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Prospects for the internal gas and electricity market
New measures must be added to the existing rules of the internal gas and electricity market in order to guarantee its integral operation. An inventory of the market in fact reveals that there is still malfunctioning and that the current rules do not allow it to be corrected effectively.
Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament of 10 January 2007 entitled “Prospects for the internal gas and electricity market” [COM(2006) 841 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The aim of the European Union (EU) is to set up a truly competitive internal market for gas and electricity to offer consumers a real freedom of choice at fair, competitive prices, to stimulate clean energy production and to improve security of supply.
Although the internal energy market is well established, malfunctioning (identified by the sector inquiry into the gas and electricity markets) persists, preventing both consumers and the economy from getting the full benefit of the advantages of opening up the national gas and electricity markets.
As current rules do not allow effective correction of this malfunctioning, new measures must be taken as the final step in achieving integrated operation of the internal energy market in Europe.
Advantages of creating the internal energy market
The opening of national markets in gas and electricity to competition visibly gives consumers the freedom to choose their energy supplier and, therefore, the opportunity to make savings. It also improves the security of supply by encouraging, on the one hand, investment in facilities, so that interruptions to supply can be prevented, and, on the other hand, diversification of transport routes and energy sources. The existence of a truly competitive energy market also contributes to sustainable development, notably by enabling suppliers of electricity from renewable energy sources to enter the market.
In practice, the EU is still a long way from achieving its objective of a real internal market in which each consumer has the legal right to choose his supplier and exercise this right simply and effectively armed with the facts, and the current rules do not effectively prevent market malfunctioning.
The legal and functional unbundling of system operators vertically connected to suppliers and producers has proven insufficient to guarantee equal access to the networks. The traditional operators thus maintain their dominant position and new companies wishing to enter the market encounter many problems caused by discriminatory access conditions, lack of available network capacity, a lack of transparent data on the network situation and poor investment.
National regulators do not have the powers or independence necessary for succeeding in their mission. Their powers vary considerably from one Member State to the next, hindering cross-border trade and access to consumers in other Member States.
New set of rules for completion of the internal energy market
- Provision of non-discriminatory access to the networks through unbundling
Current legal and functional unbundling has proven insufficient in removing the conflict of interests arising from vertical integration. Clearer separation between operation of transmission systems and production or supply activities must be introduced to ensure that operators maintain, operate and develop the networks in the general interest of the network users.
The separation may be based either on complete ownership unbundling, due to transmission system operators being both operators and owners of the system, or on introduction of an independent transmission system operator for maintenance, development and operation of the systems, which remain the property of the vertically integrated companies.
Complete ownership unbundling appears to be the most economically effective way to ensure development of a real internal energy market. Not only does it eliminate the different interests of system operators but also avoids the need for excessively detailed and complex regulations ensuring independence of vertically integrated system operators.
- Strengthening of the role of regulators at national and Community level
The regulatory framework and therefore the powers of the regulators must be strengthened to ensure the conditions of transparency, stability and non-discrimination necessary for development of competition and for investment.
Better coordination of national regulators at European level is, in addition, needed to mitigate the market segmentation resulting from the regulatory differences between Member States. In this sense, it is possible either to improve the present approach, with the disadvantage of continuing to rely on voluntary agreements between 27 national regulators often with different interests, or to formalise the role of the European Regulators Group for Electricity and Gas (ERGEG) into a European Network of Independent Regulators (ERGEG +), or lastly to set up a new single body at Community level.
- Cooperation of transmission system operators (TSOs)
To enable free circulation of gas and electricity within the EU, it is essential to establish compatible technical rules and regular exchange of information, increase investment in the network and, in particular, in cross-border interconnections, and move towards regional system operators.
- Reduction in possibilities for unfair competition
Due to the monopolies held by the traditional operators before liberalisation, the lack of integration and their natural characteristics, in particular low elasticity of demand, the gas and electricity markets are particularly exposed to the risk of dominant positions.
Greater transparency, recourse to the ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ principle, genuine access to gas storage facilities and maintenance of incentives in favour of new storage capacities would facilitate the transition to a more competitive gas and electricity market.
- Encouragement of investment in electricity power plants and gas infrastructures
Creating a stable environment for investment is a priority. Other factors may also influence investment, such as the award of emission certificates or specific incentive measures, for example for production of electricity from renewable energy sources.
- Consumer protection
Consumer protection and public service obligations must be an integral part of the process of opening up the gas and electricity markets. An energy consumers’ charter must therefore protect their essential rights: the right to relevant information on the different suppliers and supply possibilities, the right to a straightforward procedure for changing supplier, protection against energy poverty for the most vulnerable consumers, protection against unfair commercial practices, etc.
The internal energy market has been put in place gradually, starting with Directive 96/92/EC laying down rules for the internal market in electricity and Directive 98/30/EC laying down rules for the internal market in natural gas, which were replaced respectively by Directives 2003/54/EC and 2003/55/EC.
The Commission draws conclusions from the review of the internal gas and electricity market drawn up by its sector inquiry, and announces that a third legislative package will be added to the current rules.