Power utility PPC’s effort to boost lignite extraction for reinforced reserves, needed as this energy source has returned to the fore, at least temporarily, in the crisis, is helping to bring back into the picture the state-owned Ahlada and Vevi lignite mines, both sidelined, as the interest of private investors in these units has been revitalized.
Major energy and construction groups are expressing renewed interest in these lignite mines, both in northern Greece’s Florina region, sources informed. PPC’s lignite reserves stockpiled at power stations have reached 2.7 million tons but are still considered insufficient.
Lignitoryhia Ahladas SA, the company to which two lignite mines, Ahlada 1 and Ahlada 2, were leased by the Greek State, was declared defunct by the energy ministry in July as a result of its failure to meet agreement terms, primarily lease payments. The Ahlada mines have supplied lignite to PPC’s Meliti power station. Further back, Ahlada was operated by the AKTOR-TERNA partnership.
As for the Vevi mine, the country’s first lignite mine for which an attempt was made to transfer its operations to the private sector, three companies, Mytilineos, TERNA and Aktor, participated in a tender in 2008 before Aktor was eventually named the winning bidder in late 2014.
However, Aktor was not able to pursue the project as concessionaire after the left-wing Syriza party came into power shortly afterwards. The project agreement was never brought to parliament for approval during the Syriza government’s two tenures, from January, 2015 to July, 2019.
A government decision to further privatize power grid operator IPTO is linked to the EU’s objective for carbon neutrality by 2050 as well as a national decarbonization target by 2028, efforts requiring big investments for greater emphasis on new and innovative technologies and systems; an upgrade of existing networks as smart networks; as well as the development of new business models, the energy ministry has noted in response to recent questioning, in Greek Parliament, by MPs of the main opposition leftist Syriza party.
Also, swift development of electricity transmission networks promises to significantly contribute to a speedy recovery of the pandemic-hit national economy, the ministry noted.
In addition, the sale of an additional stake in IPTO is a pre-election pledge made by the New Democracy party, the ministry response reminded. ND was elected into power one year ago.
IPTO’s initial privatization, shaped and carried out by the previous Syriza government, is unusual as the Greek State may have maintained a majority 51 percent stake but its powers for strategic decision-making are limited and require the approval of the minority partner, China’s SGCC, holding a 24 percent stake, the energy ministry pointed out.
SGCC has been given the right to block strategic decisions at IPTO and priority rights in any further privatization of the power grid operator.
Two board members at power grid operator IPTO, Giannis Kambouris and Dimosthenes Papastamopoulos, both choices of the previous Syriza government, are resigning, sources have informed.
Kambouris, also the deputy at IPTO Holding, formed following ownership unbundling at IPTO three years ago, resigned from the IPTO board yesterday.
Papastamopoulos, one of the closest associates of the main opposition Syriza party’s Panos Skourletis, who held the country’s energy portfolio, appears set to submit his resignation.
The replacements of Kambouris and Papastamopoulos could be announced tomorrow at an IPTO board meeting.
An entirely new five-member board for IPTO Holding is expected to be announced at an IPTO Holding annual general shareholders’ meeting scheduled for July 16.
The New Democracy government wants to make changes at IPTO and IPTO Holding for further alignment with its policies.
IPTO chief executive Manos Manousakis will definitely remain at his post, sources noted, adding that his deputy, Giannis Margaris, and board member Iasonas Rousopoulos will both probably also carry on for the time being at least.
The government is committed to supporting the sustainability of the offshore Prinos oil field in the country’s north, Greece’s only producing unit, heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic’s effects on the global economy, including record-low oil prices, deputy energy minister Gerasimos Thomas pledged last night in response to questions raised by MPs of the leftist Syriza party and KKE, the Greek Communist Party.
“We are committed to the oil field’s uninterrupted production, an effort through which jobs will be protected,” Thomas stated.
The government is currently negotiating with Energean Oil & Gas, license holder and operator of the offshore field, south of Kavala, for a solid solution, the deputy minister also informed.
A detailed announcement will be made once these talks have been completed and the government has shaped its proposals, the deputy minister told parliament after Syriza MP Soultana Eleftheriadou criticized him for being too vague with his remarks.
Thomas made note of the European Commission’s new framework for state aid as one of the solutions being worked on by the government. This framework provides flexibility, he pointed out.
The deputy minister also made reference to a government support plan for the Kavala region that includes the development of an underground gas storage facility at a virtually depleted offshore gas field south of Kavala, and an upgrade of the city’s port.
Swift completion of gas utility DEPA’s privatization procedure is a key objective for the energy ministry, whose choice of sale model will be strongly influenced by the time needed for implementation.
Opting to continue with the previous Syriza government’s unfinished DEPA sale procedure, instead of adopting a more recent New Democracy administration proposal that would entail the establishment of a holding company, appears to be the likeliest way to go, energy ministry sources have underlined.
Energy ministry and privatization fund TAIPED officials, along with legal consultant Potamitis Vekris and financial adviser UBS, held a meeting yesterday to discuss the DEPA privatization.
The previous government’s DEPA sale plan, involving a company split designed to offer investors separate stakes in two new entities, DEPA Trade and DEPA infrastructure, appears to be the favored option at this stage, with one big difference, this being to offer majority 65 percent stakes in each of the two new companies.
Under the Syriza version, investors would have been offered a majority 50.1 percent stake of DEPA Trade and 14 percent minority stake of DEPA infrastructure.
The government’s newer and less likely option, entailing the establishment of a holding company as a platform for two to three companies representing DEPA’s trading, network and international activity interests, has not been completely ruled out.
The recently elected government wants the DEPA privatization to be among its first sales. It intends to launch a tender in autumn for completion as soon as possible.
The recently elected conservative New Democracy government appears heavily inclined towards selling the Greek State’s entire 65 percent stake in gas utility DEPA through a procedure that would offer buyers majority stakes in both the utility’s trading and distribution interests.
“Nothing has yet been finalized, but the intentions indicate a sale of the entire 65 percent,” a reliable source told energypress.
Keeping a majority stake for the Greek State in the utility’s networks does not appear to be essential for the new government, as was the case with the preceding Syriza administration, unless a politically minded decision is made along the way.
A legislative amendment is expected to be completed within October before it is submitted to Greek Parliament at the end of that month.
The previous government’s plan entailed splitting DEPA into two new business entities, DEPA Trade and DEPA Infrastructure, and offering investors a 50.1 percent stake of the former followed by a minority 14 percent share of the latter.
A privatization of the Greek State’s entire DEPA stake would represent a repeat of the gas grid operator DESFA sale, in which investors bought the Greek State’s entire 66 percent stake.
Considerable investor interest, local and foreign, is expected, especially in DEPA’s gas supply division.
Speaking just days ago at the Thessaloniki International Fair, Andreas Siamisiis, chief executive of Hellenic Petroleum ELPE, holding a 35 percent stake in DEPA, noted the petroleum group would seek a majority stake of the gas utility. The Mytilineos and Copelouzos groups have also expressed interest in public remarks.
The privatization fund TAIPED’s anticipated approval, on August 30, of the new leadership at gas utility DEPA represents the first of three key step leading towards a new era for the company.
Earlier this month, Konstantinos Xifaras, a former managing director at gas grid operator DESFA, was named for the equivalent post at DEPA, while Giannis Papadopoulos, managing director at venture capital firm Attica Ventures, was announced as the gas utility’s new company president.
DEPA shareholders will immediately follow up with an extraordinary meeting to offer their approval of the company’s new two-pronged leadership.
Around the same time, a second key step is planned to be taken in the form of an amendment to be submitted to Parliament for a revision of the previous Syriza government’s DEPA split plan. It had envisioned the establishment of two new corporate entities, DEPA Trade and DEPA Infrastructure, as a prelude to the sale of a 50.1 percent stake in the former and a 14 percent stake in the latter.
The recently elected conservative New Democracy government appears determined to pursue a more aggressive DEPA sale policy that will offer majority stakes in both the utility’s trade and network interests. However, finalized decisions on a new company model, the third key step, have yet to be made.
The newly elected conservative New Democracy government will need to decide whether a considerable public service compensation (YKO) return to the power utility PPC for 2011, believed to have been officially set at 195 million euros, will be covered by consumers, through electricity bill surcharges, or the national budget.
Though the PPC administration has questioned the amount set by RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, believing it should be greater, it hopes the payment will be made soon, once Parliament resumes full operations, as the cash injection would offer some relief for the power utility’s struggling finances.
PPC previously demanded a sum of between 650 and 700 million euros for 2011.
A RAE letter forwarded to the energy ministry provided a public service compensation estimate of between 160 and 200 million euros for PPC, but, according to sources, the authority has already calculated a precise amount of 195 million euros, which it believes is fair.
A legislative revision is needed before the payment process can proceed as, based on existing law, the case for PPC’s public service compensation claim concerning 2011 is closed, RAE has informed the energy ministry in a letter.
The previous Syriza government did not submit the required amendment to Greek Parliament.
The European Commission’s latest report on the country’s energy-sector commitments is the strictest to have emerged in recent years and certainly the toughest during the Syriza party’s four-year mandate, now into its final year.
All energy-sector deadlines the country has committed itself to are behind schedule, prompting ambiguities regarding the sector’s course, the report notes. It observes increased delays in the implementation of reforms over the past few months and a slowdown in commitments agreed to at a Eurogroup level.
The report also makes note of the energy-sector challenges to face the country’s next administration. The government has called for snap elections, scheduled to take place on July 7.
Greece is held responsible for main power utility PPC’s delayed disinvestment of lignite units. The report also blames the country for the delayed market coupling procedures with Italy and Bulgaria.
RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, has been held accountable, is blamed for its export restrictions imposed on electricity amounts acquired at Greece’s NOME auctions, as the results of this action are seen as unclear.
The report also calls for PPC to increase electricity tariffs for cost recovery and needed investments.
Also, RES sector procedures are deemed as too complex and time-consuming, a disincentive for investments.
Legislation engineered by the energy ministry to split gas utility DEPA into two new entities, DEPA Trade and DEPA Infrastructure, as a prelude to a privatization procedure for both, appears to be all but over following the ruling Syriza party’s poor showing in last weekend’s European elections, which prompted Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to announce snap elections.
The country’s next administration will need to pick a new model for this privatization.
Greece’s snap elections may take place on July 7 instead of June 30, the date originally planned, to avoid the process from coinciding with nationwide university entrance exams, scheduled between June 6 and July 2.
The energy ministry has made clear it will not take any further steps on any matters in its portfolio, including DEPA, during the run-up to Greece’s imminent elections.
Officials at the ministry have cited “political correctness” for not committing any subsequent government to pre-election decisions.
The main opposition New Democracy party, which outperformed Syriza by over 9 percentage points in Sunday’s European election and now appears set for an electoral victory at the upcoming national elections, has consistently disagreed on the necessity of the government’s split plan for DEPA ever since March, when the plan was tabled in parliament. ND officials have described the plan as complicated, unnecessary and ultimately damaging for the DEPA privatization.
The country’s series of bailout agreements have not included any terms requiring a split of DEPA’s trading and infrastructure divisions, an arrangement uncommon in many European countries.
When the Syriza party, as chief partner of the country’s coalition government formed early in 2015, decided to nullify legislation ratified by a previous administration for the establishment and sale of “Small PPC”, a new company that was to be carved out of the power utility to represent 30 percent of its production capacity – including lignite and hydropower units – customers and debt commitments, it trumpeted a political victory for nullifying, in an unprecedented move, a bailout-related law, but, at the same time, was taking on a big risk.
This PPC initiative now appears to be backfiring as the EU’s ensuing decarbonization policies – the basic reason behind last week’s failure of Syriza’s alternative plan, a sale offering PPC lignite units – progressed at a more rapid pace than the government had anticipated.
A successful sale by PPC of Meliti and Megalopoli power station units included in its disinvestment package was crucial for the prevention of further measures by the European Commission.
Instead, the current combination of three pivotal factors in Greece’s electricity market makes for an explosive mix.
PPC’s ongoing monopoly of the country’s lignite resources, offering the utility unfair advantages over rivals in the wholesale and retail electricity markets; the power utility’s stubbornly high electricity market shares; as well as a developing Brussels investigation of PPC over suspicions it has abused its market dominance and manipulated Greece’s energy market through its hydropower units could prompt major developments.
RES energy players fear a wing of governing Syriza party officials opposing the installation of wind energy parks could influence government decisions despite the energy ministry’s apparent support for green energy development.
The energy ministry is currently preparing a tender in search of a consultant to be tasked with studying and preparing a new spatial plan for renewable energy sources, according to sources. The ministry is aiming to announce a preferred bidder by April.
Local authorities see the spatial plan as a move possessing potential for organized and well-structured RES development in Greece, in accordance with the country’s ambitious green energy targets.
However, certain local renewable energy players, especially wind energy investors, fear Greece could risk missing ambitious targets set for 2030 as the implementation of the country’s green energy plan could be hampered by various damaging restrictions – explicit and illicit, legal and illegal – being promoted and imposed.
Some of these restrictions have already impacted spatial planning frameworks of certain regions, including on Crete and in mainland Greece.
It is feared these restrictive measures will be officially adopted through the RES sector’s Special Spatial Plan to emerge through the latest initiative.
The unfavorable news, announced earlier this week, of main power utility PPC’s negative first half results, including an operating loss of 148.5 million euros, will shift to Greek Parliament today for a debate instigated by the conservative main opposition New Democracy party, claiming the Syriza-Independent Greeks coalition’s policies concerning the state-contolled utility are driving it towards bankruptcy.
The utility’s losses, tightening finances, as well as the repercussions of a government market share contraction plan, demanded by the bailout, which the opposition party noted promises to halve PPC’s turnover without anything in exchange, were among the issues raised in a question put forward by 39 New Democracy MPs, including Konstantinos Skrekas (photo), the party’s head of energy, environment and climate change.
The opposition party MPs, in their parliamentary question, also demand information on the government’s rescue and development plan for PPC; the planned sale of a package containing 40 percent of the utility’s lignite capacity; and the anticipated value of investments expected from the private sector.
The ND team also enquires as to how PPC intends to cover staff salaries, service debt, pursue investment plans and settle outstanding payments to suppliers – who, in turn, are battling to cover their payrolls – if the utility’s turnover level drops by 50 percent in two years’ time.
The ND team also wants to know how PPC intends to improve its poor electricity bill collections record, keeping the utility’s unpaid receivables at an alarming level.
An anticipated reaction by main power utility PPC union members and coalition MPs opposing the energy ministry’s acceptance of a demand by the country’s lenders for the sale of a substantial proportion of the utility’s producing capacity is expected to test the government’s political endurance.
The news of prospective PPC lignite-fired unit sales brought back to Greece by energy minister Giorgos Stathakis from a meeting in Brussels just a few days ago has sparked anger within the ranks of the utility’s Genop union and among MPs of the coalition, holding just a slim majority in Greek Parliament.
Though the minister accepted the PPC unit sales demand made by the lenders, seen as a compromise that may help conclude the bailout’s prolonged second review, a final agreement on the unit sales plan will not be approved by the Greek government unless Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his close associates deem that the discontent prompted within his Syriza party’s ranks can be managed at a political level.
Stathakis, the energy minister, held a meeting yesterday with one of the Syriza MPs opposing his acceptance of the PPC unit sales demand by lenders. The MP, Kostas Seltsas, representing a seat in the Florina region of northern Greece, was told that the government is facing relentless pressure by the lenders. Stathakis has lined up more meetings with concerned MPs today.
One seasoned MP of the main opposition conservative New Democracy party told energypress that the coalition had made too many sacrifices to stop now. The sale of a mere few PPC units represents just a small addition to the country’s overall sacrifice, the conservative MP noted, contending that the development is “controllable”.
A market test to be conducted in September in order to measure the level of interest of potential buyers is expected to determine which PPC units will be put up for sale. Besides lignite-fired units, hydropower stations may also be included in the sale package.
From a political perspective, this means that any challenge to be faced by the coalition will not need to be dealt with until a few months later, in December, when the PPC sale package is tabled in Parliament for ratification.