At the end of April 2023, a bomb exploded in Brussels, fortunately only a statistical one. Eurostat published its regular half-yearly report on energy prices, according to which in the second half of 2022 domestic gas prices grew the fastest in the entire EU, with electricity the second fastest. At the same time, Brussels statisticians calculated that both gas and electricity in the Czech Republic are the fourth most expensive.
Prime Minister Petr Fiala strongly objected to this. “Those numbers don’t fit, they don’t correspond to reality, and I’m not going to put up with that,” he got angry and really pushed for a revision in Brussels. According to her, on the other hand, domestic households had the twelfth cheapest gas and paid the eighth lowest price for electricity on average. In the case of electricity, government support, the so-called energy-saving tariff, played an important role.
“The opposition’s favorite phrase that the Czechs had the most expensive energy in Europe during the crisis turned out to be a false myth,” Prime Minister Fiala responded to the review with satisfaction.
7.60 per kWh
Another price comparison, this time for the first half of 2023, will be published by Eurostat this Thursday. From the point of view of the Czech Prime Minister, this will be bad news again. Gas prices are not the problem. At the beginning of the year, the average household paid 2.70 kroner per kilowatt hour (kWh), including all taxes and fees, while before the crisis 1.50 kroner per kWh was enough, but a similar increase affected most European countries. According to Eurostat, the neighboring Austrians pay considerably more, and suppliers in Germany are also more expensive.
For electricity, Czechs paid an average of 7.60 crowns per kWh, three crowns more than before the crisis or compared to the end of last year. However, the same increase in price was not so common in Europe. Eurostat calculated higher rates in the first half of 2023 only for the Dutch, Belgians, Romanians, Germans, Danes, Italians and Cypriots. Compared to the period before the crisis, domestic prices surpassed the level of richer countries such as Austria, France, Spain or Sweden.
From the point of view of local families, the fact that the governments of countries that are comparably rich with the Czech Republic, namely Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia and Estonia, managed to keep the price of electricity below the “pre-crisis” level of five crowns per kWh. In Bulgaria and Hungary, three crowns were even enough.
The mystery of inaccurate numbers
This time, the statisticians prepared better than last time for possible criticism. Eurostat’s partner is the Czech Statistical Office, whose chairman Marek Rojíček tried to explain the mystery of inaccurate numbers to the public. The CZSO uses two different statistics for energy prices.
The first of these are the so-called list prices, at which electricity or gas are offered by supplier companies. In the Czech Republic, however, these prices are usually not realized, and especially at the end of last year, customers paid much less. After the intervention of the prime minister, the CZSO requested documents from the suppliers and brought the “list prices” closer to reality.
Suppliers’ reports on energy prices are also collected by another department of the CZSO, which is in charge of inflation. However, it does not publish the determined prices, but only their change compared to the previous year or month. These results are even less flattering for the Czech Republic than the “price list” statistics. Compared to 2021, gas prices doubled this September, i.e. the third fastest rate in Europe after Austria and Ireland. Electricity became more expensive by almost two-thirds, the most after Estonia, Italy and Ireland.
Differences in the autumn inflation data compared to the spring “price list” statistics could also be caused by the fact that in some countries energy prices started to drop during the holidays. Also in the Czech Republic, since September, some suppliers have reduced prices for customers with contracts for an indefinite period, specifically by a crown per kWh below the government price ceiling. It has not yet had a greater impact on energy inflation.
The story of expensive energy does not end this year. Customers in a number of countries, including the Czech Republic, are anxiously waiting to see if after the New Year electricity prices will continue to fall due to cheaper production, or if, on the contrary, they will rise because governments will end their support and regulation.