Austrian industrials take German grid operator to court over power flow curbs

VIENNA, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Austrian utility Verbund and heavy energy-consuming industrials have launched anti-competition proceedings in Vienna against German grid operator TenneT TSO, in a bid to restore the German-Austrian power price zone.

The Austrians said the zone’s split in October, which has capped power flows between the two countries, has led to additional charges of 180 million euros ($206 million) a year for Austrian customers.

The European Union’s regulatory authority ACER decided to split Europe’s largest area of uniform electricity prices to curb excessive and volatile exports of Germany’s renewable production.

German oversupply arises from wind parks in the north, whose power flows do not go straight to the southern industrial zones, because planned transport grids are not ready.

Instead, wind power is rerouted via Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria and back into Germany in so-called loop flows, increasing the grid’s volatility and security risks.

Austria had benefited from these flows, as it was able to buy surplus German power at low prices, store excess power in its pumped-storage plants and resell it at higher prices when supply was tight.

But after Polish and Czech complaints about the network congestion, ACER decided in 2016 to split the power zone.

Verbund, steelmaker Voestalpine, Austria’s paper industry association and power exchange EXAA filed a request against TenneT TSO at Vienna’s higher regional court “to stop abuse of significant market power”, they said on Thursday.

The German grid operator exploits its dominant market position by curbing the amount of power that is traded between Germany and Austria, the companies said in a joint statement.

TenneT TSO has been capping power flows at 4.9 gigawatts (GW) since October, putting into practice an agreement that was reached between the German and the Austrian network regulators to implement the ACER decision.

“This move leads to an anti-competitive market distortion, as the structural grid bottlenecks are not at the Austrian-German border but within Germany,” the Austrian statement said.

“We want to go back to the conditions before October 1,” said Verbund Chief Executive Wolfgang Anzengruber.

TenneT said it did not see any reason to deviate from the EU decision. ($1 = 0.8732 euros)

Reporting by Kirsti Knolle, additional reporting by Vera Eckert in Frankfurt Editing by Alexandra Hudson