“No one needs great upheavals” - Newspaper Kommersant No. 14 (7459) of 01/26/2023

In early January, the authorities of Khakassia and the regional department of the Federal Antimonopoly Service accused Siberian Generating Company (SGK, part of SUEK) of unreasonably inflating heat prices in Abakan. The city is included in the heat supply price zone (an alternative boiler house mechanism that guarantees the investor a return on investment), so the tariffs there are not regulated by the state according to general rules. Director for Government Relations, SGC Ekaterina Stepina told Kommersant what the essence of the dispute is, why in December the payment for heat increased sharply.

— What was the reason for the sharp increase in the volume of payments for heat in Khakassia?

- In the cities of our presence - Abakan and Chernogorsk - two factors converged. First, no one expected the government's decision on additional indexation of heat tariffs in December. Secondly, December turned out to be unexpectedly very cold, due to which the actual consumption of thermal energy increased. In December 2022, the average temperature there was minus 20°C, and in December 2021 it was minus 11°C. In Khakassia, people pay according to consumption according to metering devices, and not in equal installments throughout the year, as, for example, in Novosibirsk. I would like to draw the attention of all parties to the lower payment in January, when the region became warmer.

How much did you increase the price per gigacalorie?

— In all cities of presence, using the alternative boiler house method, we increased the price within 12%. In Abakan, the growth was 11%, up to 1.94 thousand rubles. for 1 Gcal, in Chernogorsk - 12%, up to 1.95 thousand rubles. For comparison: in Novosibirsk they increased the price by 11.9%, to 1.87 thousand rubles, in Krasnoyarsk - by 11%, to 2.25 thousand rubles. At the same time, prices remain lower than in Moscow (2.9 thousand rubles) and St. Petersburg (3.56 thousand rubles) or Ufa (2.56 thousand rubles).

— How did you calculate such a percentage increase in prices?

— For all regulated organizations that supply heat at regulated tariffs and have no investment obligations, the limit index for the country was 9%. As part of the alt boiler house, we have investment obligations and are not tied to this index, we can increase the price by the level of consumer inflation plus a few percentage points from above. Real inflation was 13.9% in 2022, but we understand that no one wants a big shock. We offered the authorities a compromise - this time not to be tied to real inflation, but to add our investment premium to the all-Russian index of 9%.

- What price increase was offered by the authorities of Abakan?

- Colleagues from the administration considered that the growth should be 8.2%. In Abakan, there is also a nuance: the first agreement on the price zone was concluded by the city first with Yenisei TGC. However, in 2020, at the request of the authorities of Khakassia, we separated the Abakanskaya CHPP into a separate legal entity registered in Khakassia to pay taxes to the local budget. We pay taxes in the amount of 700-800 million rubles. in year. The authorities insist that the first agreement with Yenisei TGC should now be in effect.

- Can the price increase for the alt-boiler house be lower than the indexation in the whole country?

We'll find out in court. There are insufficiently precise wordings in the rules of the alt boiler mechanism. The key question is how to calculate the price increase. Nowhere in the methodology is it specifically written which indicator to take as a basis - forecast inflation or actual inflation. We focus on the actual value, the authorities in Khakassia - on the forecast of the Ministry of Economy. In 2022, for the first time, there was a huge gap between forecast (4.3%) and real (13.9%) inflation. In addition, the situation with indexation in December throughout the country was also not provided for by agreements in the alt boiler house. We understand how to calculate the price increase since July, but calculating the price increase in December is a complex issue. Therefore, we understand the concern of both residents and city administrations, we consider it a common business practice to apply to the court and other authorities to verify the correctness of the charges for heating.

- The FAS Department for Khakassia opened a case against the Abakan CHPP. What is the point of the accusations?

“We are accused of abusing our dominant position, which can manifest itself in setting a monopoly high price for heat. But we cannot set a monopoly high price in Abakan, because our tariff in the city has increased by 11%, although the maximum increase in the tariff in the city is 43%. The regulator itself published an official document, in which the maximum index of citizens' payment for heat in Abakan for December 2022 and for the whole of 2023 is 43%. That is, growth within 43% does not violate the law. This figure of 43% arose due to the fact that last year the government of the Russian Federation increased the basic cost parameters of an alternative boiler house (CAPEX and OPEX.— "b") to the level of 2019. As a result, the calculation base has grown, which means that the possible estimated marginal price of thermal energy by the mechanism of the alt-boiler has also increased. Moreover, we even fit into the index of the payment of citizens on average throughout Khakassia (11.8%).

- Will you appeal the claims of the OFAS?

“For now, we have nothing to complain about. There are no solutions. But I am sure that in the end we will still be friends, because Chernogorsk and Abakan need investments in heating networks. We have long-term partnerships and have invested a total of more than 2 billion rubles in these cities. only in the last three years. We saved Chernogorsk from freezing: in 2019, we repaired heating networks, built a main pipe from the Abakan CHPP. But there are disputes between partners. Sometimes the dispute cannot be resolved without the involvement of a third party.

- The head of Abakan, Aleksey Lemin, said that the agreement on the alt-boiler house could be terminated.

— We are not aware of the legal possibilities of terminating the alternative boiler house. For example, in a concession, the administration of a locality may terminate the agreement, but the administration is obliged to compensate the concessionaire for the funds actually invested. The government and the State Duma in 2018, during a discussion of the launch of the alt boiler mechanism, said that a withdrawal from the agreement could not be envisaged. All disagreements must be resolved by additional agreements.

- Do the authorities in other cities plan to complain about the tariffs?

Everyone is looking at Abakan. Altai Territory (SGK has agreements on alt boilers in Rubtsovsk, Barnaul and Biysk.— "b") is considering contacting the local regulator.

— Do you see problems with payments for December against the backdrop of rising prices?

- Not. Collection for last year, taking into account December, did not fall. We have always maintained the level of payments of 98% on average per year in all situations. The growth of the payment does not affect the collection rate, if people understand what they are paying for. In Rubtsovsk in the first year we increased prices by 25%, in Barnaul they increased by 17% for two years, and people continued to pay.

— Why did the government decide to carry out additional indexation in December?

— The discussion of the level of tariff increase began in the spring of last year. First, JSC Russian Railways, as an anti-crisis measure, began to ask for additional indexation of freight tariffs (JSC Russian Railways significantly indexed freight rates in 2022, by 6.8% and 11% sequentially, and also canceled the reduction coefficients for the distance of coal transportation 0.4.— "b"). An increase in the cost of transportation means an increase in the cost of the transport component in the price of coal in heat tariffs, spurring inflation in general. As a result, power engineers began to turn to the government. Accelerated indexation could have been carried out in July, but the government discussed the parameters for a long time and did not have time to calculate everything by the summer. We were all ready for higher indexation in January. But at the end of November, a government decree on an additional increase was issued.

— How will the absence of indexation in 2023 affect your economy?

— We completed the entire volume of investments in 2022, so, of course, we are worried about the lack of indexation this year. The fact is that the regulated organizations were allowed not to fulfill investment obligations last year, but investment obligations remain in force in the alternative boiler house. But, on the other hand, investments give us a reserve for the future due to savings from reducing losses and increasing energy efficiency. We were also helped by the program of allocating funds through the Territorial Development Fund at the expense of the National Welfare Fund: we received concessional loans for 9 billion rubles. at 3% for 2022–2023. Now we plan to participate in a new program for the modernization of communal infrastructure - this is a gratuitous and irrevocable subsidy for a total of 130 billion rubles. We are counting on a subsidy for 2024.

— Is there a risk that you will not reach your price-cap for the alt boiler plant in ten years?

- There is a risk. The payback period will increase. For example, we had projects with a planned payback period of eight years, but now we understand that the period will increase to ten years. Now we recalculate the parameters.

— Does your price of an alt-boiler house include a rate of return by analogy with capacity supply contracts (CDA) in the energy market?

- Yes. The marginal price of an alt boiler house provides for a rate of return, but no one immediately gives us this price. We are gradually increasing the figure over ten years on a tight schedule that has several growth limits. Plus, every year we give a discount to the region: the governor’s schedule allows us to increase the price of inflation plus 6%, but we still shrink to 2–3% above inflation.

— What profitability do you now expect for your projects in the alt-boiler house?

— So far, we estimate it below 10%, but the situation is changing all the time. In general, now the main priority is to create conditions for investing in heating networks. They just need to be sorted out. Only after that talk about the economy.

Interviewed by Polina Smertina

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