PPC to partially absorb power costs, Brussels action imminent

Power utility PPC has decided to pursue a policy that will partially absorb electricity market price increases prompted by a volatile combination of unfavorable factors.

The utility plans to limit the impact of carbon emission costs and not pass on the entirety of their effect to consumers.

Competitors will either have to follow suit and subdue price hikes, which will hurt their financial results, or risk suffering market share losses.

The response of PPC’s rivals remains unclear at this stage. Marker players are now trying to estimate the duration of this unfavorable period of elevated prices.

Natural gas prices have surged, driven by Russia’s decision to slow down gas supply to Europe, presumably to pressure Brussels into brushing aside its reservations about a new Nord Stream pipeline from Russia to Germany. Also, CO2 emission costs have continued to rise.

CO2 emission cost futures contracts for December are stuck at levels of between 61 and 62 euros per ton, while analysts forecast levels of 65 euros per ton over the next few months, or possibly longer.

Given these factors, analysts believe it is a matter of time before the European Commission intervenes in an effort to deescalate market price levels by subduing CO2 emission costs and increasing its pressure on Moscow for a return to normal gas supply levels to Europe.

Otherwise, market conditions will become increasingly volatile with social repercussions, especially in countries experiencing extreme price increases that have been even greater than those in Greece.

In Bulgaria, for example, wholesale electricity prices have skyrocketed to more than 100 euros per MWh, well over the country’s usual levels of about 30 euros per MWh.

Greece also impacted by Nord Stream II developments

A series of developments last week concerning the construction of the Russian Nord Steam II gas pipeline project could impact the southeast European region, including Greece, in various ways.

Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice president responsible for Energy Union, announced a timeline for talks with EU member states, at which authority will be sought by Brussels ahead of negotiations with Gazprom for the Nord Steam II, which would expand deliveries of Russian natural gas to Germany.

These talks with EU member states are expected to take place in late August, enabling negotiations with Russian officials immediately afterwards. Russia has not embraced the prospect of the European Commission’s step-by-step process, requiring bilateral agreements.

Europe is currently divided into two camps over Nord Steam II. On the one side, a number of countries have grouped together as the project’s development would deprive them of Russian gas transit fees. At the other end, Germany and various European companies involved in the pipeline’s prospective construction are pressuring the European Commission to endorse its development. Brussels will need to balance these opposing sides while also keeping in mind energy supply security in the EU.

Germany’s pressure has softened the European Commission’s view of the Russian pipeline plan, as indicated by a number of recent legal revisions.

Adding to the complexity, the US Senate recently voted in favor of sanctions against Russia, including in the energy sector, a development that would prevent Russian and foreign enterprises from engaging in oil and natural gas deals. These proposed sanctions still need to be signed by President Donald Trump to take effect. EU member states, especially Germany and Austria, both traditional Gazprom business partners, strongly object to the US Senate proposal.

As for Greece’s neighbors, Bulgaria has kept a close watch on the Nord Steam II developments. Following the cancellation of South Stream, Sofia proposed to Russia and other suppliers a plan entailing the establishment of a natural gas hub in Varna, on the Bulgarian Black Sea coast.

Russia’s reception to the idea has been lukewarm until now but the proposal is gaining some momentum. The development of Nord Steam II is expected to also provide impetus to the Bulgarian proposal, a submarine crossing through the Black Sea to Varna, its intention being to supply the wider region, including other parts of Europe. This is an alternative plan to Turkish Stream, also supported by Sofia, as a second priority.

Bulgaria’s stance runs contrary to the Greek position. Athens would prefer the Russian gas route to run through Greek territory, within the framework of the Poseidon plan. The two sides will need to strike a balance as both are seeking to work together to develop the IGB interconnector, which would offer a Greek-Bulgarian gas link.