Europe is asking us, but Europe can wait three months. The end of the protected electricity market, one of the conditions set by Brussels to give us the PNRR money, is postponed from April 1st to July 1st. This was decided by Arera, the public energy authority, which sets electricity and gas tariffs on the protected market. Those three extra months (according to Arera) will be used to better inform users about the transition to the free market, and to ensure that the banks, which pay the bills from citizens’ current accounts, are informed about who the new suppliers will be. It was the Energy Law Decree, approved on November 27th, that provided for these communication campaigns, to make the transition less problematic. And the same Decree has postponed the date of the tenders for the new electricity suppliers, who will take over from those of the protected market: from 11 December to 10 January. The postponement of the tenders also contributed to postponing the deadline for the protected electricity market. The same needs for clarity for electricity bills, however, do not seem to exist for gas. The end of the protected market for methane remains set for January 10th, without delays to better inform citizens and banks.
The protected electricity and gas market concerns around 10 million Italians, a third of total users. For them, the rates are set by Arera. The other two thirds of Italian users are on the free market: here the rates are set by the operators. The liberalization of the Italian energy market was started in 1999 by Pierluigi Bersani, and completed in 2015 by Matteo Renzi. But the protected market had been maintained, and its end had been postponed several times. According to some, it is to protect consumers, according to others due to intolerance of the market. This year, however, the EU imposed itself: if Italy wanted the money from the PNRR, it had to complete the liberalization of energy.
Consumer associations in recent months had asked for the end of the protection to be postponed, believing that it would ultimately offer lower bills to users. Today they unanimously applaud Arera’s decision, but they do not spare criticism and advice. For Assoutenti, “timely information” and “a task force against scams and aggressive practices by operators” are needed. The National Consumers Union and Codacons also ask to postpone the end of the protected gas market, merging it with that of electricity. The Citizen’s Defense Movement is calling for an information campaign together with consumer associations, and Adoc complains that this campaign has not yet started.
But why two different deadlines for electricity and gas? The reason is technical. For methane, operators who supply the product on the protected market can also supply it on the free market. If a protected user has not chosen a free supplier by 10 January, he will continue to receive methane from his operator, only with a different tariff, the Placet (still partly set by the State). For the current, however, things are different. Not all protected operators can also provide it for free. Therefore it is necessary to divide the Italian territory into areas, and assign each with a tender to a specific operator. The protected electricity user who does not make a choice for the free market will be automatically assigned to the operator in his area. However, the tender requires a few months, and this is why the end of protection on electricity will come later than that on gas.