EU working to help member countries respond to energy price surge

Some EU states consider subsidies, price caps

  
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BRUSSELS- The European Union executive is drafting guidelines on steps EU members can take to tackle power price spikes without breaching the bloc's energy market rules, officials said on Wednesday, as consumers faced a sharp rise in bills with winter approaching.

European power prices have rocketed this year, more than trebling in Spain and elsewhere, mainly fuelled by the rising price of gas used for power generation and heating, in addition to low renewable energy output and higher EU carbon prices. 

In a meeting of energy ministers from EU countries, EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson said Brussels was working on guidance to help countries tackle the price spike, Spanish environment minister Teresa Ribera said after the discussion.

"The Commissioner concluded the debate by sharing that they are working on the preparation of proposals for flexible options to be able to tackle this situation at European level, and that in the coming weeks they will make their proposals known to all," Ribera said in a statement.

EU officials said the Commission guidelines would help EU states act without breaking the bloc's energy market regulations.

Benchmark European gas prices have risen by more than 250% since January, spiking as economies around the world reopened from COVID-19 lockdowns, with high demand in Asia pushing down supplies to Europe. It has sent shockwaves through gas-reliant industries, which include everything from power generation to makers of CO2 used in the food trade.

Spain has led calls for the EU to organise a more coordinated response to the price spikes. On Monday, it asked the Commission to provide options for how EU states could respond. 

'NOT OK FOR OUR ECONOMY'

Spain, Italy, Greece and other others are already planning national measures, ranging from subsidies to price caps, aiming to shield citizens from rising costs as economies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Germany said it did not see a need for government intervention to counter rising gas prices. 

Slovenian infrastructure minister Jernej Vrtovec, who was leading Wednesday's ministerial meeting, said the surge in electricity and gas prices was "not okay for our economy, for our citizens."

Concerns about soaring energy costs could embolden opponents of the Commission's plan to launch a new carbon market for buildings and the transport sector, a move some EU countries and lawmakers have warned would mean higher consumer bills.

Analysts have said surging gas prices, rather than the price that European companies pay for permits to cover their CO2 emissions, were mainly responsible for rising electricity costs.

Brussels has said the price surge should encourage countries to speed up their shift away from fossil fuels. 

"I am convinced that our response must be a more speedy transition to renewable energies," Austrian climate and energy minister Leonore Gewessler said, adding this would make the EU "more resilient to price fluctuations in the long term."

In former EU member, Britain, officials said the jump in gas prices would force more British energy suppliers out of business and the industry needed to prepare for prolonged pain. Several energy providers have already gone bust.

(Reporting by Kate Abnett, Isla Binnie; Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold and Marine Strauss; Editing by Edmund Blair) ((Kate.Abnett@thomsonreuters.com;))


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