month period, while its operating profit (EBITDA) rose by 32 percent to 223 million euros.

 

Competition Committee to decide on DEPA retail market role

The Competition Committee will decide whether DEPA, the public gas corporation, can maintain its presence in Greece’s retail natural gas market, according to additional terms included in the bailout agreement.

The terms specify that an assessment by RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, and the Competition Committee, in association with the European Commission, to judge whether competition in the retail natural gas market remains restricted, will be made once the ownership make-ups of the existing EPA gas supply companies have been reshuffled. This assessment will need to be made prior to the bailout-required sale of a 65 percent sale of DEPA.

DEPA currently holds 51 percent stakes in EPA Attiki and EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki, in respective partnerships with Shell and ENI.

If the Competition Committee decides that prospective line-up changes at the EPA companies continue to limit competition in the gas market, which needs to be fully liberalized by January 1, then the new corporate models will face reexamination.

At this stage, ENI appears interested in acquiring DEPA’s 51 percent in EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki, while Shell seems interested in selling its 49 percent share of EPA Attiki to DEPA.

According to energypress sources, the country’s lenders are determined to prevent the formation of a state-controlled monopoly in Greece’s retail natural gas market. The lenders may allow DEPA to increase its stake in EPA Attiki, serving the wider Athens area, but they will not allow a full takeover, the sources informed.

Shell’s intended withdrawal from EPA Attiki is made complicated by the need for an evaluation of the premature loss of this venture’s monopoly, originally promised to last until 2030, but cut short by Greece’s bailout-required gas market reforms. The value of this lost monopoly will be factored into the sale price. For some time now, Shell has valued its monopoly loss at 150 million euros.

The negotiations, part of the road map established for the gas market, need to be completed by March, 2018, when, according to additional bailout terms, the tender for the sale of DEPA’s 65 percent needs to be announced. Any delays in the negotiations between DEPA, Shell and ENI promise to delay the planned DEPA sale.

 

Shell to leave EPA Attiki, proposal for DEPA exit in north

Energy minister Giorgos Stathakis is expected to present the country’s lender representatives a gas-sector proposal entailing the full withdrawal by DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, from EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki through the sale of its current 51 percent stake to ENI, the current holder of a 49 percent in this retail venture, as well as a full takeover of EPA Attiki through the acquisition of Shell’s 49 percent in this retail gas firm supplying the wider Athens area, energypress sources have informed.

Both ENI and Shell both appear to agree to these EPA changes. According to sources, Shell has decided to withdraw from Greece’s natural gas market. The company hired a consultant to steer it through this process, it recently became known.

The energy minister is scheduled to meet with the lender representatives today and on Thursday to finalize energy sector measures needed for the bailout’s third review.

An agreement has already been reached with the European Commission, one of the country’s lender institutions, on main power utility PPC’s bailout-required lignite unit sale package, but the prospective changes in the natural gas sector remain unclear. The lenders are generally pushing for a diminished role by DEPA, currently dominant at both wholesale and retail levels.

DEPA appears willing to fully withdraw from EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki. Last week’s leadership changes at the gas company are expected to facilitate this withdrawal.

The lenders had rejected a previous Greek offer entailing DEPA’s reduced presence in EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki with a stake of at least 20 percent, as well as a management takeover at EPA Attiki and, possibly, the acquisition of Shell’s current 49 percent stake in this venture. Shell also failed to react positively to this proposal.

A counterproposal by the lenders called for DEPA’s reduced presence in both EPA ventures as a minor partner devoid of management rights.

It remains to be seen whether Greece’s latest proposal will be embraced by the lenders this week as part of the effort to conclude the bailout’s third review.

 

Natural gas price down, EPA Attiki sets level at 5.1 cents

Lower natural gas prices are expected to lead to marginally reduced heating costs this winter for households relying on this energy source. On the contrary, heating fuel price levels have so far remained unchanged compared to last winter.

EPA Attiki, supplying natural gas to the wider Athens area, has set a price of 5.1 cents per KWh, effective as of today, down from 5.4 cents per KWh in September and an average price of 5.6 cents per KWh last winter.

The latest price levels make natural gas 42 percent cheaper than heating fuel and 68 percent cheaper than electricity.

A growing number of households are switching to natural gas for their heating needs. Besides a recent sector reform enabling flat owners to freely withdraw from old collective apartment block heating fuel arrangements, as well as a successful gas subsidy program that ended in October but is expected to be relaunched in 2018, households are also turning to natural gas as a result of an  uncertainty surrounding heating fuel subsidies.

Though heating fuel purchases for the upcoming winter began roughly one month ago, no details have yet to be provided on this season’s heating fuel subsidy criteria.

The government has already announced it will cut heating fuel subsidies by more than half in 2018, to 50 million euros from 110 million euros. Stricter income and property-based criteria are expected to apply. Consequently, either fewer households will be eligible or heating fuel subsidies will be lowered.

Last year, heating fuel subsidies of 25 cents per liter were offered to eligible households.

A decision by the finance ministry on this year’s level is not expected for some time as the first round of heating subsidies will not be made available until January.

Without a doubt, the additional strain to be felt by households stands to negatively impact the trading activity of petroleum companies.

DEPA in robust financial condition amid Shell, ENI talks

Various alternatives are being examined for the future look of Greece’s natural gas market, especially the role to be played by DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation. Decisions on the direction to be taken are expected by the end of this month, officials have informed.

The gas utility, which has maintained a dominant, vertically integrated presence in the market, is currently engaged in negotiations with local retail gas business partners Shell and ENI – holders of respective 49 percent stakes in the EPA Attiki and EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki ventures – while the government is representing the utility in the ongoing third bailout review talks with the country’s lenders.

DEPA, a financially robust enterprise whose cash reserves are expected to have reached approximately 300 million euros by the end of the year, is strongly positioned in these talks. The gas utility has the ability to finance any decisions taken for its future market position, sources have noted.

The government is pursuing a plan that would maintain DEPA’s majority role in EPA Attiki, supplying the wider Athens area, in exchange for a minority role in EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki.

According to sources, DEPA is close to striking a deal with ENI for their EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki venture. A drastically reduced stake for DEPA, to a level well under 49 pecent, is regarded as a possible outcome.

As for EPA Attiki, the current arrangement, through which DEPA holds 51 percent of the venture and Shell 49 percent, could be left untouched.

A gas market reforms road map needs to be delivered by the end of the year, according to a term included in the revised bailout following a request by the lenders, its aim being to remove factors not promoting competition. Though this condition’s description has remained vague, it can be interpreted as representing pressure from the lenders for an end to DEPA’s omnipresence.

Major DEPA retail role, through EPA Attiki, supported locally

The leadership at the environment and energy ministry is insisting on a dominant role for DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, in the retail gas firm EPA Attiki, serving the wider Athens area, and would settle for the gas utility taking on a minority role in EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki, according to sources.

This position was apparently stressed during a meeting at the energy ministry yesterday. Officials representing DEPA, TAIPED, the state privatization fund, and ELPE, Hellenic Petroleum, which holds 35 percent stakes in DEPA and DESFA, the natural gas grid operator, all took part in the session.

Greece needs to deliver a gas market reforms road map by the end of the year, according to a term included in the revised bailout, following a request by the lenders, its aim being to remove factors not promoting competition. The future role of DEPA, currently omnipresent, is a key part of the road map.

The lenders have called for DEPA’s full withdrawal from Greece’s retail gas market but, as was indicated at yesterday’s meeting, the government is determined to maintain a commanding role for the gas utility through one of the two EPA companies. DEPA currently holds 51 percent shares in EPA Attiki and EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki, while Shell and ENI are partners with respective stakes of 49 percent.

DEPA needs to reach agreements with its two EPA partners. According to sources, the gas utility is close to reaching a deal with ENI that would provide the Italian company with part of DEPA’s 51 percent in EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki. The sources added that DEPA appears prepared to accept being a minor shareholder in EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki with a stake well under 49 percent.

As for EPA Attiki, the ownership could remain as is, with DEPA maintaining 51 percent and Shell 49 percent, the same sources informed.

Given these indications, the government, in its negotiations with the lenders, appears to be sticking to the positions adopted at a DEPA shareholders’ meeting in the summer and by the board. Ultimately, the views of the lenders will be crucial.

It has become somewhat of a common secret that the lenders have persisted for DEPA to adopt a more passive role in the retail gas market with EPA stakes of no more than 49 percent. Shell and ENI have both expressed a clear interest to acquire majority stakes in these respective ventures.

A clearer picture on the gas market’s new look should emerge within the next fortnight. Time is running out for the road map’s delivery by the end of the year, as was highlighted at yesterday’s meeting.

Besides DEPA’s role in the gas market, Shell and ENI are also seeking compensations for the premature ends to their regional monopolies in the EPA Attiki and EPA Thessaly-Thessaloniki ventures established with DEPA. An agreement had been reached for these monopolies to last until 2030.

Shell has valued the loss of the regional monopoly granted to EPA Attiki, serving the wider Athens area, at approximately 100 million euros. This amount would be split with DEPA, its partner in the venture. It is unclear to what extent Shell’s evaluation has been discussed by Greek officials.

Gas players moving into electricity promise to reshape the market

The upcoming retail electricity market entry by gas suppliers, especially EPA Attiki and EPA Thessaloniki-Thessaly, both now also holders of electricity supply licenses, promises to reshape the country’s energy market.

The two EPA companies preparing to penetrate the electricity market already possess considerable clientele lists, both household and commercial, for gas supply in their respective regions.

Both prospective entries have the capacity to make unprecedented impact on the country’s electricity market, still dominated by the main power utility PPC, through combined electricity and gas packages for customers, pundits have forecast in comments to energypress.

From the other end, certain electricity market suppliers are seeking to enter the gas market. However, the profit margins offered by Greece’s gas market are far narrower than those being shaped in the electricity market.

Intensified competition is expected amid the toughening market conditions for the country’s electricity suppliers.

EPA Attiki to offer gas-electricity packages, energy savings services

EPA Attiki, a wider Athens gas supplier preparing to also enter the electricity market, as was highlighted by yesterday’s issuance of an electricity supply license by RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, plans to offer combined gas-and-electricity packages to customers as of January.

These combined packages will also include energy savings services for households, buildings and businesses, based on expertise gained by energy firms in other parts of Europe. Major European partners are expected to join EPA Attiki for its new venture. These partners will soon be announced, the company has informed.

RAE has granted EPA Attiki a 20-year electricity supply license permitting the trade of 400 MW per year.

Originally founded by parent company DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, as a gas supply subsidiary covering the wider Athens area, EPA Attiki will gain full independence as of 2018 as a result of the country’s gas market reforms.

The company is now preparing to launch an intensive campaign to promote its gas-and-electricity combined packages.

 

DEPA plans to stay with EPA Attiki, leave other retail interests

The board at DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, facing pressure from the country’s lenders to relinquish part of its dominant control of the local natural gas market, is believed to be preparing a list of proposals, to be forwarded to the government by the end of this month, that will include a plan for its continued role in the EPA Attiki and EDA Attiki supply companies, with the respective current stakes intact, and either a complete withdrawal from the EPA Thessalia and EPA Thessaloniki companies, or a drastic reduction in these combined with increased stakes in the EDA Thessalia-Thessaloniki ventures.

Though the gas market reform demands included in the revised bailout are not specific, the country’s lenders are pressuring for an end to DEPA’s widespread market presence.

The corporation is currently engaged in wholesale and retail gas supply, maintains 51 percent stakes in all of the country’s regional EPA gas supply companies, and also enjoys interests in EDA, the gas distribution company.

The country’s lenders, as noted in the revised bailout, are expecting a gas market road map by the end of the year with plans aiming to tackle issues that are obstructing competition in the natural gas market. The country’s lenders will have the final say in the reforms.

Shell requests compensation for gas monopoly termination

Shell, a 49 percent shareholder of gas supplier EPA Attiki, covering the wider Athens area, has, in a letter forwarded to energy minister Giorgos Stathakis last week, officially demanded compensation from the Greek State for the premature loss of its monopoly, energypress sources have informed.

In the letter, Shell has requested a meeting with the energy minister to discuss the issue, while the multinational has evaluated the loss of its regional monopoly, originally agreed to last until 2030, at approximately 100 million euros. Shell would be entitled to roughly half this amount as state-controlled DEPA, the public gas corporation, holds a 51 percent share of EPA Attiki.

Shell, in the letter, also enquires about a conflict of interest concerning DEPA, which, as a result of the natural gas market’s new framework, is, concurrently, the majority shareholder of EPA Attiki, its supplier, and competitor. State-controlled DEPA revised its charter to enter the retail gas and electricity markets.

Shell has asked the energy minister for DEPA’s immediate withdrawal from the retail gas market in the wider Athens area.

Eni, the holder of 49 percent stakes in the Thessaly and Thessaloniki EPA supply companies, has forwarded a similar demand to the ministry for these regional markets.

In comments to energypress, DEPA officials contended that no laws, at a European level, support such a claim.

Even so, on a recent trip to Rome, Stathakis, the Greek energy minister, is believed to have requested the Italian government’s support for a delayed withdrawal of DEPA from the EPA Thessaly and Thessaloniki ventures, sources have informed.

For quite some time now, both Shell and Eni have been presenting their case to DEPA, the Greek government, as well as the country’s lender institutions, contending that their venture partner cannot also be a competitor in the same market or a supplier for the EPA companies.

Ministry officials have questioned figures provided by Shell, noting that the effort to determine whether the multinational is entitled to compensation is complex and, if so, what this value gap could be worth.

Ministry officials contend that a value gap may not necessarily emerge if Greek public spending, in the past, on the development of gas networks and other infrastructure outlays is taken into account. Also, the EPA Attiki aand EPA Thessaly- Thessaloniki companies have received capital returns in the past, ministry officials have noted.

 

Gas trader EPA Attiki preparing its electricity market entry

Gas supplier EPA Attiki is moving ahead with a plan to revise its corporate charter so as to include electricity supply and trade among its business activities.

The company shareholders have already approved the amendment to the charter and, as the next step, the enterprise is preparing to soon submit an application to RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, for a license enabling the gas trader to enter the electricity market.

Originally founded by parent company DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, as a gas supply subsidiary covering the wider Athens area, EPA Attiki has now gained independence amid the gas market reforms.

EPA Attiki officials expect to be given the green light for trading activity in the electricity market by September, several months ahead of the full liberalization, in 2018, of Greece’s natural gas market. As a result, EPA Attiki will be licensed to offer combined electricity-and-gas packages to consumers.

The Greek natural gas market’s anticipated full liberalization next year will enable households to choose their gas suppliers. Industrial and commercial sector consumers were granted this liberty in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

EPA Attiki does not intend to establish a partnership with an existing electricity supplier.

Company officials noted that increased gas amounts offered at DEPA gas auctions have helped reduce EPA Attiki’s gas purchasing costs and, by extension, offer more competitive prices to customers.

Last winter, the cost of natural gas remained nearly 40 percent less than heating oil and as much as 70 percent lower than electricity.

EPA Attiki officials noted that further price improvements, including for households, will be possible in 2018 as a result of the supplier’s independence from DEPA.

Over the next two years, EPA Attiki plans to initally focus on its electricity market entry followed by an effort to further improve customer services in anticipation of the intensified competition as other suppliers seek to capture a share of the natural gas market in the wider Athens area. Until now, EPA Attiki has enjoyed a regional monopoly.

 

 

 

EPA Attiki prepares for low-cost CNG supply in liberalized gas market

EPA Attiki intends to supply CNG to major-scale industrial enterprises and businesses, a plan that will be made possible by the installation of compressors to the existing low and medium-pressure network, EPA general manager Yiannis Mitropoulos disclosed yesterday while addressing the many opportunities offered by the gas market’s developing liberalization.

EPA Thessaloniki and EPA Thessaly are also considering installing compressor stations to enable CNG supply to the market.

The EPA Attiki general manager pointed out that his company’s plans are focused on CNG supply, not LNG. Compared to LNG, requiring a costly liquefaction procedure, CNG is a lower-cost option once compressors have been installed.

The developing liberalization of the natural gas market will be completed as of January 1, 2018, when households will be free to choose supplier. Industrial clients were able to do so as of the beginning of 2016, while major-scale business customers were offered this right at the beginning of this year.

“Opportunities exist and will proliferate as the market continues to become increasingly liberalized and the arrival of 2020, when the TAP pipeline will be launched, draws nearer,” Mitropoulos noted. “We are already assessing alternative supply sources,” he continued.

Originally founded by parent company DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, as a supply subsidiary covering the wider Athens area, EPA Attiki has now gained independence amid the gas market reforms. EPA Attiki’s initial objective, in its new life, is to enter the retail electricity market and follow up this entry by improving its services in anticipation of intensifying competition.

Mitropoulos said he expects household natural gas price levels to drop over the next few months. Price levels are currently at 5.7 cents per MWh, seven percent higher than in January, as a result of the energy crisis early this year. Despite the recent rise, household natural gas price levels remain 38 percent lower than heating fuel.

EPA Attiki has set itself an annual turnover target of 150 million euros for 2017.

 

 

 

 

DEPA forms retail gas division for changing energy market

Upcoming legal framework revisions and the imminent full liberalization of Greece’s natural gas market as of January 1, 2018 promises to reshape the retail energy market. The players, old and new, have already begun preparations.

According to latest information, DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, is now establishing a retail division to be tasked with running the corporation’s imminent retail activities in the electricity and natural gas markets.

As was disclosed by energypress last November, DEPA has made changes to its company charter in order to widen its activities and participate in the electricity supply and waste management sectors.

Just days ago, EPA Attiki, a DEPA subsidiary that has made moves to now operate independently, unveiled a new business plan that includes an entry into the electricity supply market.

DEPA’s revision to also facilitate its entry into the retail gas and electricity energy markets at the beginning of 2018, along with plans by independent electricity suppliers to offer combined electricity and gas packages to households, promises to completely alter the local energy market’s retail landscape.

At this stage, it remains unclear whether partnerships will be established. Plenty of maneuvering by players exploring their options is now in progress.

EPA Attiki’s moves so far indicate that the company will operate independently. As for DEPA, its existing ties with major-scale industrial enterprises stand as a key strength.

 

EPA Attiki preparing to offer combined power and gas packages

EPA Attiki, a subsidiary of DEPA, the Public Gas Corporation, is gearing up for the full liberalization of Greece’s gas market, to take effect next January, which will enable households to choose gas suppliers.

Gas market reforms already implemented currently allow industrial enterprises and major-scale businesses to select their gas suppliers. Industrial clients were left free to choose gas suppliers at the beginning of 2016, while major-scale business customers were offered this right at the beginning of this year.

EPA Attiki plans to offer household customers combined electricity-and-gas energy packages.

The company is now working its way through licensing procedures that will enable it to begin operating in the electricity market, already fully liberalized, as an independent supplier, without partners.

Originally founded by parent company DEPA as a supply subsidiary covering the wider Athens area, EPA Attiki has now gained independence amid the gas market reforms.

EPA Attiki’s initial objective, in its new life, is to enter the retail electricity market and follow up the entry by improving its services in anticipation of intensifying competition.

Interestingly, in its new role, EPA Attiki will compete against DEPA’s other EPA subsidiaries, initially established to supply gas to regions besides Athens, as well as its parent company DEPA, which still holds 51 percent stakes in the country’s existing EPA firms.