(Bloomberg) — Record-high power and gas prices have crippled energy suppliers worldwide, leaving some running at a loss and causing many to collapse altogether.
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Energy providers are closing down in the U.K., the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Finland and Singapore. That’s reducing choice for consumers, triggering government intervention and threatening innovation.
It’s been especially damaging for suppliers who sold energy at fixed prices to withstand volatility. Many haven’t been able to pass on wholesale price increases as national regulators usually have strict regimes that limit how much companies can charge.
More than 40 suppliers have now collapsed, including Enstroga, a company based in the U.K. and the Netherlands. In September, the provider said it would halt operations in Britain. Just six weeks later, it said it was “left with no other choice” but to shutter its activities in the Netherlands as well.
“All of the liberalization approaches of the regulators who have tried to open the market, they have been useless now,” Enstroga Chief Executive Officer Jens Müller-Bennerscheidt said in an interview. “At the end, the consumers will pay higher prices than ever.”
European gas and power prices have been extremely volatile in recent months as heightened demand, low inventories, nuclear outages and reduced flows from Russia have squeezed supplies. German year-ahead power, the European benchmark, surged more than 400% this year, while gas prices jumped more than seven-fold.
In Germany, record-high prices have accelerated the “cut-throat competition in the sector,” said insolvency lawyer Justus von Buchwaldt, who’s overseeing the administration of Neckermann Strom AG, a power and gas provider with some 13,000 customers, which filed for bankruptcy on Friday.
In the U.K., 24 household suppliers have collapsed since early August, partly due to Britain’s energy regulator Ofgem capping bills. That’s left companies unable to pass these costs onto consumers. Elsewhere, at least five energy companies have gone bust in the Netherlands and Singapore, three in Germany, five in the Czech Republic, one in Belgium and one in Finland.
When Prague-based Bohemia Energy ceased trading in October, the Czech company also blamed its banks. It said a group of 25 lenders denied it access to a 2 billion-koruna ($90 million) loan facility that was already approved, owner Jiri Pisarik told local media. “If we continue to deliver energy, we would generate huge losses daily,” he said. CED, another Czech supplier, said on Thursday it would stop supplying energy this week.
The collapses are adding to the financial burden of governments and taxpayers, as market rules force a redistribution of costs and states must step in to subsidize bills. Britain’s largest casualty, Bulb Energy Ltd., has been nationalized by the Johnson administration, costing about 1.7 billion pounds ($2.2 billion), an amount that’s set to be recouped through additions to household bills.
The energy crisis could also hinder much-needed innovation in the sector.
In Singapore, about 140,000 households and 11,000 businesses have been affected by five of the bigger retailer bankruptcies. That makes up 9% of total demand, Tan See Leng, second minister for trade and industry, said in a November speech to Parliament. That’s complicated the nation’s bid to liberalize its power sector by boosting competition and encouraged the regulator to reconsider planned market reforms.
Britain’s remaining suppliers are largely running at a loss. They’re hoping regulator Ofgem will lift the nation’s price cap in April to allow them to operate profitably and to compete on price. But that assumes wholesale costs will fall significantly by then.
“Prices in the wholesale market are extremely high and it’s unlikely they’ll come down enough by the time the price cap lifts to make things profitable again,” said Tony Jordan, an energy-industry consultant who has advised firms that have gone bust. “The supplier market will stagnate because customers won’t have much choice to switch provider.”
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