RAE scrutinizing greater lignite use, IPTO may need to clarify

RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, is considering to seek clarification from power grid operator IPTO on a series of electricity market issues, including differing formations adopted for the day-ahead and ISP markets.

A first presentation, last week, of the target model’s new wholesale market, energy exchange market results and the energy mix has shown an increase in the use of lignite-fired power stations, despite their higher cost.

Power utility PPC’s lignite-fired power stations are still deemed necessary for electricity supply security, even when capacity levels are sufficient, to counter instability issues at the grid’s northern section, where interconnections facilitate electricity exports.

The use of lignite-fired power stations, such as Agios Dimitrios, Megalopoli IV and Meliti, despite the higher cost of CO2 emission rights, has significantly increased energy costs for suppliers and industry.

Also, when IPTO issues grid distribution orders to lignite-fired power stations, the grid-contribution programs of other units are consequently canceled out and remunerated by the energy exchange, even for energy amounts not contributed to the grid.

Meanwhile, lignite-fired power stations are remunerated through the balancing market at price levels that usually exceed 100 euros per MWh.

RAE’s intervention is intended to ensure the electricity market’s smooth functioning and efficiency, for the benefit of participants and consumers.

PPC Renewables expecting KAS nod for Ptolemaida solar farm projects

PPC Renewables is anticipating approval, today, by Greece’s Central Archaeological Council (KAS) for a large-scale cluster of solar farm projects totaling nearly 1 GW in the Ptolemaida plains of northern Greece, until now mined for their lignite deposits by parent company PPC, the power utility.

KAS has received an application from PPC Renewables for the solar energy projects Pteleonas 1, Pteleonas 2, Kardia 1, Exohi 8 and PPC Ptolemaida Mine A, B, C, D and E.

These projects, promising a total capacity of 960 MW, will be developed over a total land mass measuring 1,830 hectares.

PPC crews and sub-contractors have mined this land for decades, extracting lignite under the surveillance of KAS officials, watchful in the event of any archaeological discoveries.

Given PPC’s preceding mining activities in the region, PPC Renewables’ application for solar farm projects should not encounter any problems with KAS authorities.

Overall, PPC has submitted applications for solar farms in the area totaling 2.5 GW, which, if combined with applications lodged for solar farms in Megalopoli, Peloponnese, total 3 GW.

Lignite-fired power stations still operating despite elevated cost

Despite their increased operational cost, power utility PPC’s lignite-fired power stations remain essential, on an occasional basis, to ensure electricity supply security by countering various concerns that may arise, including voltage instability at the grid’s northern section.

Power grid operator IPTO needed to bring into the system one or two lignite-fired power stations throughout most of May, despite the high cost entailed, which would normally keep these units sidelined.

No lignite-fired power stations needed to be used for grid sufficiency on May 13 and 16, as is also the case for today.

The northern section of the country’s grid can be susceptible to voltage instability as a result of the international grid interconnections in the wider area, facilitating exports.

Until recently, northern Greece’s west Macedonia region was the country’s energy epicenter, courtesy of PPC’s extensive lignite portfolio in the area.

Regular use of higher-cost lignite-fired generation has increased price levels in the day-ahead and balancing markets, which, by extension, is increasing costs for suppliers.

PPC’s increased CO2 emissions, when the utility’s lignite-fired power stations are brought into operation, is also directly impacting industrial consumers, who are burdened by the resulting additional cost, passed on by the utility.

CO2 costs have risen sharply of late as a result of rallying carbon emission right costs.

Electricity demand up 7.5% in April, PPC market share steady

Electricity demand registered a sharp 7.5 percent rise in April, compared to the equivalent month a year earlier, driven by the government’s recent decision to ease lockdown measures, power grid operator IPTO’s latest monthly report has shown.

The relaxation of lockdown measures in Greece prompted a milder 1.5 percent increase in electricity demand in March, year-on-year.

On the contrary, electricity demand fell by 2.5 percent over the four-month period covering January to April, compared to the equivalent period a year earlier, according to the IPTO report.

This decline in electricity demand was approximately half the 5.1 percent drop, year-on-year, for the three-month period between January and March.

Electricity generation rose by 24.6 percent in April, compared to the same month a year earlier, according to the IPTO report.

Natural gas-fired power stations led the way, boosting their production by 52.4 percent, followed by lignite-fired power stations, whose output rose by 21.8 percent, RES units, increasing their generation by 5.8 percent and hydropower stations, which registered a 3.1 percent increase.

In terms of energy-mix shares, the pivotal role of natural gas-fired generation was once again made clear. It captured a 43 percent share of the energy mix in April, followed by the RES sector, capturing 36 percent, lignite with 11 percent, hydropower with 6 percent and electricity imports at 5 percent.

Power utility PPC’s share of electricity demand remained virtually unchanged for a third successive month in April, registering 65 percent, following a 64.8 percent share in March and 65.1 percent share in February.

Protergia, a member of the Mytilineos group, the frontrunner among the independent suppliers, was the only company to increase its market share in April. It rose to 8.2 percent share from 7.95 percent a month earlier.

Heron’s share was steady at 6.3 percent from 6.29 percent in March. Elpedison’s share experienced a mild drop to 4.72 percent from 4.88 percent. NRG’s share in April was unchanged at 3.99 percent, while Watt & Volt’s share slipped marginally to 2.44 percent from 2.58 percent.

PPC aims for EBITDA repeat of €900m, carbon cut ‘on track’

Power utility PPC is aiming for a repeat of last year’s EBITDA performance in 2021, a level of between 800 and 900 million euros, an objective to be supported by the corporation’s declining lignite-based electricity generation, both in terms of volume and energy-mix percentage, the company’s chief executive Giorgos Stassis has told analysts.

As part of its decarbonization effort, PPC plans to withdraw its Megalopoli III lignite-fired power station within the current year.

PPC managed to restrict its lignite-fired generation to 22 percent of total output in the first quarter this year, down from 44 percent a year earlier.

The utility needed to spend 138.5 million euros on CO2 emission rights in the first quarter, up from 119.7 million euros during the equivalent period last year, at an average cost of 31.7 euros per ton.

CO2 emission right prices have since risen further and currently register between 51 and 52 euros per ton.

Assuming CO2 emission right prices average 47 euros per ton in 2Q – this level could end up being be far higher – and PPC’s lignite-based generation remains at the current level, then the corporation’s carbon-cost outlay for this quarter will reach approximately 205 million euros, a 48 percent increase.

PPC, which recently borrowed through sustainability-linked bonds, committing itself to a carbon emission reduction of 40 percent by 2022, is confident this target will be achieved, the corporation’s administration told analysts.

 

Strategic reserve milestones set for next two months

A series of milestones have been set until autumn in preparation for Greece’s prospective Strategic Reserve Mechanism, which, if achieved, will enable its launch towards the end of the year.

The timeline and milestones leading to the possible launch of a Strategic reserve mechanism, keeping certain generation capacities outside the electricity market for operation only in emergencies, was discussed in detail during an online meeting yesterday between energy minister Kostas Skrekas and European Commission authorities.

Strategic reserves can be necessary to ensure security of electricity supply when electricity markets are undergoing transitions and reforms and are meant to insure against the risk of a severe supply crisis during such transitions.

Three main prerequisites will need to be satisfied by the end of July, the first being the completion of a market reform plan, intended to intensify competition in the wholesale electricity market.

The plan’s preparations will include the involvement of Pantelis Kapros, Professor of Energy Economics at the National Technical University of Athens, according to sources.

A new adequacy report, or updated study on grid sufficiency proving the need for the introduction of a Strategic Reserve mechanism, will also be needed.

Thirdly, the energy ministry will need to have fully responded, within the next month, to an extensive set of questions forwarded by European Commission officials on the prospective mechanism.

If these steps go well, an indefinite prospect at present, then a clearer picture on the mechanism’s details should have emerged by early autumn.

Any Strategic Reserve formula reached will need to be applied for a brief period so that an ensuing Capacity Remuneration Mechanism, to support new natural gas-fueled power stations, can immediately follow, the European Commission’s Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, also Brussel’s Commissioner for Competition, appears to have made clear to Skrekas, the energy minister, at a recent meeting.

Meanwhile, power utility PPC’s updated decarbonization plan is aiming for a withdrawal of all its lignite-fired power stations by 2025, at the very latest.

 

Ptolemaida V gas conversion board decision end of June

Power utility PPC is moving swiftly towards a finalized investment decision on a fuel-conversion plan for its prospective Ptolemaida V facility in northern Greece, to begin operating as a lignite-fired power station in 2022 before converting, a few years later, to a natural gas-fired facility equipped with infrastructure also enabling the use of hydrogen.

PPC’s chief executive Giorgos Stassis will present the plan to the company board at a meeting scheduled for the end of June, when it is expected to be approved, sources informed.

The plan will include schedules and financial studies for the conversion of Ptolemaida V, Greece’s last lignite-fired power station in development.

The PPC board is expected to stick to its plan of operating Ptolemaida V as a lignite-fired power station until 2025, instead of 2028, as was initially planned, before making the fuel switch to natural gas.

The country’s ambitious decarbonization targets and rallying CO2 emission right prices, currently at lofty levels ranging between 40 and 44 euros per ton, prompted Stassis, the CEO, to hasten PPC’s withdrawal of lignite units.

Ptolemaida V will be loss-incurring as a lignite-fired facility, the chief executive told analysts, responding to questions, during a recent presentation of the company’s financial results.

PPC also plans to increase the production capacity of Ptolemaida V to 1,000 MW from 660 MW. The facility will be flexible, possessing the ability to swiftly increase output from 300 to 1,000 MW within 30 minutes to an hour.

The facility’s fuel conversion cost is estimated at 250 million euros, sources have informed.

Stassis told analysts Ptolemaida V will be competitive even without support from the Capacity Remuneration Mechanism (CRM), being sought by the government from the European Commission as support for flexibility.

 

Mytilineos considering new gas-fired power units in Balkans

The Mytilineos group is examining the prospect of developing natural gas-fired power stations in Bulgaria and North Macedonia, seeing investment opportunities, like Greece’s other major energy players, in the Balkan region.

EU members Bulgaria and Romania, as well as non-EU members in the Balkan region, such as Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia, are announcing closures of old coal-fired power stations.

This development is creating investment opportunities as older units being withdrawn will, over the next few years, need to be replaced by new facilities, including natural gas-fired power stations.

A month ago, after receiving equipment for a new gas-fired power station unit in Agios Nikolaos, Viotia, northwest of Athens, Mytilineos informed that the company is examining the prospect of developing a similar combined cycle unit in Bulgaria.

Bulgaria, like Greece, is withdrawing its coal-fired power stations and aims to have completed the country’s decarbonization effort by 2025. The neighboring country will need to replace lost capacity through the introduction of natural gas-fired power stations and RES unit investments.

Extremely higher carbon emission right costs have made the withdrawal of coal-fired power stations a priority for Bulgaria and the wider region, one of Europe’s most lignite-dependent areas.

Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, combined, represent nearly ten percent of the EU’s total lignite electricity generation capacity.

Carbon emission right prices relaxed to 49.26 euros per ton yesterday after peaking at 56.65 euros per ton last Friday, following a months-long rally.

Last week, during a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, North Macedonian leader Zoran Zaev disclosed that his government is discussing the prospect of a new gas-fired power station, in the neighboring country, with Mytilineos.

In Romania, projections for 2030 estimate the installation of 5.2 GW in wind energy units and approximately 5 MW in solar energy units.

Serbia, possibly offering even bigger green energy investment opportunities, aims to replace 4.4 GW of coal-fired generation by 2050. The country is now making plans for 8-10 GW in RES investments.

PPC strategic reserve, lignite exit compensation hopes fade

Power utility PPC’s prospects for some type of compensation in the foreseeable future, either through the Strategic Reserve Mechanism for the corporation’s withdrawal of units from the market and availability for back-up services, or for the utility’s earlier-than-planned closures of lignite-fired power stations, appear to have dwindled.

The reduced likelihood of any such compensation money for PPC became apparent at a meeting yesterday between energy minister Kostas Skrekas and the European Commission’s Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, also Brussel’s Commissioner for Competition.

Progress was made on an antitrust remedy, through which PPC will soon begin offering rival suppliers lignite-based electricity packages, but the same cannot be said of the strategic reserve.

Vestager made clear, during yesterday’s session, that a strategic reserve plan proposed by the Greek government cannot be approved by the European Commission. Instead, she noted, a new grid sufficiency plan, one aligned with EU directives, will need to be prepared to enable the implementation of an acceptable mechanism.

Subsequently, a strategic reserve plan must be  prepared from scratch, incorporating, besides PPC’s facilities, the demand response mechanism.

According to estimates by some officials, Brussels’ approval of a finalized strategic reserve proposal, requiring considerable work, could take as long as a year.

PPC lignite electricity packages through futures market

State-controlled power utility PPC will soon begin offering rival suppliers lignite-generated electricity packages through the target model’s futures market, energy minister Kostas Skrekas and the European Commission’s Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, also Brussel’s Commissioner for Competition, have agreed at a meeting yesterday.

Vestager, during the session, also made clear that the balancing cost of a mechanism concerning power purchase agreements (PPAs) between industrial producers and RES producers cannot be subsidized, but, instead, will need to be aligned with terms that apply for other EU member states.

Athens expects to submit its PPA plan to Brussels in June for approval.

Also next month, the government plans to submit its support framework proposal for energy storage units.

As for the country’s Strategic Reserve Mechanism, the European Commission’s deputy requested a new proposal from Athens, in line with new EU directives.

Under the Strategic Reserve Mechanism, PPC and all other electricity producers opting to withdraw units from the market for back-up services, would be remunerated for sidelining these units for periods determined by IPTO, the power grid operator.

Vestager stressed that the country’s Strategic Reserve Mechanism cannot coincide with the wider Capacity Remuneration Mechanism (CRM).

The Brussels deputy also pointed out that a compensation request made by Greece for PPC’s redevelopment of lignite areas, part of the decarbonization effort, is legally baseless and cannot be pursued further.

Brussels insists on PPC sale of lignite power packages to rivals

Power utility PPC must soon start offering rival suppliers portions of its lignite-based electricity production, as specified in an antitrust agreement, despite subdued interest by possible buyers expressed in a February market test, the European Commission insists.

The subject, which has remained stagnant for months following slow development over the past 13 years or so – ever since legal action was taken against PPC in 2008 over its lignite monopoly – will be one of the topics to be discussed at a meeting today between energy minister Kostas Skrekas and the European Commission’s Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, also Brussel’s Commissioner for Competition.

Given Brussels’ insistence, the energy ministry has devoted considerable time over the past few weeks to shape a lignite electricity sale plan, based on a January agreement between the minister and the country’s creditor institutions, that could finally settle the dispute.

The January agreement calls for the sale of energy packages, either quarterly or annually, representing, in 2021, 50 percent of the previous year’s lignite-based production.

The percentage of PPC’s lignite-based electricity quantities to be offered to rival suppliers in 2022 and 2023 should be reduced to 40 percent of the previous year’s output, according to the agreement.

These amounts are seen as insufficient to make any real impact on the retail electricity market’s standings.

Other issues to be discussed at today’s meeting between Skrekas and Vestager include Brussels’ support for a grid back-up model as part of a wider Capacity Remuneration Mechanism (CRM). Athens favors a separate Strategic Reserve Mechanism to remunerate units that are made available by electricity producers for grid back-up services.

Skrekas is also striving to establish a mechanism that would subsidize RES producers for power purchase agreements (PPAs) with energy-intensive industrial enterprises.

‘Additional €3bn’ for lignite area redevelopment, SPV in making

The transformation effort for Greece’s two lignite-dependent economies, west Macedonia, in the country’s north, and Megalopoli, in the Peloponnese, stands to receive three billion euros in additional support through two sources, Invest EU, established to fund decarbonization initiatives, and the European Investment Bank, Constantinos Mousouroulis, head of the government’s coordinating committee for the transition, announced at yesterday’s Delphi Economic Forum.

The three billion-euro amount, Mousouroulis noted, will add to two billion euros already made available for the effort through the EU’s Just Transition Fund and Recovery and Resilience Facility.

The official acknowledged that delays, especially financial, have held back the transition plan for the two regions, attributing the slow progress to the pandemic and, subsequently, the European Commission’s ability to operate.

Mousouroulis, at the forum, strongly defended recent efforts for the transformation of the west Macedonian and Megalopoli local economies, noting that complacency was prevalent for years.

“Not only was there no Plan B, but not even a Plan A for forthcoming changes concerning goals to combat climate change,” the official noted.

A total of 24,700 hectares of unutilized property to result from the closure of power utility PPC’s lignite-fired power stations and lignite mines in the west Macedonia and Megalopoli regions, both lignite-dependent economies for decades, is expected to be redeveloped through the program, to include PPC investments.

A special purpose vehicle is being established to attract investors, Mousouroulis said.

Greece carbon-free by 2025, among 20 fastest movers

Twelve European countries have, to date, fully withdrawn their coal-fired facilities, while a further seven, including Greece, have committed to do so by 2025.

A coal-free status in Greece is expected by 2025 as state-controlled power utility PPC has decided to convert its Ptolemaida V power station to a natural gas/hydrogen-run unit within the next four-and-a-half years, PPC’s chief executive Giorgos Stassis told analysts yesterday, during a presentation of the company’s 2020 results.

The Greek power utility is currently phasing out all other lignite-fired power stations and related mines until 2023.

Besides sparing PPC of certain losses, given an anticipated sharp rise in CO2 emission right costs, this course yet again reaffirms, to investors, PPC’s plan to transform into an eco-friendly corporation.

In addition, the prospect places PPC and Greece among the world’s fastest movers towards decarbonization.

Austria, Albania, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Sweden and Switzerland are all now carbon-free.

France is expected to be added to this list this year, Portugal and Slovakia anticipate their entries in 2023, the UK is seen turning carbon-free in 2024, while Greece, Hungary, Ireland and Italy are planned to join the carbon-free club in 2025.

PPC results for 2020 out today, analyst projections disagree

Power utility PPC’s financial results for 2020, set to be announced later today, are seen confirming the corporation’s ongoing positive course.

The company is expected to report robust 4Q results for 2020, including an EBITDA figure of 238 million euros, according to Pantelakis Securities, given its performance for the nine-month last year.

Operating expenses have been contained, fuel prices plunged, wholesale electricity prices fell, and the utility’s reliance on its loss-incurring lignite units was further diminished during the nine-month period.

For 2020 as a whole, the analyst projects PPC’s EBITDA will reach 938 million euros, a 180 percent increase compared to the 336.6 million euros posted in 2019, as a result of higher tariffs, lower energy purchase costs and reduced CO2 emission right expenses.

The extraordinary market conditions last year were favorable for PPC, the analyst pointed out, as the pandemic-related reduction of electricity demand enabled the utility to stop operating its high-cost lignite-fired power stations for extended periods.

PPC is currently phasing out its lignite facilities, until 2023, as part of the country’s decarbonization effort. CO2 emission right costs have begun rebounding since December.

Pantelakis Securities expects PPC’s sales to fall by 10 percent in 4Q to a level of 1.191 billion euros, while net profit for the fourth quarter is estimated at 39 million euros.

For 2020 as a whole, total turnover is expected to fall by 4 percent, year-on-year, to 4.71 billion euros and net profit is anticipated to be 53 million euros.

PPC’s net debt for 2020 is seen slipping to 3.5 billion euros from 3.68 billion euros at the end of 2019.

Optima Bank sees a less favorable picture for PPC’s 2020 results, projecting losses of 79 million euros, well below losses of 1.68 billion euros in 2019, and a total turnover reduction of 5.5 percent, to 4.655 billion euros.

 

Mechanisms, competition on Vestager agenda, here May 13

Energy minister Kostas Skrekas intends to present his case for the introduction of five support mechanisms encouraging energy-sector investments in Greece’s ongoing transition towards carbon neutrality to the European Commission’s Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, also Brussel’s Commissioner for Competition, on the occasion of the official’s upcoming visit to Athens, scheduled for May 13.

Vestager will be in the Greek capital with an agenda featuring two pending competition issues concerning state-controlled power utility PPC.

Greece has faced charges for PPC’s monopoly of the country’s lignite sources but an agreement was reached to end the case by introducing a mechanism offering the power utility’s rivals access to lignite-generated electricity.

A market test for this mechanism was completed some time ago but failed to attract any real interest from rival suppliers.

The percentage of lignite-based electricity made available by PPC, initially set at 50 percent of total lignite-fired output and then lowered to 40 percent, is viewed, by third parties, as too small for any real gains.

The second PPC-related matter to be discussed during Vestager’s visit concerns a recently initiated investigation by Brussels seeking to determine whether the power utility has engaged in activities impeding market competition.

Private-sector investors are pushing for a capacity remuneration mechanism (CRM) in order to go ahead with the development of natural gas-fueled power stations, needed as Greece heads towards a post-lignite era. Skrekas, the energy minister, has repeatedly said a CRM will be launched in June.

The minister also supports a strategic reserve mechanism to compensate PPC’s lignite-fired power stations, still needed for back-up services but nowadays loss-incurring as a result of higher CO2 emission right costs.

In addition, the government is seeking compensation for the premature closure of PPC’s lignite-fired power stations and related mines, being phased out until 2023.

The minister also supports a support framework for hybrid units on non-interconnected islands combining RES electricity generation and energy storage.

Skrekas is also striving to establish a mechanism that would subsidize RES producers for power purchase agreements (PPAs) with energy-intensive industrial enterprises as well as suppliers selling to major-scale consumers.

 

PPC compensation mechanism, market test talks at crucial stage

The European Commission is expected to show its cards next week on Greece’s quest for lignite compensation mechanisms supporting power utility PPC and the results of a market test concerning the utility’s availability of lignite-produced electricity to third parties.

These issues are expected to be discussed in detail by energy ministry and Directorate-General for Competition officials during a virtual meeting next week, following correspondence as well as a virtual meeting, on March 8, between energy minister Kostas Skrekas and the European Commission’s Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, also Brussel’s Commissioner for Competition.

State-controlled PPC has requested a strategic reserve mechanism for its lignite-fired power stations, still needed but nowadays loss-incurring as a result of higher CO2 emission right costs, as well as compensation for its premature closures of these units, currently being phased out until 2023.

All still appears to be vague on PPC’s market test for third-party access to its lignite-based electricity. The test was completed some time ago, failing to attract any real interest from rival suppliers.

The percentage of lignite-based electricity made available by PPC, initially set at 50 percent of total lignite-fired output and then lowered to 40 percent, is viewed, by third parties, as too small for any real gains.  Brussels has yet to comment on the market test’s result.

 

Emission rights over €42/ton, costing PPC €1.4m per day

Carbon emission rights have risen sharply to record-high levels, reaching 42.28 euros per ton at the end of trading yesterday, an ascent of more than 80 percent compared to last October’s levels of approximately 23 euros per ton.

This relentless upward drive is costing power utility PPC extraordinary amounts. The corporation, maintaining lignite-fired power stations and related mines to ensure grid sufficiency, has spent a total of 152 million euros on carbon emission rights between November, when the target model was launched, and March, according to market data.

Market officials have forecast that carbon emission right prices will rise even further, possibly to levels beyond 100 euros per ton.

PPC’s daily outlay on carbon emission rights, estimated at 1.4 million euros, would increase further if these projections prove to be accurate.

The ascent of carbon emission rights has driven up the cost of lignite-based electricity to levels of approximately 130 euros per MWh.

Despite the participation of lignite units in the Greek market, their elevated operating cost has not been reflected in price levels. Paradoxically, even though the cost of electricity exports exceeds 120 euros per MWh, these exports are being invoiced at a little over 40 euros per MWh, benefitting traders, who are making the most of these low price levels.

 

DG Comp motives for restart of older PPC probe unclear

The European Commission has brought back to the fore a Directorate-General for Competition investigation of power utility PPC and power grid operator DEDDIE/HEDNO over market dominance abuse, despite major market changes that have taken place since 2017, when the probe began.

The direction the investigation’s restart remains unknown. Negotiations between Greece and Brussels for new mechanisms being negotiated could be impacted, some pundits suspect.

Also, the government and state-controlled PPC are currently seeking compensation for the power utility’s need to keep lignite-fired power stations and related mines operational for grid sufficiency needs.

No findings of the investigation’s first round have been released. The probe included raids by DG Comp officials, both local and Brussels-based, of the PPC and IPTO headquarters in Athens that lasted several hours, resulting in confiscations of USB flash drives, documents and hard drives.

PPC’s then-administration, in an announcement at the time, informed that the raid concerned a check on the utility’s “supposed” abuse of market dominance in the wholesale market for electrical energy produced from 2010 onwards.

Prior to the investigation, Brussels suspected levels of the wholesale electricity price – known as the System Marginal Price (SMP), at the time – were being manipulated by PPC through its lignite and hydropower facilities.

In 2017, PPC held an 87 percent share of the retail electricity market and 57 percent of overall electricity generation, now down to approximately 67 and 39 percent, respectively.

Four years ago, PPC’s lignite facilities still dominated the corporation’s portfolio and the energy exchange and new target model wholesale markets did not exist.

The current market setting bears little resemblance to back then. Lignite has regressed into an unwanted, loss-incurring energy source that is being phased out by PPC until 2023, while the energy market is undergoing drastic transformation, as was acknowledged by the European Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, also Brussels’ Commissioner for Competition, in an announcement yesterday.

 

EC examining compensation bid for PPC lignite closures

The government, determined to ensure compensation for state-controlled power utility PPC over its decision to prematurely close down its lignite-fired power stations, is seeking a solution through the European framework of options, an energy ministry announcement has informed.

The Greek State has submitted a compensation request to cover extraordinary costs related to the premature closure of four PPC lignite mines and lignite fired power stations, the ministry’s announcement noted.

European Commission Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, also Brussels’ Commissioner for Competition, has informed that the Commission views favorably the Greek initiative for a premature closure of these lignite facilities and is now examining the legal grounds of the compensation request, the energy ministry’s announcement added.

The Greek government wants compensation for PPC as the utility’s outgoing units have potential for a longer life, meaning PPC is being deprived of further earnings through these facilities.

A successful Greek compensation bid could also help cover extraordinary costs linked to the restructuring of lignite-dependent local economies.

The energy ministry is basing Greece’s compensation bid on a recent European Commission decision approving 52.5 million euros for the Netherlands as compensation for the premature closure of its Hemweg coal-fired power station.

The Netherlands has implemented law forbidding the use of coal for electricity generation beyond January 1, 2030.

PPC bond issue aims for real-money investors, market clout

Power utility PPC, which has just issued a 500 million-euro bond expiring in 2026, is aiming to attract foreign institutional investors – or real-money investors placed in the real economy, not hedge funds – to the issue, which, the corporation hopes, will also enjoy a solid course in secondary-market trading and help establish the company’s clout in capital markets.

PPC began presenting this bond issue to institutional investors yesterday and will continue to do so over the next two days in an effort to maximize the level of participation in the issue, a Sustainability-Linked Bond, the first of its kind to be offered by a Greek company.

The power utility is committing to a 40 percent CO2 emissions reduction by 2022, which if not achieved, will add 50 basis points to the bond’s yield.

The issue’s order book closes on Thursday. A clear picture on the turnout and type of investors drawn to the issue should emerge today or tomorrow, the latest.

PPC’s push to reduce CO2 emissions, which the company has told investors will fall from 23.1 million tons in 2019 to 13.9 million tons in 2022, is based on two key factors, a planned withdrawal of lignite-fired units representing a total capacity of 3.4 GW by 2023 and a change of investment direction focusing on renewables.

Data shows that PPC managed to reduce its CO2 emissions by 56 percent between 2005, when levels were 52.6 million tons, and 2019. A drop to the 2022 objective of 13.9 million tons would represent a 74 percent reduction, compared to 2005. If achieved, such a reduction would exceed the national target of 62 percent.

An improved BB- rating from Fitch late in December was a key factor in PPC’s decision to head to capital markets at this point in time.

IPTO study backing PPC lignite compensation bid soon to EC

The energy ministry is preparing to forward to the European Commission a power grid operator IPTO study that underlines the ongoing necessity of the country’s lignite-fired power stations for grid sufficiency.

The IPTO study was requested by energy minister Kostas Skrekas to bolster a compensation request submitted to Brussels by state-controlled power utility PPC as a result of the grid’s ongoing need for lignite units, nowadays loss-incurring facilities due to elevated CO2 emission right costs.

PPC, Greece’s sole operator of lignite units, plans to phase out its lignite units over the next three years as part of the country’s decarbonization strategy.

The energy ministry expects to forward the IPTO study to the European Commission within the next fortnight. Greece is seeking compensation for PPC through a support mechanism for as long as these lignite units remain in use.

Last week, the European Commission began examining whether a similar German compensation request complies with EU rules and should be approved.

European Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager suggested that the German plan theoretically complies with Europe’s green energy agreement and its goals.

“Within this context, our role is to safeguard competition by ensuring that compensation for premature withdrawal [of lignite units] is kept to a minimum,” Vestager commented. “The information available at this point is not sufficient to judge.”

EU hesitation to the German plan concerns a number of aspects, including the duration of the compensation period.

DESFA focusing on gas pipeline for west Macedonia network

Gas grid operator DESFA and energy ministry officials are currently discussing financing options that could be sought for the operator’s plan to develop a gas pipeline needed to facilitate a gas network expansion in northern Greece’s west Macedonia region, energypress sources have informed.

DESFA is awaiting approval by RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, for its ten-year development plan, worth more than 545 million euros, including the gas pipeline project.

The talks between DESFA and the energy ministry officials are focused on public funding possibilities, primarily European, to cover part of the cost of the gas pipeline, which would ultimately help contain the level of network usage tariffs to be covered by consumers.

Local officials anticipate this network expansion plan should qualify for EU development fund support, even though EU policy generally does not favor gas projects, as it clearly represents a development project that promises multiple regional benefits, including replacement of lignite-based energy, on the way out as a result of the country’s decarbonization strategy.

Besides the EU recovery fund, officials in Greece are also considering the prospects of financial support from the EU’s National Strategic Reference Framework or a number of regional development programs.

The gas network expansion plan in the country’s west Macedonia region will require the development of a 130-km gas pipeline from Trikala, in the mainland’s mid-north, a project budgeted at 110 million euros.

According to sources, DESFA has revised an original pipeline route plan, bringing the pipeline closer to cities where medium and low-pressure networks for households and businesses are to be developed by gas distributor DEDA.

Suppliers unimpressed by plan ending PPC lignite monopoly

Independent electricity suppliers have remained unimpressed by measures taken to end stare-controlled power utility PPC’s exclusive access to lignite, noting resulting lignite-generated electricity amounts offered to third parties are too small to bring about changes to competition.

The country’s independent suppliers had until yesterday to respond to a 15-question questionnaire forwarded by the European Commission as part of a market test on the effectiveness of the measures, recently agreed on between Brussels and new energy minister Kostas Skrekas.

Certain respondents explained that low-priced lignite electricity purchases, even at levels well below day-ahead market price levels, would not offer benefits as they cannot offset extremely higher wholesale electricity prices, pushed up by increased balancing market costs.

Some of the vertically integrated suppliers, not facing problems by the wholesale price shifts, noted the measures would end the prospects of a futures market operating at the energy exchange any time soon.

Post-lignite plan facing 19,000 job losses, €1.6bn GDP shrink

Greece’s GDP will contract by 1.6 billion euros and over 19,000 jobs stand to be lost as a result of power utility PPC’s ongoing withdrawal of lignite facilities, a study conducted by IOBE, the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research, has estimated, not taking into account a master plan of offsetting measures proposed for the lignite-dependent areas.

The total reduction in annual salaries as a result of these lignite unit withdrawals was estimated at 342 million euros by the IOBE study.

The Kozani area in northern Greece will be hardest hit, in terms of absolute numbers, among the country’s three lignite-dependent areas, the study estimates. Arkadia, in the central Peloponnese, and northern Greece’s Florina are the other two local economies depending on lignite.

The size of Kozani’s local economy is projected to shrink by 680 million euros, or 25 percent, according to the IOBE study. Job loss figures will also be biggest in Kozani, expected to reach 7,500, or 16 percent of the local workforce.

However, in a proportional sense, greater damage will be inflicted on Florina as its GDP is projected to contract by 28 percent, a 331 million-euro reduction. Job losses in Florina will also be considerable, reaching 2,900, or 15 percent, the IOBE study has projected.

Market test on deal to end PPC lignite monopoly now underway

The European Commission has just launched a market test concerning its recent agreement with energy minister Kostas Skrekas to end power utility PPC’s monopoly of lignite-based electricity production.

Interested parties – suppliers and traders – will, by February 15, need to respond to 15 questions looking to assess the agreement’s prospects.

Brussels’ questions focus on the agreement’s ability to generate competition in the wholesale and retail electricity markets, enable new market entries, and end PPC’s market dominance by 2023.

The agreement will apply until 2023, when state-controlled PPC plans to have gradually withdrawn its lignite-fired power stations as part of the country’s decarbonization effort.

Brussels’ questionnaire also includes a rough presentation of the pricing formula to be applied to lignite-based electricity amounts that PPC will be required to offer to holders of supply licenses through bilateral agreements, regardless of whether these companies operate in the Greek market or not.

PPC’s lignite-based electricity is planned to become available to rivals as of October this year. Market test participants, in one question, have been asked to clarify how much sooner they would need to know the terms and conditions.

As part of the agreement, PPC, in 2021, will need to make available 50 percent of its previous year’s lignite-based production to rivals, followed by 40 percent of the previous year’s output in 2022 and 2023.

In practical terms, based on these terms, independent suppliers will be able to purchase close to 3 TWh, in total, this year, and between 2 and 3 TWh in 2022.

Efforts to end PPC’s lignite monopoly had dragged on for 14 years prior to the recent agreement.

Brussels once again scrutinizing PPC high-voltage market share

Power utility PPC’s solid market share, especially in the high-voltage category, is once again being scrutinized by European Commission officials as part of Brussels’ ninth post-bailout review.

According to sources, European Commission authorities are seeking explanations from Greek officials for the state-controlled power utility’s unabating market share in the high-voltage category.

Brussels officials appear to be holding PPC responsible for selling specially priced industrial electricity at extremely low levels. Industrial consumers, also contacted by European Commission officials as part of the review, have attributed their customer loyalty to a lack of competition in Greece’s industrial electricity market.

PPC has held on to virtually all of its industrial customers, except for AGET (Heracles General Cement Corporation). MEL (Macedonia Paper Mills) abandoned PPC for a short period but has since returned.

Brussels officials are also believed to have questioned PPC’s electricity price levels in the low and medium-voltage categories, suggesting that these, too, are low.

It remains to be seen if this overall probing by the European Commission will develop into any form of official pressure.

Just days ago, energy minister Kostas Skrekas reached an agreement with the European Commission to end a long-running anti-trust case against PPC by agreeing to gradually end the utility’s monopoly of lignite-based electricity production. Despite the development, a number of Brussels officials appear to be keeping PPC in the frame.

 

Athens ending PPC lignite monopoly, rival suppliers to gain

Newly appointed energy minister Kostas Skrekas has reached an agreement with European Commission authorities to gradually end power utility PPC’s monopoly of lignite-based electricity production, but a Greek effort aiming to secure compensation for the state-controlled electricity company as a result of its need to keep operating lignite-fired power stations for grid sufficiency will now be treated as a separate issue, reducing the probability of a successful compensation request.

The ministry, under Skrekas’ predecessor, Costis Hatzidakis, had bundled the compensation request with the lignite antitrust case, insisting Athens would only move ahead with the PPC lignite monopoly case – by staging a market test as a first step towards offering independent players access to PPC’s lignite-based electricity production – if compensation money was awarded to the power utility.

Greece appears to have sought 180, 150 and 200 million euros in compensation for 2021, 2022 and 2023, respectively.

The country’s lignite antitrust case has dragged on for 14 years. During this time, lignite has lost its advantage as a lower-cost energy source as result of high CO2 emission right costs. Even so, Brussels has kept the issue on the negotiating table, often attaching tough proposals to the matter.

Under the lignite monopoly agreement just reached between the energy ministry and Brussels, the power utility, through bilateral contracts, will offer rival suppliers small percentages of its lignite-based electricity production at prices slightly below day-ahead market prices over a three-year period.

These electricity amounts will gradually diminish over the three-year period as PPC plans to phase out virtually all of its lignite-fired power stations by 2023 as part of the country’s decarbonization effort.

The percentage of lignite electricity amounts to be made available to independent suppliers will be based on previous-year production. In 2021, PPC will sell 50 percent of its lignite-based electricity produced in 2020, while in 2022 and 2023, the utility will offer 40 percent of production in the respective previous years.

Given these terms, independent suppliers will be able to purchase a combined total of close to 3 TWh in lignite-based electricity this year and between 2 and 3 TWh in 2022.

Independent suppliers should benefit from the agreement given the wholesale electricity market’s higher price levels of late.

Key issues in new minister’s first session with EC officials

Today’s first meeting, via teleconference, between Greece’s recently appointed energy minister Kostas Skrekas and European Commission authorities, as part of Brussels’ ninth post-bailout review, will focus on four key issues: power utility PPC’s lignite monopoly; the proper functioning of target model markets; energy-sector privatizations, and the decarbonization plan for west Macedonia, a lignite-dependent area in the country’s north.

The four issues were addressed in preliminary talks last week between Alexandra Sdoukou, secretary-general of Greece’s environment and energy ministry and Brussels technocrats.

It remains to be seen if the European Commission will again commend Athens, and to what extent, for the target model’s functioning, as Brussels had done last November, when the model’s new markets in Greece were launched as a step to harmonize EU energy markets.

However, weeks into the launch, balancing market costs skyrocketed, leading to sharply increased wholesale electricity prices. RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, is now considering to introduce an adjustable price-containing measure to be set as a percentage of day-ahead market prices.

The European Commission, in the latest talks, can also be expected to push for the launch of a market test concerning an agreement offering independent players access to PPC’s lignite-based electricity production.

Though the interest of independent players for lignite-based electricity may have diminished given its increased cost, this antitrust case, unresolved for years, remains a big concern for the government as Brussels could associate it with pending Greek issues.

The complexity of PPC’s lignite monopoly case was deepened following a decision by the previous energy minister, Costis Hatzidakis, to bundle the matter with a Greek compensation request based on the utility’s need to keep running lignite-fired power stations for energy sufficiency. According to reports, his successor, Skrekas, will not sway from this policy.

As for energy-sector privatizations, a sale plan for gas supplier DEPA Commercial has attracted considerable interest but officials are concerned as parent company DEPA is embroiled in an ongoing lawsuit with ELFE (Hellenic Fertilizers and Chemicals).

DEPA has appealed a verdict awarding the producer a compensation amount of 60 million euros following overcharging claims. The case could be deferred until September, meaning binding bids by possible DEPA Commercial buyers may need to be delayed.

Greece’s decarbonization master plan features 16 key investment proposals that are expected to create over 8,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, in lignite-dependent areas. However, numerous complex matters need to be resolved, including the transfer of related property controlled by PPC, Brussels’ approval of a series of incentives for new investments, and scores of licensing issues.

EBRD: Green projects in Greece a priority, RES-based economic recovery

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is strongly interested in Greek energy market investments, Andreea Moraru, the bank’s head of Greece and Cyprus, has stressed in an interview with energypress.

The EBRD official spoke extensively on significant investment opportunities being created by the energy transition.

Since 2015, the EBRD has invested over four billion euros in Greece, participating in numerous major projects, Moraru informed, noting its recent support for power utility PPC, an investment worth 160 million euros, one of the bank’s largest, to cover customer payment volatility following the outbreak of the pandemic, exemplifies EBRD’s strong support for Greece.

The full interview follows:

What is the role of the EBRD compared to that of other banking institutions? 

The EBRD is a development bank committed to furthering progress towards ‘market-oriented economies and the promotion of private and entrepreneurial initiative. Our role is to be complementary to the commercial banks, to work alongside them and to support them.

Αdditionality is among the founding principles underlying our work and the particular support and contribution that the EBRD brings to an investment project which is not available from commercial sources of finance. Alongside transition and sound Banking, it is one of the three founding principles underlying our work. By ensuring that we are additional in everything we do, we ensure that our support for the private sector makes a contribution beyond that available on the market and does not crowd out other private sector actors.

Whenever we consider financing a project, we analyze whether similar financing can be obtained from private sector local banks or non-banking institutions.

Many of our markets are relatively high risk, and the private sector will only lend for short periods of time or at such high rates as to make the project unfeasible. For major new projects in the field of infrastructure, for example, longer-term financing may not be available on reasonable terms or conditions. This is where the EBRD fits in.

Additionality can also be non-financial in nature, where EBRD’s interventions contribute to better project outcomes that would not have been required or offered by commercial financiers. This can include the provision of comfort to clients and investors by mitigating non-financial risks, such as country, regulatory, project, economic cycle or political risks. Additionality may also be derived from the EBRD’s involvement in helping projects and clients achieve higher standards than would have been required by the market, such as through sharing its expertise on better corporate governance or above ‘business as usual’ environmental or inclusion standards.

Do you consider the energy sector in Greece to be suitable to contribute to the development and reconstruction of the Greek economy? For what reasons?

Absolutely. In general, the EBRD’s vision for the energy sector is of a partnership between industry, governments and consumers that delivers the essential energy needs of societies and economies in a manner that is sustainable, reliable and at the lowest possible cost.

In Greece the energy sector is embarking upon its biggest transformation yet, moving away from its reliance on lignite (c. 20% of total electricity production in 2019) to renewables and a smaller fleet of significantly less carbon intensive gas generating units. The NECP aims to achieve reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by more than 55% by 2030 compared to 2005, planned to be achieved through: (i) decommissioning of all 4 GW of lignite-fired generation capacity by 2028 (3.4GW by 2023), (ii) 8.7 GW of new renewable generation capacity to added by 2030, reaching a total of 19 GW, and (iii) 2 GW of new gas generation capacity added for system support and security. The country remains committed to implementing the NECP as planned despite the negative impacts the CV19 crisis is expected to have on the Greek economy in 2020 and beyond.

Greece’s withdrawal from coal is a fundamental transformation that will create substantial sector and social challenges with the following broad implications: (1) constructing large volumes of low carbon generating capacity in order to ensure energy security in an increasing electrified economy, (2) reengineering the country’s transmission and distribution networks to reflect the additional penetration of distributed, intermittent renewable energy, and (3) addressing the social and economic impacts of the closure of a major part of its existing energy infrastructure, i.e. ensuring a just and inclusive transition.

We have supported many energy projects so far, especially renewables, working together with leading companies, such as GEK Terna, Mytilineos and HELPE among others.

A recent milestone is our support for the largest renewable energy project in Greece and the largest solar energy project in south-eastern Europe to date, the new solar park in Kozani. In 2017, we also approved a framework committing up to €300 million to finance renewable energy investments in the country.

The main reasons why this sector is important for the development of the Greek economy and thus our participation, is first to help the decarbonization of the country and the transition to a greener economy, as well as to strengthen local linkages and regional integration.

What is the EBRD’S philosophy about its presence in the Greek economy and especially in the energy sector?

In Greece in particular, supporting sustainable energy and infrastructure is among our top priorities. In fact supporting sustainable energy and infrastructure is one of the pillars of the newly approved country strategy. Our investment strategy in the energy sector going forward will aim at further liberalization and diversification of the energy market focusing on renewables and increased renewable energy capacity and a more diversified energy mix to promote decarbonization of the economy. EBRD could support a second phase of feasible renewable energy projects with project preparation / technical assistance and financing (biomass and biogas plants, use of waste heat in greenhouses for high value-added agriculture, electricity storage facilities, green hydrogen production plants and other forms of energy storage.

We see that it’s challenging to meet EU climate goals in Greece and our goal is to support the country with that. Our approach and philosophy is in line with the National Energy and Climate Plan and we are very glad the Greek government is committed to close all lignite plants. We need to keep this momentum, despite the current Covid-19 crisis, and turn the country greener.

One good example is our recent support for PPC (DEI). This has been one of our largest investments (€160 million) and the first time we supported the public sector in Greece. This facility supports PPC’s working capital needs at a time of customer payment volatility following the outbreak of the crisis. It also strengthens the resilience of the electricity sector as a whole by ensuring the stability of essential utility supplies and maintaining the momentum towards decarbonization.

What are the characteristics of private companies that could apply to be supported by the EBRD?

When we consider financing a project we analyze different aspects, such as how it supports the green economy, if it promotes women or youth inclusion, if it can enhance the competitiveness and resilience of the Greek economy etc. We look at the financial strength of the project as we operate according to sound banking principles. We cannot finance companies in certain sectors like defence-related activities, tobacco, substances banned by international law or gambling facilities.  As I have already mentioned, we also need to be additional.

We work in a wide range of sectors, from energy, infrastructure, manufacturing, property, tourism, agriculture to trade and financial institutions. We also support SMEs with business advice, know-how transfer and trainings.

What are your conclusions from your cooperation so far with Greek companies and institutions?

We’re very proud of all our projects in Greece so far. Since commencing our operations in 2015, the Bank has invested more than €4 billion in the country, helping respond to the financial crisis. Against a turbulent political and economic backdrop, the EBRD helped stabilize the financial sector, support private companies through export-oriented growth and lay the foundations for greater private sector participation in critical energy and infrastructure projects that have also strengthened regional integration.

We faced several challenges because of the financial crisis, but this was expected and was exactly the reason why we came to the country. Our main conclusion is that Greek companies have strong potential and very talented workforce, who we’re glad to be working with. The COVID-19 pandemic has abruptly interrupted Greece’s steady recovery, but we’re confident that the country can build back better.

We have an excellent cooperation with the Greek Government whom we are supporting on a number of initiatives.  In late 2020, the EBRD joined forces with the Ministry of Development and Investments of Greece to establish a new public-private partnership (PPP) preparation facility cooperation account, following a request from the Greek authorities. We are also working close with the Ministry of Finance on development of a capital market strategy, a project supported by DG Reform.

What are your plans for the new year?

We will focus on supporting the recovery of the Greek economy, by helping with the immediate needs of the Greek businesses because of coronavirus, as well as with their long-term growth plans. Green projects, including in the energy sector, will be our priority, but we’ll also be active in other sectors. We’ll continue supporting the banking sector, too.

Do you consider the investment risk in our country increased after the great economic crisis and in the light of the current crisis due to a pandemic?

The financial crisis had a strong impact on Greece, but we recognize that the Greek economy had started recovering and growing in the recent years. It’s true that COVID-19 containment measures are likely to depress economic output and cause particular disruption to the tourism industry, reversing the economic recovery and hindering investments in the near term, not only in Greece, but also in most countries. There are still many things that need to be improved in the country to attract more investors, but we don’t consider the investment risk much higher than it used to be. The Greek economy can recover after the pandemic.

 

Wholesale prices in Greece well over European average in 3Q

Wholesale electricity prices in Greece during the third quarter of 2020 were three times over the €16/MWh European average, based on the Nord Pool power exchange, a European Commission report covering European electricity markets for this period has shown.

The report also traces the market’s 3Q rebound following a heavy slump in the preceding quarter.

Average prices rebounded at a slower pace in southeast Europe, compared to other regions, before reaching pre-pandemic levels in September as a result of weak demand and high production of wind energy and hydropower facilities, according to the Brussels report.

The average price in the third quarter rose by 43 percent, against 2Q, to €43/MWh, and was 30 percent lower, annually.

European price shifts in August moved in coordination, while the price gap between Greece and the European average narrowed significantly in 3Q as a result of the use of lignite-fired units and weak demand.

This gap vanished in September as a result of stronger wind energy output, which exceeded one TWh for the first time. As a result, prices in the region were between €46 and €47/MWh in September.

As for energy-mix developments, lignite-based production in Greece experienced a decreased share, captured by natural gas-fueled output.

In southeast Europe, the lignite-based output share contracted to 29 percent in 3Q from 35 percent in the equivalent period a year earlier; the gas-fueled sector’s production share rose to 20 percent from 18 percent; and the RES sector’s share of the energy mix increased to 34 percent from 30 percent.

Household electricity tariffs in Greece averaged €16.54/MWh (not including taxes and surcharges), while the country’s average for industrial tariffs was €10.62/MWh, the report showed.