On 22 September 2009, the Belgian Competition Authority launched its biggest ever inquiry by conducting dawn raids at several companies on suspicion of anti-competitive practices in the wholesale electricity market. The companies included Electrabel and SPE Luminus, who are Belgium’s leading electricity wholesalers, with market shares of 75% and 12% respectively. Electrabel is owned by GDF Suez. SPE’s majority shareholder is currently Centrica, however, the proposed sale by Centrica of its 51% share to EDF was notified to the European Commission in July and clearance is expected in October.
Earlier this year, the Belgian energy regulator (CREG) had raised a number of concerns regarding the pricing strategy adopted by SPE and Electrabel, which appeared contrary to standard industry practice. CREG stated that between 2005 and 2007, Electrabel and SPE had unlawfully invoiced their professional clients EUR 1.217 million. Electrabel then released a statement defending its pricing policy and arguing that it had been given an unfair CO2 allocation, which directly impacted the prices it charged. Electrabel argued that its comments were supported by previous findings of the Dutch Regulator and asked the pricing investigation to be referred to the Belgian Competition Authority for closer examination.
The Belgian Competition Authority has announced that the possible infringements it is investigating include restrictive practices and/or abuse of a dominant position, in particular, concerning capacity withdrawal and price formation. Electrabel and SPE are said to be co-operating with the ongoing investigations.