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EU again looks at legality of fixed payment for wind plant output
1 August 2001
The European Commission is continuing to investigate whether Germany's new renewable energy law conforms with EU competition rules despite a March ruling by the European Court of Justice apparently endorsing fixed tariffs for "green" electricity under the previous renewable energy feed-in law (REFIT). The court declared that the premium payments did not constitute "state subsidies" and thus did not come under EU control (Windpower Monthly, April 2001). The German government has deemed the similarity between the REFIT and the new law, Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz (EEG), sufficient to absolve the EEG from any suspicion of contravening European state aid rules. But EU competition commissioner Mario Monti has nevertheless opened a formal investigation into the EEG, in force since April last year. The commission argues that the court judgement referred to private electricity companies, but many of the companies paying premium payments under the EEG are wholly or partially state owned. Payments made by these companies could comprise state subsidies, which are not necessarily forbidden but do need EU authorisation, says Monti. The German finance ministry's Thomas Gerhardt retorts that the judgement referred to all types of electricity companies and the ministry has requested the commission to reconsider its position. A legal evaluation by advocates Becker Büttner Held, commissioned by solar magazine Photon, concludes that Monti is wrong to open the matter again, not least because the court verdict specifically applied to a partially state owned company, the northern German utility Schleswag, which is 35% owned by 11 rural districts.
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