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EU to force power companies to give more market data

European Union regulators plan to force electricity companies to disclose more market information in a fresh bid to help new entrants compete with incumbents.

The European Commission aims to require power companies to publish data on production, widening existing obligations that include information on scheduled outages. The proposal, due in the coming months, reflects EU dissatisfaction with voluntary industry initiatives and with the effectiveness of current binding transparency rules. „There is clearly insufficient progress,” Bonifacio Garcia Porras, an aide to EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, told a Brussels conference yesterday. „Are we losing faith with what is going on? I would say 'yes.'” The commission, the 27-nation EU's regulatory arm, is accelerating a campaign to break down barriers in the region's power market. Greater obligations to furnish market data would complement a proposal to split utilities such as Germany's E.ON AG into separate production and transmission businesses to make networks accessible to companies without their own grids. National barriers persist after 2003 EU legislation gave customers the right to choose suppliers. The lingering obstacles, which threaten to increase prices, curtail supply and weaken Europe's economy, have also prompted the commission to use its antitrust authority to bring about market opening by threatening fines against companies that deny network access.

Wider binding obligations for companies to provide market information would counter the threat of anti-competitive practices as well as facilitate trade, according to European regulators. „If there is a lot of information available, it will prevent collusion,” Asta Sihvonen-Punkka, director of Finland's Energy Market Authority, told the conference. Last year, power producers in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium began to publish data aggregated by fuel type such as nuclear, coal and natural gas in each country in an effort to boost transparency. National regulators share the commission's concerns that the voluntary initiatives are inadequate, Sihvonen-Punkka said. The commission aims in the „summer” to propose information requirements covering generation, basing the system possibly on plants or on aggregated information by fuel type, according to Garcia Porras.

„The key,” he said, is to „inform the market what your actual production is.” The commission will either propose a new EU law that would require the support of national governments and the European Parliament or use a fast-track procedure to amend existing requirements under a 2003 EU law on cross-border electricity trade, Garcia Porras said. He expressed a preference for the fast-track route, a course the commission has already taken and that allows it to make changes by simply consulting national officials. The commission amended the 2003 law late last year by adding congestion-management rules. Tony Cocker, managing director of energy wholesale at E.ON UK, said the EU should avoid imposing one region's transparency system on any other region because market development varies across the bloc. „It would cost the market and consumers a considerable amount,” said Cocker, who is also a member on the wholesale markets and trading working group of European industry organization Eurelectric. The voluntary initiatives „are delivering,” he said. (Bloomberg)