Spain cuts soaring energy bills with emergency measures

Spain’s government has passed emergency measures to reduce sky-high energy bills by redirecting billions of euros in extraordinary profits from energy companies to consumers and capping increases in gas prices.

In the first such broad response in Europe, where wholesale prices have doubled in a year, Spain plans to limit the profits that energy companies using hydropower and other renewable power generators can make from surging electricity prices.

The government expects to channel about €2.6bn (£2.2bn) from companies to consumers in the next six months.

Spain’s minister for ecological transition, Teresa Ribera, told a news conference that the measure would remain in place until the end of March, when natural gas prices are expected to stabilise after consumption falls from winter peaks.

Analysts at RBC Capital Markets estimated that leading utility firms Iberdrola and Endesa would take revenue hits of about €1bn as a result of the measure. Endesa shares fell 5.2% by the closing bell on Tuesday.

The impact on Naturgy and EDP would be about €200m and €65m respectively, RBC said.

In parallel, Spain will use an extra €900m it expects to raise by auctioning carbon emission permits this year to reduce bills, citing high market prices as the reason for the additional funds.

With voracious demand for natural gas accounting for much of the recent increases in European power prices, which have stoked inflation, Spain will limit regulated price increases for the fuel at 4.4% in the third quarter, compared with forecasts for a 28% rise.

Ribera said the measures under the “shock plan” would slash the average consumer’s monthly bill by 22% until the end of the year.

Though companies will have to shoulder the higher costs while the measures remain in place, they will be reimbursed through higher tariffs later, meaning the overall cost to them will be neutral, the ministry said.

However, Spain’s nuclear power association said the new measures would make nuclear plants financially unviable and provoke a total shutdown of the industry.

The leftwing coalition government has been under pressure from the opposition and civil society organisations to reduce electricity bills as spot prices, which make up about a third of consumer power bills, have broken records for weeks.

The Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, announced on Monday that a special electricity tax would drop to 0.5% from 5.1% until the end of the year, while a reduced VAT rate and the suspension of a 7% generation tax would be extended until January.

Altogether, the measures will reduce government revenues by about €1.4 bn in 2021.

Italy is also looking at changes to its energy sector to combat an expected 40% increase in retail power prices in the next quarter.


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