Romania Power-Exchange Operator Gets EU Antitrust Complaint

Romania’s power-exchange operator OPCOM SA and its owner Transelectrica SA were sent an antitrust complaint by the European Union over restrictions on foreign entrants to the country’s electricity wholesale market.

Today’s complaint, known as a statement of objections, tells the companies that OPCOM’s practice “discriminates against foreign traders and inhibits competition on the Romanian electricity market,” the Brussels-based European Commission said in an e-mailed statement.

“OPCOM’s business practice is increasing the cost for foreign traders to do business on the Romanian power exchange and deters them from entering the Romanian electricity wholesale market,” the commission said. “This reduces liquidity and efficiency of electricity markets.”

The EU’s antitrust watchdog is stepping up efforts to wipe out energy-market abuses. It’s investigating whether OAO Gazprom, the world’s largest gas exporter, imposed unfair prices and hindered the diversification of supply. Earlier this month, officials raided the premises of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, BP Plc, Statoil ASA and Platts, the commodities price reporting company, seeking evidence of oil-price manipulation.

Spot Market

The EU opened a formal investigation in December into OPCOM’s requirement that all members of the power exchange spot market must have a Romanian value-added tax registration and as such must be established in the country, which joined the EU in 2007.

Victor Ionescu, OPCOM’s chief executive officer, didn’t immediately respond to calls to his mobile and work phones. Rodica Popa, head of guarantee mechanisms and financial instruments, didn’t immediately answer.

CEZ Group is one such foreign company affected by the system, Zsolt Bojtos, head of the Czech company’s foreign asset management and southeast Europe markets, said by phone from Prague.

“CEZ has generation, distribution, sales and trading in Romania and has been directly affected for the past two years,” said Bojtos. “We are actively fighting against the discrimination. The energy law has brought so many problems and almost paralysis to Romanian wholesale power trading.”

In June, a national law was approved preventing bilateral power trading and making participants buy and sell electricity on the OPCOM exchange.

“Companies that have assets in Romania will not pull out of trading but some independent power traders have limited their activity or left the market,” said Bojtos.

Companies in antitrust cases can defend themselves in writing or at an oral hearing before the EU’s antitrust authority decides to impose fines.

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