Spiegel Online: EU Investigation into EEG Surcharge Reductions – Repayment Obligations for Currently Exempted Companies?

Spiegel Online reports that the EU Commission is to open an official investigation under EU state aid rules into the provisions of the German Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) that allow for reductions of the renewable energy surcharge (EEG surcharge) for so-called electricity-intensive manufacturing enterprises and rail operators with high electricity consumption.

With the EEG surcharge consumers pay for the difference between the fixed feed-in tariffs paid pursuant to EEG for renewable energy fed into the grids and the sale of the renewable energy at the EEX energy exchange by the transmission system operators. The surcharge has steadily and often steeply risen over the last years (A table showing the development of the EEG surcharge can be found here), amounting to 5.277 ct/kWh for 2013. While ordinary electricity customers have to pay the EEG surcharge in full, the surcharge can be limited upon application to up to 0.05 ct/kWh for manufacturing enterprises and rail operators with a high energy consumption pursuant to Sections 40 to 44 EEG.

The Commission criticises the wide-ranging exemptions of the EEG surcharge, Spiegel Online says, pointing out that Bruxelles will most probably not only prohibit exemptions for the future, but demand repayments of EEG surcharge reductions granted in the past worth millions of Euros.

The possible investigation highlights the dilemma the next German government elected on 22 September 2013 is facing: German electricity consumers are paying increasingly high electricity prices. They are likely to rise further as the EEG surcharge is expected to go up again significantly in 2014. Reducing the burden for certain manufacturing companies and rail operators increases the burden for the remaining customers. The government and the opposition failed to agree on changes to the EEG before the election in September. Besides, EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger questioned the legality of the EEG last week in Bruxelles, saying it might contravene EU law if Germany supported wind power generated in the country financially, while Danes and Norwegians did not receive financial support when they exported wind power to Germany, Spiegel Online reports.

It remains to be seen what the European Commission’s argument will look like in detail, and what it will mean for affected companies that presently benefit from exemptions. In light of the EEG surcharge amounts, repayment obligations could be significant.

Update: Recent reports suggest that the European Commission will continue its preliminary investigation through the summer break, so that a decision on how to proceed will not come before autumn. German federal elections are scheduled for 22 September 2013.

Sources: Spiegel Online; Spiegel Online

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