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Marina Serrano (Aelec): “Only vulnerable consumers should have a regulated rate” | Economy

After a career almost entirely dedicated to energy, the president of the electricity employers’ association, Marina Serrano (Zaragoza, 1957), never imagined that she would experience a year as intense as the last. In less than 12 months, electricity prices in the wholesale market have skyrocketed from around 70 euros per megawatt hour to the current 200, with peaks of more than 500 euros after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. The regulatory environment has changed, with several measures to try to reduce the pressure and cut the extraordinary profits of the companies in the sector —which Serrano denies—, and the Government awaits the final approval from Brussels for an unprecedented limit on the price of gas and the coal that feeds the plants. He receives EL PAÍS in his office, a 12th floor with views of Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid.

Ask. What do you think about the cap on gas and coal?

Response. We continue to believe that there should be no market intervention. It is a complex mechanism and we still do not know exactly how it will be applied. The PVPC will necessarily go down. Also the price paid by customers who have contracts [del mercado libre] indexed to pool. And, later, fixed-price contracts are incorporated as they are extended or renewed. That supposes an uncertainty. There is going to be a difference between different consumers.

P. What are you worried about, specifically?

R. Any market intervention always involves distortions that are difficult to foresee.

P. Which?

He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.

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R. Above all in the retail market, in marketing, in offers of new contracts… The consumer, who already has difficulty understanding the bill or how the price is set, now has to face this adjustment.

P. In the last year, since the price of electricity began to rise, there has been a drastic transfer of customers from the regulated to the free market. Will this trend turn around?

R. I might. But what it provokes, without a doubt, is greater uncertainty. Throughout this period we have been talking about the fact that, given the volatility of the markets and the rise in energy prices, it was necessary to protect yourself with longer-term contracts that determine a fixed price. Now, suddenly, what this measure also does is encourage people to go to the PVPC again. It could cause bewilderment and confusion in consumers.

P. The Government says that the cap on gas will not only reduce the price of electricity, but also the extraordinary profits reaped by electricity companies. The companies, however, deny it.

R. Until the mechanism comes into force, we still don’t know how it will work. But there really are no extraordinary benefits. The intervention measures that we have suffered since September established a reduction, but it has been proven before the regulator that these extremely high market prices have not been charged or received.

P. A part of the technologies that have been charged.

R. All contracts have been delivered to the CNMC [la Comisión Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia, el regulador]. And it is more: they produce less energy than they sell and they have had to go to the market to buy at such high prices. I insist: there are no such extraordinary benefits. In the first quarter, what is seen is that the large electricity companies have earned less in Spain, while the oil or industrial companies had a positive evolution. However, this public awareness has been created that the electricity companies have behaved badly, they have been disloyal, they are going to derail proposals, they have extraordinary benefits… The electricity sector has suffered several interventions through royal decree laws, when the problem is in the increase in the price of gas. We have common pricing rules in the EU. Y ACERthe association of European regulators, says that it is an efficient market that has managed to attract investment in renewables.

P. It also acknowledges that “it is not designed for emergency situations” and, although cautiously, is open to intervention.

R. He says that it could be justified, but you have to see the specific terms, which is what the European Commission is analyzing. That is why I say that it was not so easy to intervene. I am concerned about the impact it will have on the future of the electricity market at a time when renewable energies must be intensified and when the price signal is very important.

P. Do you mean that the measure can discourage investment in renewables?

R. Well, we’ll see. I do not know. Deviate from the general rules [comunitarias], albeit exceptionally, alters the rules. We fully understand the Government’s concern about high prices. But the electricity market has not been to blame for this crisis: it is not the one that has caused this price crisis. Stable regulatory frameworks are needed.

P. Brussels has forced Spain to reform the PVPC rate to disengage it from the spot market and link it to the futures market. What do you think?

R. We are totally agreed. Spain is the only European country that has a regulated rate indexed to the daily price.

P. Part of the electricity sector, however, goes a step further and insists on abolishing it.

R. This is an intermediate step. Strictly speaking, we believe that only the vulnerable consumer should have a regulated rate, that they should have all the support and all the protection. The rest should be on the free market.

P. The free market is also much more profitable for electricity companies than the regulated one.

R. I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s more profitable.

P. The data clearly points in that direction. And the companies themselves recognize it.

R. The consumer should have the ability to negotiate their contract, even more so at a time when self-consumption is going to be very clearly imposed.

P. Have they sinned by lack of empathy?

R. It has focused on electricity companies, as if they were responsible for price increases. They have complied with the rules at all times, create value and make investments of the order of 4,000 million euros a year.

P. Doubtful episodes have also been experienced, such as the emptying of swamps.

R. Both in this specific case and in any other, there are adequate legal mechanisms to be able to react in the event of inappropriate action. And that has not been proven.

P. Would you do any self-criticism?

R. Maybe we should get closer, explain more and have a greater sense of closeness. We are a sector that is undergoing a complete transformation for the sake of decarbonization. Without these large companies, the electrification and decarbonization goals could hardly be achieved.

P. What did you think of the words of the president of Iberdrola, Ignacio Sánchez Galán?

R. Well, he already apologized. I believe that the consumer is at the center of each and every company, and of each and every CEO and president.

P. Spanish electricity companies are among the most vertically integrated in Europe: they participate in generation, distribution and marketing. Do you understand the criticism?

R. All electricity sectors are the result of the history of each country. Other European countries also have large integrated companies. And, unlike other countries around us, where there is a large public company that does all the activities, in Spain there has always been a plurality. In addition, the regulation also has elements of separation of activities and clear rules of the game of not interfering between one and other segments and activities.

P. Believe, then, that there is real competition in the sector.

R. I believe it. And this is what all the competition indexes that are published say.

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