Electricity was first made available in Argentina in 1887 with the first public street lighting in Buenos Aires. The Argentine Government’s involvement in the electricity sector began in 1946 with the creation of the Dirección General de Centrales Eléctricas del Estado (General Directorate of Electric Power Plants of the State) to construct and operate electricity generation plants. In 1947, the Argentine Government created Agua y Energía Eléctrica S.A. (Water and Electricity, or ‘AyEE’) to develop a system of hydroelectric generation, transmission and distribution for Argentina.
In 1961, the Argentine Government granted a concession to the Compañía Italo Argentina de Electricidad (Italian Argentinean Electricity Company, or ‘CIADE’) for electrical distribution in a part of the City of Buenos Aires. In 1962, the Argentine Government granted a concession formerly held by the Compañía Argentina de Electricidad (Argentine Electricity Company, or ‘CADE’) to Servicios Eléctricos del Gran Buenos Aires (Electricity Services of Greater Buenos Aires, or ‘SEGBA’) for the generation and distribution of electricity to parts of Buenos Aires. In 1967, the Argentine Government granted a concession to Hidroeléctrica Norpatagónica S.A. (‘Hidronor’) to build and operate a series of hydroelectric generation facilities. In 1978, CIADE transferred all of its assets to the Argentine Government, following which CIADE’s business became state owned and operated.
By 1990, virtually all of the electricity supply in Argentina was controlled by the public sector (97% of total generation). The Argentine Government had assumed responsibility for the regulation of the industry at the national level and controlled all of the national electricity companies, AyEE, SEGBA and Hidronor. The Argentine Government also represented Argentine interests in generation facilities developed or operated jointly with Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil. In addition, several provinces operated their own electricity companies. Inefficient management and inadequate capital spending, which prevailed under national and provincial government control, were in large measure responsible for the deterioration of physical equipment, decline in quality of service and proliferation of financial losses that occurred during this period.
In 1991, as part of the economic plan adopted by then President Carlos Menem, the Argentine Government undertook an extensive privatization program of all major state owned industries, including within the electricity generation, transmission and distribution sectors. In 1992, the Argentine Congress adopted Law No. 24,065, the Electricity Regulation Framework (a supplement to Law No. 15,336, Federal Electricity Law, and its Administrative Order No. 1,398/92), which was the keystone for the reform and privatization of the sector. The goal of the law was to modernize the electricity sector by promoting efficiency, competition, improved service and private investment.
It restructured and reorganized the sector, and provided for the privatization of virtually all business activities that had been carried out by Argentine state-owned enterprises. The law established the basis for the ENRE (Ente Nacional Regulador de la Electricidad or the ‘National Electricity Regulatory Entity’) and other institutional authorities in the sector, the administration of the Wholesale Electricity Market(‘WEM’), pricing at the spot, tariff-setting in regulated areas and for evaluating assets to be privatized. This law also had a profound, albeit indirect, impact at the provincial level, as virtually all of the provinces followed the regulatory and institutional guidelines of this law. Finally, this law, which continues to provide the framework for regulation of the electricity sector since the privatization of this sector, divided generation, transmission and distribution of electricity into separate businesses, each subject to segment-specific regulation.
Under Law No. 24,065, distribution and transmission activities are considered public services and defined as natural monopolies. These activities are completely regulated by the Government and require a concession. Although the concessions granted to distributors do not impose specific investment parameters, distributors are obligated to connect new customers and meet any increased demand. The expansion of existing transmission facilities by the respective concessionaires is not restricted. In contrast, generation, although regulated by the Government, is not deemed a monopoly activity and is subject to free competition by new market entrants. Operation of hydroelectric power plants requires a concession from the Government. New generation projects do not require concessions but must be registered with the Former Secretariat of Energy (‘SE’).
Many of the provincial governments, following the privatization path in the sector, have established their own politically and financially independent regulatory bodies at the provincial level. Local distribution in the provinces (except the City of Buenos Aires and certain areas of the Province of Buenos Aires that were served by SEGBA and today are served by Edenor and Edesur) is regulated by each province. Previously, the utilities themselves had played a major role in making sector policies and setting tariffs for the provinces.
At the end of 2001 and beginning of 2002, Argentina experienced an unprecedented crisis that virtually paralyzed the country’s economy through most of 2002 and led to radical changes in Government policies. The crisis and the Government’s policies during this period severely affected the electricity sector. Pursuant to the Emergency Law, the Argentine Government, among other measures:
These measures created a huge structural deficit in the operation of the WEM and, combined with the devaluation of the Peso and high rates of inflation, had a severe effect on the electricity sector in Argentina, as electricity companies experienced a decline in revenues in real terms and a deterioration of their operating performance. Most electricity companies had also incurred large amounts of foreign currency indebtedness under the Convertibility regime. Following the elimination of the Convertibility regime and the resulting devaluation of the Peso, the debt service burden of these companies increased sharply, leading many of these companies to suspend payments on their foreign currency debt in 2002. This situation caused many Argentine electricity generators, transmission companies and distributors to defer further investments in their networks. As a result, Argentine electricity market participants, particularly generators, are currently operating at near full capacity, which could lead to insufficient supply to meet a growing national energy demand. In addition, the economic crisis and the resulting emergency measures had a material adverse effect on other energy sectors, including oil and gas companies, which has led to a significant reduction in natural gas supplies to generation companies that use this commodity in their generation activities.
In December 2004 the Argentine Government adopted new rules to meet demand growth, including the construction by the Argentine Government of two new 800 MW combined cycle generators. These generators commenced operations at full capacity in the first half of 2010. The costs of construction were primarily financed with net revenues of generators derived from energy sales in the spot market, deposited into a fund called the Fondo de Inversiones Necesarias que Permitan Incrementar la Oferta de Energía Eléctrica en el Mercado Eléctrico Mayorista (’FONINVEMEM’).
The construction of these new generators reflects a recent trend by the Argentine Government to take a more active role in promoting energy investments in Argentina. An example of this is the creation of Energía Argentina S.A. (‘ENARSA’) (Law No. 25,943), currently Integración Energética Argentina S.A. (‘IEASA’) with the purpose of developing almost every activity in the energy sector, from the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons, the transport and distribution of natural gas, to the generation, transmission and distribution of energy. In addition to these projects, in April 2006 the Argentine Congress enacted a law that authorized the Executive Branch to create a special fund to finance infrastructure improvements in the Argentine energy sector through the expansion of generation, distribution and transmission infrastructure relating to natural gas, propane and electricity. The special fund would obtain funds through cargos específicos (specific charges) passed on to customers as an itemization on their energy bills.
Finally, in September 2006 the Argentine Government, in an effort to respond to the sustained increase in energy demand following Argentina’s economic recovery after the crisis, adopted new measures that seek to ensure that energy available in the market is used primarily to service residential users and industrial and commercial users whose energy demand is at or below 300 kW and who do not have access to other viable energy alternatives. In addition, these measures seek to create incentives for generation plants to meet increasing energy needs by allowing them to sell new energy generation into the Energía Plus (Energy Plus) system at unregulated market prices.
Continuing with the trend to encourage the installation of new generation, the SE by means of its Resolution No. 220/2007 and modifications thereto, allowed CAMMESA to execute WEM Supply Agreements with a generator agent of the WEM. The values to be paid by CAMMESA (Compañía Administradora del Mercado Eléctrico Mayorista or the ‘Argentine Wholesale Electricity Market Clearing Company’) in consideration for the capacity and the energy supplied by the generator must be approved by the SE. The generator shall guarantee certain availability of the generation units (established as a percentage), and if it fails to do so, penalties apply.
In 2008, the SE allowed CAMMESA to execute WEM Supply Agreements with generators the intention of which is to execute plans to repair and/or repower their generating equipment, and for the cost which would exceed 50% of the revenues that they expect to receive on the sales to the spot market.
Since 2013, the SE introduced material changes to the structure and operation of the WEM through Resolution No. 95/2013, as amended, establishing a different remuneration scheme in Pesos (payable in cash and receivables) for the whole generation sector, except certain power plants and electricity sold under contracts with differential remuneration, regulated by SE.