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.

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.

Balancing market costs subdued for second consecutive week

Balancing market costs remained subdued for a second consecutive week, the total cost of three uplift accounts, according to official data provided by power grid operator IPTO, registering 5.87 euros per MWh in the tenth week since the November 1 launch of the target model. Its introduction prompted sharp balancing cost increases in the first few weeks.

More specifically, the uplift 1 account reached €1.39 per MWh, uplift 2 was €0.79 per MWh, and uplift 3 registered €3.69 per MWh.

According to IPTO data on the three uplift accounts during the first ten weeks of the target model, their total cost was €8.37 per MWh in the first week, climbed to €15.68, €19.45 and €20.06 per MWh in the second, third and fourth weeks, respectively, before peaking at €43.37 per MWh in the fifth week. The uplift total then plunged to €8.08 per MWh in the sixth week, before eventually falling further to levels of €5.74 and €5.87 per MWh in the ninth and tenth weeks, respectively.

Day-ahead market prices have also been low over the past two weeks of subdued balancing market costs, meaning the overall cost in the wholesale market has dropped.

Low electricity demand as a result of the mild winter weather, so far; the lockdown measures, even if not absolute; more accurate electricity demand forecasts by power grid operator IPTO; as well as increased output by RES and hydropower units, have all been cited as factors in the reduced cost of wholesale electricity.

In addition, more rational offers by producers have also contributed to the normalization of balancing market prices.