Aufs falsche Pferd gesetzt

Some insight into why left-leaning governments along the very densely populated Ruhr river, even under an S.P.D. + Green party state coalition government such as that of governor Hannelore Kraft (S.P.D.), might persist in doubling down on the “losing bet” on coal-fired power plants: financially-strapped town governments, such as the city of Essen where the huge utility RWE is headquartered, are heavily invested in private utilities’ stock. Essen bought almost 19 million shares of RWE stock in 2007 at ~75 euros and was still listing the stock in its books as worth 75 euros though they were trading at 27 euros when ZDF heute journal reported on this last month. Update on 01 Apr 2014: Essen adjusted its books to reflect its RWE stock’s current trading price, because new rules required the city to do so, and consequently lost 680 million euros on paper. Essen’s capital has now shrunk to ~15 million euros. The city estimates it will have debts of 18 million euros at the end of 2014 and >50 million at the end of 2015 and 2016 (2015 and 2016?). FAZ.net said other Ruhrgebiet cities invested in RWE stock as well.

The city utilities of the towns of Essen, Dortmund, Oberhausen, Bochum, Dinslaken and Duisburg along the Rhine and Ruhr rivers formed an entity called the Stadtwerke Konsortium Rhein-Ruhr which in 2011 bought 51% of STEAG (“the Anthracite Electricity Co.”), a company that operates coal-fired power plants, for a total of 1.2 billion euros in borrowed money.

Academics interviewed on ZDF heute journal said Germany’s energy future is in decentralized renewables, especially solar power and wind. They worried that the utilities stock the financially imperiled Ruhrgebiet cities have borrowed money to invest in wasn’t just tempting city and state governments to make questionable environmental policy but that they would acquire so much debt throwing good money after bad to subvention the old coal power plants that the towns might never recover financially.

Update on 21 Nov 2013: An expert opinion report found that ex-governor of Baden-Württemberg Stefan Mappus (C.D.U.) overpaid by ~780 million euros when he bought into private energy utility company EnBW in 2010, negotiating a shares purchase package for 4.7 billion euros. The report was commissioned by the Stuttgart prosecutors’ office. N.B.: Mr. Mappus was succeeded in office by Winfried Kretschmann, Germany’s first Green party governor, as a result of the fierce protests against the Stuttgart 21 train station expansion project (C.D.U.).

Update on 28 Feb 2014: RWE lost 2.8 billion euros in 2013. This is its first loss year in sixty years. The majority of the losses are from write-downs on gas and coal-fired power plants. It had calculated that its conventional large coal-burning power plants would be selling electricity at 50 euros/megawatt hour in 2014/2015 that it’s selling for 35 euros because of Germany’s investments in decentralized renewable energy sources. RWE’s stock price was almost 29 euros though because shareholders were expecting the news, a trader said.

Update on 04 Mar 2014: RWE’s C.E.O. Peter Terium said at a press conference that the utility “made mistakes too” and was late to invest in renewable energy sources, “perhaps too late.”

Perhaps one-third of their large coal-burning power plants is not earning enough from electricity sales to cover operating costs. The company is 30 billion euros in debt. They said they will have to make cuts, including cutting 10% of jobs by the end of 2016 which is a clear dog whistle to the S.P.D, and asked the German government to help them out of their dead end. The chair of the Mining, Chemistry, Energy union where the new general secretary of the S.P.D. used to work, who is also the new general secretary of the S.P.D.’s life partner, called for the government to support RWE’s request for more government support. Payment for maintaining offlined unprofitable coal-burning power plants would not be a subsidy, said RWE’s C.E.O.

Update on 12 Apr 2014: Spiegel.de reported that Wirtschaftswoche reported that Handelsblatt Online reported that the just top twenty municipal governments owning the most RWE stock lost 2.5 billion euros on paper in the recent write-down to the stock’s current trading price. Essen lost 680 million euros. Mülheim an der Ruhr lost 480 million. “The stock price adjustment is bringing some of them to the verge of bankruptcy.” Also, RWE’s C.E.O. Peter Terium recently confirmed that the utility might issue new stock to get fresh capital, further pushing down the price of its old stock. Wirtschaftswoche and/or Handelsblatt said the affected North Rhine-Westphalian “counties” [Kreis] include Hochsauerland, Rhein-Sieg and Rheinisch-Bergische and the affected North Rhine-Westphalian regional authorities [Landschaftsverband] include Westfalen-Lippe and Rheinland.

No one has explained yet how RWE could be so massively in debt yet 2013 was its first loss year since World War II, unless they’re saying the utility did it by hiding losses on paper while hoping for government support. A 03 Mar 2014 article headlined “Complaining as a Strategy,” in which Spiegel.de said C.E.O. Peter Terium still lacked a plan for bringing the utility giant forward into greatness, cited an RWE presentation dated February 2014 that said the company had debts of ~19 billion in 2008 which increased to ~30 billion euros in 2013. It said it appears the management has cut costs and already budgeted in government aid it expects to receive by explaining how poorly the company is doing, but it still lacks a plan for getting out of the “vale of tears.” Laudable investments in decentralized renewable energy sources such as “Blockheizkraftwerke [decentralized combined heat and power station units], Solarspeicher [storage units for solar energy] and smart home concepts” cannot offset the huge losses from investments in giant dirty power plants.

(Ow! fss   FALL shah   FEAHD   geh ZETTS t)

Intransparente Preisgestaltung

“Intransparent pricing.”

The German supreme court in Karlsruhe [Bundesgerichtshof, BGH] found for the plaintiff in a case brought by the North Rhine-Westphalian consumer protection agency on behalf of natural gas customers against “intransparent price increase clauses in special contracts” of the utilities company R.W.E. Apparently “special contracts” [Sonderverträge, Sonderkundenverträge] in this case are contracts for customers who switched to their current utility from a prior utility. The court found insufficient reasons were cited for price increases on these customers’ utility bills. A ratepayer interviewed on tagesschau.de said when he asked about it R.W.E. fobbed him off by telling him their rates were raised for “responsible, suitable and well-grounded reasons” (“wir haben verantwortungsbewusst, angemessen und begründet kalkuliert”), still without citing them.

The BGH decision was based on a European Court of Justice ruling that the criteria for rate increases have to be notified to these customers when they sign their contract. It is not enough to merely notify European utility customers in advance of rate increases and give them a right to cancel their contract.

Clauses in “special gas contracts” must contain information about causes for, prerequisites for and scope of possible price increases, in a clear and understandable manner, the BGH judges said.

The German court’s decision applies retroactively for the past three years. Millions of German billpayers are now being encouraged to check their natural gas contracts’ price increase clauses for legality and apply for their money back if they don’t meet requirements. A press release about the decision from the North Rhine-Westphalian consumer protection agency said >70% of Germany’s 13.5 million gas customers are on these special contracts because they’ve switched utilities—encouraging market forces to rationalize prices for consumers!—and recommended the energy utilities provide “slender and consumer-friendly procedures” for the affected customers to ask for and receive their money back.

(Inn tronz par ENT eh   PRIZE geh SHTOLT oong.)

Ein erfolgreicher Rechtsanwalt

“A successful attorney.” Interesting recent story about the North Rhine-Westphalian Pirate Party, summarized from Spiegel-Online’s article. Two neighboring Pirate Party groups in the region were having a bitter dispute. The Gelsenkirchen group finally wrote to the state Pirate Party complaining that their foe group had neonazi propaganda materials in its possession. (The German Pirate Party voted at its last national meeting to be against right-wing stuff, despite their core interest in freedom of opinion.) The state party confronted the foe party, which “credibly” refuted the accusations. And hired a lawyer. The lawyer asked the state PP for the original correspondence, including all names. The NRW Pirates voted not to share this information. Spiegel says that, according to the German Data Protection Act (Bundesdatenschutzgesetz), the Pirates also should not have shared this information because no government offices are investigating the matter and because they don’t have permission to share it.

Klaus Hammer was the political director (Politischer Geschäftsführer) of the North Rhine-Westphalian Pirate Party. He is a 45-year-old IT worker who’s been involved with the PP for several years and has run for office. Last weekend he told the NRW state PP board of directors that despite their decision not to share the information, he had felt “pressured” by the lawyer. He then panicked, he said, and reached an agreement according to which he placed printouts of the emails in a trash bin outside his building. The next day, the printouts were gone.

Klaus Hammer has now been relieved of his political directorship.

(Eye n err FOAL g rye Cher    WRECKED s on vault.)

Blog at WordPress.com.