German firms risk huge electricity back payments as EU probe discounts for heavy users

BRUSSELS – The European Union will launch a probe into whether German companies that are heavy users of electricity benefit unfairly from a discount on their bills.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, said in a statement Friday a “preliminary investigation has now been completed and … the commission will soon open a formal investigation.”

German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported the probe could lead to huge demands for back payment from hundreds of German companies if the discount is found to constitute a form of illegal state aid.

Hundreds of companies, including Siemens and ThyssenKrupp, have been exempt from a paying a standard surcharge meant to promote renewable energy such as solar and wind plants.

Germany’s Environment Ministry declined to comment, saying the probe hasn’t yet been formally launched.