While energy prices continue to burst the ceiling, the government is hammering home: the tariff shield ” protects French consumers », much less subject to the volatility of electricity and gas prices than their European neighbours. And yet, in this strategy of massive aid to households, a huge hole in the racket remains: support for companies, faced with a market that has gone crazy.
” Many of them find themselves without any offers from suppliers, or faced with impossible proposals. For example, a company of around fifty employees which until then paid 72 euros per megawatt hour (MWh) and whose supply contract ends at the end of September must now commit to 3 months for 1,875 euros per MWh, or 3 years for 900 euros per MWh, otherwise nothing! », is alarmed the secretary general of the confederation of small and medium-sized enterprises (CPME), Jean-Eudes du Mesnil. What, according to the employers’ organization, ” put in danger of death » 150,000 SMEs in the country, unable to pay for the energy they would need to operate.
” We won’t let you down “, tried to reassure them this Wednesday the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire. And to announce the establishment of a system ” fundamental ” and ” totally innovative », according to its terms: the State will bear the financial guarantees requested by the suppliers from the companies, which are supposed to cover the risk of a default in payment in the event of bankruptcy. The goal: for each company to be able to subscribe to a gas or electricity supply regardless of its balance sheet, without having to agree to onerous bank guarantees.
Very expensive rewards
And for good reason, this insurance requested by suppliers to companies loads the boat for SMEs, especially those who are already in difficulty. ” Many face considerable default risks; so we refuse to offer them a contract, because we think it’s too risky. Result: the business closes ! “, illustrated Wednesday Bruno Le Maire. Above all, even when an offer is made, the counterparties turn out to be very costly:
“Let’s imagine that you sell 100 GWh of electricity to a company at 500 euros per MWh, ie a contract at 50 million euros. In this case, approximately 25% of the amount may be requested as a guarantee, that is to say nearly 12 million euros to be paid by the company when the said contract is signed, ”explains to La Tribune a supplier of electricity who wishes to remain anonymous.
In order to lighten the note, the new mechanism, which will be implemented from the finance bill for 2023 according to the government, will therefore ensure that the requirements of suppliers in this area are reduced. “ As soon as the risk of non-payment [ne sera] not included in the invoice [mais assumé par l’Etat, ndlr]the price goes down[ra] automatically. This is not at all negligible in the bill that the SME will pay added the Minister for Energy Transition, Agnès Pannier-Runacher.
Read alsoElectricity: these means to lower the bill of companies
Charter signed by suppliers
In exchange, suppliers will be subject to several obligations. “Too many unacceptable cases have been reported to us: exorbitant prices, unilaterally revised contract conditions, insufficient visibility… “, noted Bruno Le Maire. Thus, according to a charter signed on Wednesday by many energy companies (EDF, Engie, TotalEnergies, GEG, Seolis, Soregies, Alterna Energies), suppliers will now have to “ make at least one commercial proposal to any addressable professional consumer who requests it regardless of his financial situation.
In addition, companies must be notified at least two months before the renewal of their contract of the upcoming expiry date. ” This will allow the owner of an SME to make comparisons, to open competition with other suppliers and to turn around if necessary. “, justified the Minister of the Economy.
But if these measures are welcome », they will not make it possible to tackle the central subject of the exorbitant price that companies will have to pay to buy MWh, according to the secretary general of the CPME. “ The idea is to restore more or less normal commercial relations with suppliers. But there is no real progress in terms of capping the price “, he regrets.
The CPME requests the extension of the regulated sales tariff
Admittedly, the government also announced on Wednesday that “ electricity producer prices “would be” capped at 180 euros per megawatt hour (MWh) in France, as validated last week at a meeting of European energy ministers. The device will also be introduced in the coming days via a government amendment to the PLF for 2023, said Bruno Le Maire.
But in reality, such a system is more akin to a ceiling on income: the ” annuity generated by the energy companies, that is to say the difference between 180 euros and the sale price of the MWh on the market, would be levied by the State then redistributed for the benefit of aid to companies and communities. What to allow to release ” 5 to 7 billion euros “, According to the executive, but in no case to set a price limit at which the electrons can be sold to companies.
“It will not fundamentally solve the problem. It would rather be necessary to generalize what already exists for certain companies with less than ten employees, i.e. to allow companies to subscribe to a regulated tariff for the sale of electricity, like what exists for private individuals. “, defends Jean-Eudes du Mesnil for his part.
For the moment, however, no such extension is planned. The only novelty in this area: on Wednesday, the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) announced that it will soon publish an electricity price reference for SMEs. The principle: that the latter can check whether the offers made to them reflect the reality of supply costs, without benefiting from controlled prices.
Read also“Capping the price of electricity would send a signal to the market to put an end to speculation” (Fabrice Le Saché, Medef)