February 24, 2014 / 11:52 AM / 6 years ago

Five million German households faced with higher power bills

* Companies say must pass on rising renewable energy costs

* Levy to support green energy rose 18 percent in January

* But wholesale costs and some transport fees have decreased

* Sector leaders stay out of the limelight

FRANKFURT, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Some 80 German companies are set to raise retail electricity prices in February, March and April by an average 4 percent, data from the internet portal Verivox showed on Monday, after the government last month hiked a levy to support green power.

The price of German retail power - one of the most expensive in Europe - is controversial because of rising subsidies to producers of renewable power, paid for by consumers. The government is trying to rein those in.

“Several utility companies promised stable prices at the turn of the year, but now they are making up for it,” Verivox said in a statement.

The portal monitors 1,089 power companies in a fragmented market and recommends prices comparisons to help customers switch supplier if necessary to get a better rate.

“The result for a typical household will be additional annual costs of 44 euros ($60.5) a year. Some 5 million households are affected (over the three months).”

Taxes and fees levied by the state account for half the power bill and have nearly trebled over the past 10 years.

The renewable energy surcharge, the main element, rose by 18 percent to 6.24 euro cents per kilowatt hour on January 1.

As of that date, some 379 suppliers already hiked prices by 3.5 percent, affecting 10 million households, while 11 companies cut prices by an average 2.6 percent, according to Verivox.

The ownership of the power firms varies, with municipalities and private companies holding stakes in local players and retail units of big utility companies operating across the nation.

Critics of the utilities say that the higher charges partially mask the fact that wholesale power prices paid by utilities to obtain power volumes for their distribution activities have fallen by 15 percent throughout 2013, and those savings were not fully passed on.

Also, one third of network transport fees, which are another price element, were cut for 2014.

The subsidiaries of sector leaders E.ON, EnBW and RWE did not show up on the latest Verivox list, but Vattenfall units were listed as intending price hikes by 2.5 and 4 percent as of April.

E.ON said last year it would not raise prices as of January but left future intentions open, while EnBW has said it would keep prices unchanged “far into 2014.”

RWE has charged a minority of customer groups higher prices from January onwards.

$1 = 0.7275 euros Reporting by Vera Eckert; Editing by William Hardy

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