Consumers returning to PPC, led by wholesale-linked hikes

Higher wholesale electricity prices, prompting independent suppliers to activate wholesale-cost clauses included in their supply agreements to avoid losses, are tightening up the market by leading disappointed consumers back to the power utility PPC, a clear regression in the effort to establish a broader, more competitive field of players, latest data has indicated.

Consumers opting to leave independent suppliers and return to PPC rose by 56 percent in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the equivalent period a year earlier, market data obtained by energypress has shown.

The number of consumers leaving independent suppliers for any other supplier increased by approximately 40 percent in the first quarter of 2020, the data showed.

This increase in consumer returns to PPC is expected to be reflected in forthcoming market-share data, market officials believe.

Last year, the wholesale market price, represented, at the time, as the system marginal price, ended April last year at 38.02 euros per MWh, whereas this year, in the form of the recently launched target model’s day-ahead market, the wholesale price in April has exceeded 63 euros per MWh.

Increased CO2 emission right costs and elevated TTF and Brent prices are factors that have driven wholesale electricity prices higher. So, too, are higher balancing costs, currently more than double levels of previous years.

Wholesale electricity prices for the next twelve months are seen averaging 89 euros per MWh in the low-voltage category and 79-80 euros per MWh in the medium-voltage category.

PPC, which has never achieved its commitment to lower its market share to less than 50 percent, is offering customers significant discounts at below cost, and, as a result, hampering the market liberalization process and further narrowing the profit margins of independent suppliers, a prominent market official has told energypress.

RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, has the authority and responsibility to take action against suppliers selling electricity at  below cost and protect consumers against misleading offers, the official added.

Wholesale electricity cost up 8% in 1Q, surcharges double

The cost of wholesale electricity averaged 65.412 euros per MWh in the first quarter of 2021, up 8 percent compared to the equivalent period a year earlier, when the level averaged 60.67 euros per MWh, data provided by power grid operator IPTO has shown.

It should be pointed out that a direct price comparison of all components making up wholesale cost during these two quarters is not possible as, during this time, the structure of the wholesale electricity market changed from a mandatory pool system to the target model.

For example, a minimum RES-supporting surcharge burdening wholesale costs by an average of 3.4 euros per MWh during the first quarter last year has since been abolished. Also, the market-clearing price fell to 0.72 euros per MWh in the first quarter from 2.11 euros per MWh in the equivalent period a year earlier.

Even so, the reduction in these costs was outweighed by the increase in wholesale electricity prices. The total cost in the day-ahead and intraday markets averaged 55.17 euros per MWh in the first quarter this year, compared to last year’s average cost of 50.39 euros per MWh in the mandatory pool.

Surcharge costs also increased, averaging 9.53 euros per MWh in the first quarter this year, double the level of 4.78 euros per MWh a year earlier.

Particularly high prices registered late in 2020, during the early days of the target model launch, have eased so far this year. Last November and December, surcharge costs reached 17 and 16.09 euros, respectively.

Electricity consumption fell by 6 percent in the first quarter this year, compared to a year earlier, to 12.39 TWh from 13.175 TWh, as a result of lockdown measures amid the pandemic.

Authorities gearing up for intraday market entry of traders

Authorities are picking up the pace on moves needed to also enable traders to begin participating in Greece’s intraday electricity market, one of the new wholesale markets emerging with the target model’s recent introduction.

The Greek energy exchange will forward its proposal for necessary market regulation amendments to RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, within the next two months, energypress sources informed.

These revisions will take finalized shape through ongoing discussions between the energy exchange, as operator of the intraday market, power grid operator IPTO, managing international grid interconnections, and RAE.

The authorities are seeking to establish an optimal formula for the intraday market entry of electricity traders.

The talks, until now, have indicated that intraday day interconnection rights will not be required for transboundary trade between intraday markets that have not undergone coupling.

Therefore, traders will be able to participate in the intraday market by utilizing the amount of daily interconnection rights they have secured and not used for transboundary transactions in the day-ahead market.

The addition of traders to the intraday market promises to boost its liquidity, currently low. This will help liberate market players by offering them greater flexibility, limiting the pressure on the balancing market.

Greek market coupling with Bulgaria scheduled for May 11

Greece’s next market-coupling step, a day-ahead market link with Bulgaria, following an equivalent step with Italy in December, is scheduled to take place on May 11 as part of a wider effort by Europe’s Nominated Electricity Market Operators and Transmission System Operators for a single European day-ahead market.

Preceding trial runs, started on March 16 and planned to take place until April 30, must be successfully completed before the Greek-Bulgarian day-ahead market link is given the green light for its launch.

Automatic energy flow from the more expensive to the less expensive electricity market is expected to initially prompt a slight reduction in domestic wholesale electricity prices.

Greater price convergence between the Greek and Bulgarian markets is expected to be achieved with the introduction of a second transmission line running from Nea Santa, northeastern Greece, to Bulgaria’s Maritsa area in the south. This second line promises to greatly boost transmission potential between the two countries.

The additional transmission line was originally slated for launch in 2023, but swift progress from the Bulgarian side has increased the likelihood of an earlier delivery, mid-way through 2022, according to Greek power grid operator IPTO’s ten-year development plan (2022-2031), forwarded for public consultation at the beginning of this year.

Until now, Bulgaria has clearly been the dominant electricity exporter in trading with Greece, but this role is expected to be reversed as of 2023 because Greek electricity prices will be relatively lower, according to ICIS, a specialized news portal covering energy and related domains.

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.

 

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.

Suppliers summoned to explain overdue surcharge transfers

RAE, the Regulatory Authority for Energy, has summoned power utility PPC and six independent electricity suppliers to hearings for explanations on overdue surcharge amounts they have yet to transfer to three market operators.

The authority had initially requested related data and explanations from suppliers and has now taken a further step by deciding to stage hearings for PPC and two other suppliers, followed by supplementary hearings involving a further four suppliers.

The three market operators, power grid operator IPTO, distribution network operator DEDDIE/HEDNO and RES market operator DAPEEP, will also be called upon by the authority to offer data on the overdue surcharge transfers by suppliers.

According to sources, RAE authorities are examining a variety of surcharges, including network transmission, distribution network and RES-supporting ETMEAR surcharges, up until October, 2020.

These surcharges, included in electricity bills and paid by consumers as part of their electricity bills, must then be handed over by suppliers to respective operators within a specific time period.

Conditions have recently deteriorated for electricity suppliers, primarily as a result of considerably higher wholesale costs since November’s launch of the target model’s new markets.

Electricity suppliers contend that amounts owed to them by the operators outweigh their unpaid surcharges and, as a result, want accounts offset. RAE has rejected this request.

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.