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ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis
Photo by Arthur Lambillotte on Unsplash

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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ELECTRICITY

The cheapest rates Spain’s electricity companies don’t want you to know about

Finding a cheaper tariff is one of the best ways to counteract skyrocketing electricity bills, but a leading consumer watchdog has warned Spain’s electricity providers are not always open to telling customers about the best deal they can get.

The cheapest rates Spain's electricity companies don't want you to know about

Like in many parts of the world, inflation triggered by the war in Ukraine has made the energy market incredibly volatile and sent household electricity bills soaring in Spain. The average bill reached €158 in August, an eye-watering increase of over 60 percent compared to 2021.

To give you some idea of just how much prices have risen in Spain, in August of 2020 the average electricity bill was €64, in 2021 it was €93, and in August 2022 €158.

According to recent figures from Eurostat, electricity bills in Spain have risen eight times more than in France and four times more than in Germany. Whereas the average Spanish household paid 60 percent more in August compared to 2021, in France it rose by just 7.7 percent and in Germany 16.6 percent.

The Spanish government has tried various methods to ease the burden on households. In June the tax (IVA) on electricity bills was cut from 21 percent to 10 percent, and then it was quickly reduced again from 10 percent to 5. The European Commission agreed to cap gas used for power generation at €40 per megawatt-hour known as the ‘Iberian Exception’, with the price limit projected to average out at €50 over the coming 12 months.

READ MORE: Spain to cut electricity tax by half to ease inflation pain 

The Spanish government predicted the measure — which will be in effect until May 31st 2023 — would lead to a reduction in household energy prices of up to 20 percent, yet it has done little to limit the rise of electricity bills so far.

READ MORE:

Unsurprisingly, many Spaniards are now seeking ways to cut down on their bills, whether it be by using the washing machine at certain times to take advantage of off-peak hours, or limiting their use of air-conditioning.

Another method of saving on electricity costs is finding cheaper tariffs.

Yet finding the more affordable rates can be difficult to do, and often the electricity companies make them deliberately difficult to get hold of. That’s according to Spain’s Organization of Consumers and Users (OCU), which have identified some of the cheapest tariffs on the market today. 

Understanding peak and off-peak

Spanish electricity companies offer different prices depending on the time of day you use your electrical appliances. The tariffs are often broken down into hora punta (peak time), hora llana (flat time), and hora valle (off-peak).

If you live in Spain, this is why you might’ve heard the incessant spinning of washing machines through the night in recent months. Nowadays many people simply wait until the weekend, when the tariffs are always off-peak.

So, if you’re thinking about switching, which are some of the best electricity rates you can find in Spain?

Repsol Tarifa Largo Plazo

According to the OCU, the Repsol Tarifa ‘Largo Plazo’ can only be found via this link, because the offer is actually hidden on the Repsol website. And for good reason, too. The Repsol tariff is among the best offers the  market in terms of price per kWh consumed, although the power for off-peak time is a little more than some of the other offers on the list.

The tariff is non-permanent, with a fixed price rate for 3 years.

kWh Prices

Price per kWh consumed: €0.17/kWh.

Peak hours: €29.90 per kW.
Off-peak hours: €29.90 per kW.

Iberdrola Online Plan

The Iberdrola Online Plan, which you can find here, is only available until September 30th, so be sure to take advantage of it as soon as possible.

Using Iberdrola’s online tool, you can select a kW rate and it will give you price estimates for the different values. If you’re environmentally minded, Iberdrola’s Online Plan claims to use 100 percent green electricity, so you can enjoy renewable energy and reduce your CO2 emissions.

There’s also 14 hours of savings during the night up until mid-morning.

This plan is only for customers who take out the contract online, as the name suggests, and features entirely electronic billing.

kWh Prices

Price per kWh consumed: €0.159353 + metered gas cost (in August €0.161529 /kWh).
Price per kW contracted during peak hours (fixed term): €30.66747.
Price per kW contracted during off-peak hours (fixed term): €4.104338. 

Not the prices will be revised in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) on January 1st. 

Octopus Energy

Octopus Energy tariffs are not permanent and is all done online, which allows you the flexibility to move around again in the future if you come across a better offer. Octopus offer two fixed prices:

Octopus 3: price per kWh consumed during peak hours is 0.254 €/kWh; at flat time 0.209 €/kWh; and at off-peak hours 0.185 €/kWh.

Octopus Relax: price per kWh consumed of 0.212 €/kWh.

kWh Prices (both Octopus tariffs) 

Peak hours (fixed term): €32.85.
Off-peak hours (fixed term): €6.57.

Iberdrola Special Plan

The Iberdrola Special Plan offers a 15 percent discount during the first year, and its kWh prices for both on and off-peak are competitive with other cheaper tariffs.

kWh Prices

Price per kWh consumed: €0.178662 (minus the 15 percent extra discount) but plus a gas metering cost (which in August was €0.161529/kWh.)

Peak hours (fixed term): €30.52381
Off-peak hours (fixed term): €3.512901

Endesa ‘One Luz’ Tariff 

Endesa is currently offering the ‘One Luz’ tariff, which offers a 10 percent discount on consumption and an additional 10 percent reduction throughout the first year.

kWh Prices

Price per kWh consumed: €0.189 (plus the 10 percent +10 percent discount) + the metered gas cost (which in August was €0.161529/KWh).

Peak hours (fixed term): €33.86.

Off-peak hours (fixed term): €7.9973

Total Energies

Another interesting option is Total Energies, who offer entirely personalised pricing plans. Basically, Total Energies want to attract your business by outdoing your current rate. In order to receive a quote and see how it stacks up against your current provider, you simply upload a copy of your current bill to the website and Total Energies make an offer, often bettering your current rate.

If they make an offer, Total Energies promise a discount lasting for 4 years, although the price on which the discount is fixed is only valid for 12 months.

READ MORE: 11 ways to cut costs as Spain’s electricity rates beat all-time price records

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