The debacle of energy providers highlights the failure of opening up to competition

Confrontés déjà à une forte inflation, les Britanniques vont devoir faire face à des factures d

It is a black scenario that seemed, a few months ago, highly unlikely. And yet, electricity prices bear witness to the energy catastrophe that is looming in France: for December, the megawatt hour (MWh) is trading this Friday at more than 1,600 euros on the stock markets, compared to 80 euros for the same period last year – a level already considered abnormally high. While the war in Ukraine has combined with ongoing setbacks to EDF’s nuclear fleet to form an explosive cocktail, the market is anticipating a serious flop this winter.

Caught by surprise, alternative electricity providers (ie other than EDF) find themselves in chaos. While some of them are now asking their customers to drop them to join the regulated selling rate (TRV, EDF’s offer supervised by public authorities), others are deciding to suddenly increase rates this winter and withdraw their offers at the rate indexed. to EDF’s TRV. To listen to them, they would have no choice: « The house exceptionnelle des coûts d’approvisionnement en eléctricité, linked to the crisis of l’energy, and allows me to maintain the current rates », explains GreenYellow (groupe Casino) in an email I sent to the informant of a house of 70% around the corner “We are forced to de-index the TRV,” argues Ohm Energie, whose clients discovered in early August that their monthly payments doubled in September.

And yet, in the jungle of competition, one of them seems to be weathering the storm at the moment: with its nearly 40,000 individual subscribers, Plüm Energie, for its part, keeps the subscription open for its TRV-indexed offer, against all odds. and tides. Why then do some say that they are forced to impose drastic price increases to survive in these difficult times, when others say that they can? keep the address »?

Losing customers in winter, an economic compensation?

In fact, providers should be able to supply their customers who subscribe to an indexed offer at the same price as before this winter. And for good reason, to allow alternative providers to compete with EDF, the construction of the TRV is based on the theoretical economic conditions of one of its competitors. ” To achieve an equivalent rate, therefore, it is enough to replicate it: electricity is purchased in advance to cover the needs of the client, reflecting what the Energy Regulation Commission shows for the TRV “, explains Vincent Maillard, co-founder of Plüm Energie.

Then, the State financially compensates the difference with the TRV induced by the tariff shield: there is therefore no need to face unpaid bills this winter, and raise tariffs “, he continues.

Last April, the founder of Ohm Energie, François Joubert, also told The galery have been covered accordingly, and thus be able to stay ” strong regardless of changing market conditions “.

How is it then that your clients are informed in August of a substantial change in their contract which, by François Joubert’s own admission, will lead to numerous terminations? For many connoisseurs of the sector, there is no doubt: “ The goal is precisely to get rid of some of the customers, despite what Ohm says “, swipe to The galery various sources.

Yet just a few weeks ago, the small business was bombarding customers with deep summer discounts and promising rates. always lower than TRV “. Like Marc*, who signed up for an offer” very attractive in June, before learning in August that his monthly fee, initially set at 109 euros, will increase to 272 euros from September 1.

“Specifically, the idea is to attract as many customers as possible in the summer and unload them from September to maximize ARENH’s rights for 2023,” estimates an expert in the sector.

The ARENH, for Regulated Access to Historical Nuclear Electricity, is the share of electricity sold at cost price by EDF to its competitors, and that each alternative supplier can claim based on the consumption of its customers. If these soupçons are portent sur Ohm Energie, it seems that the calculation of ces droits ARENH, which guarantees the accès aux précieux electrons pour 46 euros seulement le MWh, are mainly calculated in this, when the consumption is the weaker.

Drastic price cuts starting in the spring

In fact, in an email dated November 2021 that he was able to consult The galerythe young company of 250,000 meters informs one of its clients of a temporary increase in prices due to the rise in prices, and advises him to join another supplier” so as not to pay more than the regulated rate this winter “. Before offering him a 50 euro discount in your next contract in case of renewal of the subscription to Ohm Energie from May 1, 2022, date on which “ the offer will return to its original discount level “.

For his part, François Joubert formally denies any such practice, as the former president of the commercial subsidiary EDF explained in April to The galery never having changed their prices. However, the process seems to repeat itself this year: while the company argued in August that it would be ” restriction » of substantially increasing its prices as of September 1, the price list that will be in force again as of March 31, 2023, already available on the Internet, shows very competitive prices (despite the fact that prices in the markets of futures flirt with 600 euros per MWh over the period). A policy foreign to ARENH, says François Joubert, who defends his ” right to offer attractive offers ” Y ” Edit »,

One thing is certain: the practice is viewed with suspicion by the national energy mediator, Olivier Challan Belval (responsible for recommending solutions to disputes between consumers and suppliers). The latter also reserves the possibility of alerting the repression of fraud to control what he considers a ” misleading practice “.

“I received François Joubert on Thursday and asked him to commit today that the prices announced today and that can be activated in April will not be changed. But he drowned the fish”, explains Olivier Challan Belval.

reselling can pay

However, as it stands, this eventual arbitration over ARENH is not reprehensible, despite the control of the Energy Regulation Commission (CRE). ” Some have industrialized the process. The Indeed, there is a price supplement clause, supposedly to check that a supplier has not ordered too much from ARENH in relation to its customers’ consumption in summer, with a penalty provided. But there is not, for now, a clear mechanism that penalizes providers that attract clients between April and September. “explains a market player. Especially since it is always possible to sell the MWh corresponding to these ARENH rights acquired on the market at exorbitant prices for less than 50 euros.

More generally, everyone can, a priori, speculate as they see fit in the markets, getting rid of clients when the case bears fruit, even outside of ARENH.

For this winter, arbitrage in the market is, in any case, more profitable than supplying. If a company bought electrons at the end of 2021 for 2022 at €120/MWh and today can resell them at €1,530/MWh for the first quarter of 2023, we understand that it has no special interest in keeping its customers. “, points out a connoisseur of the sector.

The bankruptcy of Hydrotion at the end of last year illustrates these profound deficiencies in regulation: This supplier had covered itself poorly, so its supply authorization was withdrawn. Consequently, it no longer had a customer to supply, but retained some coverage of electricity purchases in the wholesale markets. When he sold it, he got his money back! In this system, a provider who is not serious can therefore get rich underline an alternative.

What about the consumer?

Although these arbitrations may not immediately affect the client, since the termination as such does not imply costs, sometimes the trap can be closed on some of them. ” Providers have the right to change their offer along the way, but this must be done in full transparency and fairness, and everyone must be informed of the new conditions one month in advance, according to the law. “, specifies the energy mediator. But here it is: several Ohm Energie customers contacted by The galery claim not to have received any emails, SMS or calls informing them of the September 1 increase before August 16, even checking their spam. ” The email was sent on time to the customer base. “, assures François Joubert at his side.

In any case, ” It is up to the provider to certify that the information has been received, and that the receiver has not lost it, even more so when we speak of increases greater than 100%. », argues the energy ombudsman. Otherwise, anyone who had hitherto thought he had made a good deal runs the risk of being caught off guard when he receives the bill from him.

* The first name has been changed.