In Business News this week: The current Czech recession equals in length the longest previously recorded; the industry minister says the government will look into the issue of excessively high prices set for solar power; Becherovka loses CZK 100 million due to a spirits ban; and art collectors have spent in CZK 5.4 billion at Czech auctions in the last decade.
The Czech state-controlled energy giant ČEZ is looking at bids in one of the biggest investment projects in Czech history – the construction of two new blocks at the Temelín nuclear power plant. However, dropping electricity prices have raised questions over the project’s long-term profitability. To ensure the 300- or-so-billion-crowns investment pays back, the Czech government is now considering introducing fixed electricity prices.
Bulgarian Energy Minister Delyan Dobrev has ordered checks on energy bills issued by the Czech power distributor ČEZ and Austria’s EVN in the wake of street protests over excessive prices at the weekend. Bulgarians took to the streets in ten cities to protest over their January electricity bills which were significantly higher than in the previous month. ČEZ says the higher bills reflect increased consumption over the Christmas holidays and a harsher-than-usual winter. ČEZ recently pulled out of Albania after having its license to operate Albania’s national grid revoked. The move followed months of controversy over unpaid bills.
Trade and Industry Minister Martin Kuba has said he wants the government to look into the burgeoning solar energy scandal as soon as possible. The head of the Energy Regulatory Office Alena Vitásková last week accused her predecessors of having illegally upped the prices of electricity from solar plants incurring damages to the tune of tens of billions of crowns. Meanwhile, the head of the Czech Photovoltaic Industry Association says that the audit on which Ms Vitáskova based her accusations was doctored and was intended to cover up the organization’s present failings. The government is expected to discuss the matter later this week.
The body that brings together companies active in the solar power field is planning to file a criminal complaint against the chairwoman of the Energy Regulatory Office, Alena Vitásková. A representative of the Czech Photovoltaic Industry Association said on Czech TV on Sunday that the regulator deliberately produced false data that was then used by the Constitutional Court. The court ruled last year that the government was within its rights to put a retroactive tax on solar power plant investors in order to curb a solar boom. The industry body says the Energy Regulatory Office’s action against its own staff has been intended to cover up for the organisation’s failings.
Business news from the past week: ČNB released a new prognosis for GDP growth for 2013; Unemployment figures are up again in January; Russian and Chinese tourists boost profits for luxury items retailers in Prague; Russian bank Sberbank set to open Czech branches; ČEZ has filed international lawsuit against Albania; Fuel sale regulations bill passes through the first reading in the lower house.
The Czech power utility ČEZ is launching international arbitration proceedings against Albania for failing to protect its investment in the country’s energy sector. The company is filing for damages to the tune of 5 billion crowns. ČEZ’s license to operate Albania’s national grid was revoked in January over a long-running dispute with the Albanian energy regulator over tariffs and unpaid bills. Company officials say that decisions made by the Albanian authorities are incompatible with European business standards as well as being in violation of Albanian law.
The Prague authorities are planning to rebuild the city’s Old Town Market, which was located in the space between the streets 28. října, Rytířská, Perlová in the heart of the capital. The listed building today houses a supermarket and restaurants, with the only evidence of its previous usage a decorated passage leading to Rytířská St. A spokesperson for the city says it will again serve as a market place when the CZK 28 million project is completed.
An internal audit at the Energy Regulatory Office (ERU) suggests former employees may have illegally upped the prices of electricity from solar plants. ERU chairwoman Alena Vitaskova said the audit’s findings indicate that in the years between 2005 and 2011 solar energy prices were not set within the bounds of the law, incurring damages worth tens of billions of crowns. The public prosecutor’s office is looking into the matter. A number of employees who reportedly tried to withhold information and boycott the audit have been sacked.
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