Concern over price of solar power
Audit at Energy Regulatory Office uncovers irregularities worth billions of crowns
Posted: February 6, 2013
Charges could be filed against former employees of the Czech energy watchdog over allegations it set the price of electricity generated from solar power too high.
The Energy Regulatory Office (ERÚ) has asked the public prosecutor's office to look into the issue after an audit highlighted apparent irregularities in the prices it levied on consumers.
Reuters reported a complaint filed by the ERÚ did not specify how many of its employees may have been involved, although the ERÚ said excessive charges could total "tens of billions of crowns."
"The audit shows the prices were not set within the bounds of the law," ERÚ Chairwoman Alena Vitásková told media. She said suspicions were raised when employees linked to the prices tried to obstruct the audit.
"I began to suspect not everything is necessarily in order," she said.
The alleged offenses are said to have taken place between 2005 and 2011. According to Tomáš Paták, a spokesman for the Industry and Trade Ministry, the ERÚ was fully in control of setting prices.
"If ERÚ employees made mistakes in setting the regulated prices, it is possible their mistakes resulted in higher purchasing prices than stipulated by the law," he told the Czech News Agency (ČTK).
Comments from the Czech Industrial Photovoltaic Association suggest blame over the setting of allegedly excessive solar energy prices may not be limited to ERÚ employees.
"As regards the setting of the purchasing prices in 2009 and 2010, the legislation valid at that time did not allow ERÚ employees to reduce the support by more than 5 percent, so they could not react to the steep fall of prices of solar panels and other component parts," Miloš Cihelka, an association spokesman, said in an interview with ČTK.
"This fact was sufficiently known at that time, and we can only speculate why political representatives did not react to this situation in time."
The higher tariffs for solar power were aimed at promoting its use as an alternative to less environmentally friendly forms of energy, although over the past two years investments have declined substantially as guaranteed purchase prices have been reduced.
Solar panel producers have been forced to reduce staffing levels as demand has declined, with Schott Solar, based in Moravia, cutting 500 workers in 2012, for example.
Competition from Chinese solar panel producers has also hit the European industry hard and led to an EU investigation over alleged state subsidies.
Despite the scaling back in support, according to reports consumers in the Czech Republic will have to pay an extra 43 billion Kč in tariffs this year to promote renewable energy.
Daniel Bardsley can be reached at