Time to ponder power sell-off

The government bought itself some time yesterday on the thorny issue of privatizing some of Greece’s power plants, after agreeing with representatives of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund that the matter would be raised in more detail next month. The foreign officials are pressuring the government to sell off 40 percent of the Public Power Corporation’s (PPC) production facilities as part of a liberalization program aimed at improving competition. However, the ruling Socialists are wary of such a move, as PPC has a very powerful union, which has already threatened to shut down the electricity grid if privatization is forced through, and the movement has traditionally had strong ties with PASOK. «PPC is one of the flagships of the Greek state sector, along with OTE telecom,» Infrastructure Minister Dimitris Reppas said yesterday. He argued that the previous government had sold part of its share in OTE too cheaply and quickly. «We do not want similar moves in the energy sector,» he said. The EU-IMF representatives held talks yesterday with Environment, Energy and Climate Change Minister Tina Birbili who, according to sources, agreed that some form of privatization is needed but that it could not take the form of a power plant sell-off. She explained to the visiting technocrats that PPC workers have a legal claim to the production facilities as the power company had held back their social security contributions in the past to fund its investment program. She also pointed out that the government wants to reduce the amount of power produced by lignite-fired plants and increase the use of natural gas and renewable energy sources. Birbili proposed several alternatives to selling off power stations, including allowing private companies to buy electricity from PPC at wholesale prices and then sell it on to consumers and allowing private firms to be involved in the construction and management of new units.