* Main utility PPC to get 250 mln euro cash injection
* Cash will allow PPC replenish working capital, pay suppliers
* Temporary solution until June 30
By Harry Papachristou
ATHENS, April 27 (Reuters) - Cash-strapped Greece will provide 250 million euros ($331 million) in emergency funds to its ailing electricity providers to prevent a California-style energy crisis, government officials said on Friday.
The liquidity injection removes the risk of a financial chain reaction which, according to regulators, was threatening to bring the country’s electricity system to its knees.
The temporary aid will shore up the accounts of main power utility PPC, allowing it to maintain operations and reimburse other suppliers of electricity and natural gas on whom the smooth functioning of the country’s energy system depends.
“The measure was taken to bolster PPC’s liquidity position,” one official told Reuters after a cabinet meeting that authorised the move.
Greece’s energy market has fallen into disarray due to a combination of stagnant power demand, rising fuel costs and a government decision to use PPC as a tax collection vehicle.
An increasing number of consumers stopped paying their electricity bills after the government started collecting a 1.7 billion euro property tax through them last year, in a desperate effort to meet its budget targets under an EU/IMF bailout.
Non-payments blew a hole into the accounts of PPC, which is Greece’s biggest power producer and its sole electricity retailer. PPC, which posted a record loss in the fourth quarter, is also the biggest client for upstart producers generating about 23 percent of Greece’s electricity.
The liquidity crunch sparked fears of a power meltdown like the one that happened in 2001 in California, which suffered large-scale blackouts after its energy market collapsed.
In a paper released earlier this week, Greek electricity regulator RAE said the system needed an immediate liquidity injection of at least 350 million euros to stay afloat.
The government partly heeded the regulator’s call on Friday, allowing PPC to retain until June 30 about 250 million euros of the property tax it has collected on behalf of the state.
This will be a temporary solution until the company’s cash situation improves later this year, officials said. PPC said last week it agreed terms for a 960 million euro bank loan to cope with the liquidity crunch and roll over 1.12 billion euros of maturing debt later this year.
Energy is a sore point in the country’s relations with its lenders. The EU and the IMF have been pressuring Athens to introduce more competition in its 5-billion euro retail power market by deregulating electricity prices and abolishing PPC’s monopoly over coal, the country’s cheapest and most abundant energy source. ($1 = 0.7542 euros) (Editing by James Jukwey)