Who will pay the electricity bill for VSEs? The underside of the conflict between the state and suppliers

Political promises often hide complex implementation. The rule on assistance to very small enterprises (TPE) to reduce electricity bills announced by the government two weeks ago is no exception. Because the tone is different between formal speech and behind-the-scenes talk.

That’s officially it effort sharing Between the state and energy suppliers, which will allow financing this measure, which will cap tariffs for VSEs at €280 per megawatt-hour (MW) in 2023. Unofficially, the executive is willing to pay most of the bill, provided it extracts commercial gestures from the operators on the margin. It will save face, while Emmanuel Macron strongly condemned in early January ” profit more than enough informed about some of them and ordered to renegotiate the contracts immediately.

“Electric Damper”

Indeed, a draft decision was sent to the suppliers who could be consulted on Monday evening Gallery, the government is proposing to integrate a popular aid to VSEs into an already existing device: the “electric shock absorber”. However, under the 2023 Finance Bill (PLF), it is the state, not the suppliers, that fully funds this instrument. The latter, if they have to advance expenses corresponding to the payment of invoices by the State, therefore must be financially compensated because nothing compels them to assume the concessions allowed by the shock absorber, explain several interested parties.

With one exception: according to the provisional text, this device, paid for by the taxpayer, will cover “only” 90% of the energy consumption. date » of the respective companies, i.e. observed during the last five years – here also a limit set by PLF. Therefore, suppliers may have to put their hands in their pockets to reduce the price of TPEs by the remaining 10%. Yet nothing in the text compels them to do so. Instead, the executive gives them an ultimatum. In a letter sent to suppliers (which La Tribune was also able to consult), the Ministry of Ecological Transition reminds that the decree stipulates ” voluntary burden sharing obligation », through commercial gestures.

“Heetc. are asking us to commit now to at least a partial waiver of financial compensation for the remaining 10% of the state. They want political victory » Translates supplier requesting anonymity.

Analysis refuted by the Ministry of Economy. ” There are various options on the table. […] The application of the €280 per MWh cap for VSEs will be based on several regulatory texts, including one with a buffer. […] however, we cannot conclude that a statutory limit of no more than 90% of historical consumption through the damper will necessarily match the portion the state must pay. “, we explain to Bercy.

The state cannot force anything

One thing is certain: the borders of negotiations are narrow for the state. And for good reason, it seems difficult (if not impossible) to charge energy suppliers by decree to guarantee regulated tariffs to VSEs. “ If they all refuse to participate, the executive will not be able to do anything about it. “, even believes a source close to the file.

“No law can compel suppliers to revise or pay part of the agreed prices when entering into a contract with their customer. To say otherwise is political,” agrees Jacques Persebois, economist and director of the Center for Research on Energy Economics and Law (CREDEN).

Especially since the government last September asked them to hedge heavily in the markets despite the crazy prices seen at the time. In other words, they were advised to buy in advance and at a high price the energy their customers would need during the time period they were bidding on. ” We can’t be told: hedge responsibly, even if it costs more, and crash when the market turns! “, reacts a small supplier who requested anonymity.

Large suppliers will offer discounts

Nevertheless, some companies have already publicly announced that they will voluntarily give discounts to their professional clients. Especially the giant “TotalEnergies” in early January will be “of “to mobilize to help [les TPE] to meet the challenges posed by this unprecedented energy crisis”.

This increases the pressure on the smallest suppliers. ” If they can’t contribute, even on the sidelines, because they don’t have the backbone of an energy behemoth, we’ll still point the finger at them! » He regrets the supplier who does not have VSEs among his customers, but « solidarity “colleagues” in trouble “.

It remains to be seen whether his ultimatum will allow the government to get enough positive feedback from suppliers to communicate their agreed-upon commercial gestures. And if he continues his draft decree in the same manner.