Ruling on heating a partial success (The Slovak Spectator)

 Radovan Ďurana 6.12.2016 označil súčasné pravidla v oblasti výberu typu kúrenia ako za čiastočne obmedzujúce vlastnícke práva v článku od The Slovak Spectator

Ruling on heating a partial success (The Slovak Spectator)

 People having a distribution system running through their land will receive more money, but customers of heating companies may inevitably see their heating bills increase. This is one of the impacts of the recent verdict of the Constitutional Court which observers have pointed out. Moreover, the ruling does not change the conditions for people willing to build their own boiler rooms.

The group of opposition MPs, who turned to the Constitutional Court after the parliament adopted the amendment to the law on thermal energy in 2014, considers the October 12 verdict a partial success.
“People will still not be able to leave the central heat distributors, the Constitutional Court decided," said Jozef Viskupič, MP for the opposition Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO), as quoted by the TASR newswire.
On the other hand, people will benefit from the second part of the ruling which will make the heat distribution companies pay if part of the distribution network runs through their property. Some observers, however, warn this may in the end increase the heating prices.

Prices to increase
The plenum of the Constitutional Court ruled that it is at odds with the constitution if the owners of the land through which the heat distribution system runs receive only a one-off payment. Such construction in fact restricts their ownership rights as they cannot fully utilise the land, said the court's President, Ivetta Macejková, as reported by TASR.
As a result, big heating companies will have to pay several compensation payments to the land owners, and the Economy

Ministry will also have to change the laws.
The verdict will favour a small group of people who own the plots of land and will earn money at the expense of many heat consumers, the representatives of heat producers commented on the verdict, as reported by the Pravda daily. Moreover, it is also possible that the verdict will inevitably result in increased heat prices.
“It may be expected that the repeated compensation for restricting the ownership rights will result in higher costs for heating companies with an impact on heating prices," Michaela Badidová, an analyst with the website, told The Slovak Spectator.

To prevent the possible abuse of the monopoly status of some firms and to protect customers, transparent price regulation is necessary, responded Radoslav Igaz, spokesperson for the Regulatory Office for Network Industries (ÚRSO).
Opposition calls for changes

At the same time, the court dismissed the complaint of the opposition MPs concerning the conditions for households willing to leave the central heat distribution system.

Since the 2014 amendment stipulates that everybody willing to establish their own boiler room needs an approval of the central heat distributor, big companies may prevent people from leaving the system at any time. This in fact restricts their ownership rights and forces them to purchase heating via big producers from the central source, the opposition said.
“People currently cannot choose; they have to accept the conditions of distributors," said Miroslav Kadúc, who represented the opposition in court, as quoted by TASR, adding that these distributors have a better position compared to new entries to the market.

The opposition has already tried four times to change the current rules. They submitted three amendments during the previous government's tenure and one during the current election term. All of them have been dismissed, the SITA newswire wrote.

Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) MP Karol Galek even claimed that the Smer MPs prepared the amendment in favour of big distributors, for which they then received €10,000, which the opposition calls a bribe. The case is currently under investigation, he added, as reported by TASR.
Not only politicians, but also citizens have been calling for the change. As many as 11,300 signed a petition which was then handed to the president, TASR wrote.

Economic reasons assessed
The topic of leaving the central heat distribution system and establishing one's own boiler room should be considered from the broader point of view, says Anna Krajčiová, executive director of the Association of the Housing Sector.
“Nobody wants a chimney to be raised near every apartment building and the emission sources to concentrate directly in the residential area," Krajčiová told The Slovak Spectator.

Though she says it is easier for households to be connected to the centralised system as they do not have to care about many service duties, she admits that sometimes it is cheaper for people to have their own boiler room.
The Association of Flat Owners' Communities, however, finds the current rules discriminatory. They disagree with the practice of some monopolies which prevent people from cheaper method of producing the heat, said its deputy chair Otília Lieskovská, as quoted by the private TA3 news channel.

Also Radovan Ďurana, analyst with INESS think tank, says the current rules in fact restrict the ownership rights as the owners of properties have limited possibilities regarding sources of heating to choose from.
Miroslav Obšivaný, chair of the board of the Slovak Association of Heat Producers, on the other hand, says it is necessary to realise that some 2 million people receive heating via the centralised system.

“Accepting the anarchy in heat distribution, which the submitters propose, would in the end threaten the secure, stable, ecological and affordable supplies of heat to people and all other customers connected to the central heat distribution system, like schools and health facilities," Obšivaný told The Slovak Spectator.

Badidová considers it correct to allow heat distributors to attend proceedings concerning people willing to leave the central distribution system as they protect the interests of those who will remain. However, it should be the municipalities rather than distributors who decide on the preferred concept of heat supplies and possible departures from the central system, she opines.

“On the other hand, it is right that there is pressure from customers calling for more effective and cheaper operation of the central heat distribution system," Badidová added.

Radka Minarechová
The Slovak Spectator, 6.12.2016

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