by Martina Maier and Philipp Werner
The European Commission (Commission) is likely to open a formal EU State aid investigation into the German Renewable Energy Source Act. According to the Commission, the Act may have given unlawful advantages to renewable energy producers and energy-intensive companies (those producing chemicals or steel) in Germany. Producers and companies that benefited from the Act are therefore exposed to the risk of the alleged benefit being recovered, which is likely to amount to a figure in at least the tens of billions of Euros.
The European Commission is currently examining whether or not the German Renewable Energy Source Act infringes EU State aid law. The Commission is expected to reach a decision on whether or not to open a formal investigation procedure in autumn 2013, following its summer break.
The German Renewable Energy Source Act aims to support renewable energy by fixing the tariffs that electricity providers, such as E.ON, RWE, Vattenfall or EnBW, must pay for energy from renewable sources, e.g., solar panels or wind turbines. These tariffs are higher than those for energy from traditional sources. The Act also exempts energy-intensive companies, e.g., those producing chemicals or steel, from the EEG surcharge that electricity providers are entitled to charge their customers. These higher tariffs and the EEG exemption could be in breach of EU State aid law and are currently the subjects of a Commission examination.
Should the Commission come to the conclusion that they do infringe EU State aid law, it can order Germany to recover the advantages from the companies that benefitted from these rules. The potential State aid involved is likely to amount in total to a double-digit billion Euro figure.
In a separate but similar case, in March 2013 the Commission opened an in-depth investigation into the exemption of large electricity consumers from network charges in Germany, dating back to 2011. This exemption was financed by the final electricity consumers, who, since 2012, must pay a special surcharge. A German court, recently declared this exemption and the surcharge as unconstitutional and the legal provisions will be changed. The Commission may, however, still conclude that, up until the German court ruling, large electricity customers were benefitting from State aid. It could therefore order Germany to recover the past benefit from these customers, which is estimated at around Euro 300 million for 2012.
These investigations by the Commission expose renewable energy producers, energy-intensive companies and large electricity consumers in Germany to the significant risk of the recovery of the alleged benefit. Such companies are therefore strongly advised to co-operate with the Commission during this examination phase and if a full investigation is launched.