* Waivers for big power users unlawful -court
* European Commission launches separate investigation
* Berlin under pressure to review system
(Adds court decision, lawyer, federation)
By Vera Eckert and Markus Wacket
FRANKFURT, March 6 Power grid charge exemptions
which saved big industry in Germany 300 million euros ($390
million) last year were ruled unlawful by a German court on
The European Commission separately said it would investigate
the exemptions, which were granted to big companies in sectors
such as metals, chemicals, glass, cement and building materials.
The Duesseldorf district court (OLG) said it had found that
Germany's energy law failed to provide a legal basis for the
exemptions, which began in 2011.
"The...OLG has nullified the decree and has lifted the
related implementation rule," the court said. Its ruling is
non-binding and the affected parties may appeal to the Federal
Court of Justice (BGH).
The issue has implications for the international
competitiveness of German industry, which current pays some of
the highest power prices in the European Union.
"The grid fee exemption is important for the survival of
Germany's energy-intensive companies," industry federation BDI
said in a statement.
Wednesday's ruling upheld a complaint brought by network
firms. The exemptions have also meant that consumers paid more
on power bills which include 20 percent transmission network
The court said the exemptions were not in line with EU laws
requiring equal and cost-based treatment of charges to market
The European Commission, however, stressed the opening of
its investigation did not prejudge its outcome.
"If this turns out to be the case (that they constitute
state aid), the Commission will further examine whether the
exemption is likely to unduly distort competition in the EU or
whether it can be justified," it said.
Germany's economy ministry said it would respond to the
Commission within a month. A spokesman said the ministry had no
role in levying network usage fees so the waiver could not be
considered a form of unlawful state subsidy.
The exemptions also recognised the network-stabilising role
of big companies, he added. Large firms such as BASF
have their own on-site power generation units which are able to
feed power into the public grid.
Still, some analysts said the government, which is already
grappling with public anger over power prices buoyed by
subsidies for renewable energy, is in a tight spot.
"(This) will be a signal for Berlin that the exemptions have
to be reconsidered and possibly changed," said Hans-Christoph
Thomale, an energy expert at Frankfurt law firm FPS.
($1 = 0.7677 euros)
(Additional reporting by Alexandra Hudson, editing by Jason