How one man has cost Spanish energy giants more than 500 million

by Lorraine Williamson
electricity giants

SEVILLE – A retired industrial engineer from Seville uses an incredible amount of courage, idealism, energy, and perseverance in his fight against the Spanish energy giants. A battle that has cost these companies more than €500 million. 

Antonio Moreno’s struggle began in 1994 and continues to this day. At the time, he worked at Landis & Gyrs, one of the first manufacturers of electricity meters. He attended a meeting between Unesa, the employers’ association of the electricity companies, and the Contact Group, consisting of AEG, Siemens, Landis & Gier, Schlumberger, and Metrega. According to Moreno, it was a clandestine meeting where price agreements were made. Once informed, the engineer refused to participate in the negotiations. His executives insisted, and when he continued to refuse, he was fired on November 7, 1994. 

Earlier, Moreno had stolen the folder labelled “Conact Group” from his company’s sales department. He delivered this, together with the business cards of those present at the meeting and abundant documentation about the alleged market manipulation, to the court in Seville. This was followed by a judicial registration by Landis & Gyr. The case was then transferred to the Economic Crimes Unit and later even to the European Commission. It sent seven inspectors to assess the more than 100,000 documents seized. 

Additional energy costs of 854 euros per year for households in Spain 

After four years of litigation, the case was closed because the crime had not been found. According to Moreno, several important documents were lost during transport between the police and the court to avoid legal consequences. 

A modern Don Quixote 

Although this seemed to be the end of the line for the electricity company, the opposite was true and the worst was yet to come. Convinced by now that he was dealing with a network of corruption involving the judicial, political, and economic powers, Moreno embarks on his personal crusade. 

For twenty years, the engineer daily studies piles of papers convinced that things are not right. He recalculates fees and looks at old regulations in the official gazettes. Despite being “all alone”, as he laments, he has become one of the most efficient auditors in Spain. His stubbornness also cost him a lot of money. Since 1994, he has documented and litigated fourteen irregularities in his electricity bills. He posted all his findings on his own website Estafaluz.com. Endesa has tried to take this website off the air for defamation and demanded €50,000 euros in damages. This one cost Moreno his house. 

Increase in energy prices fuels fears of a difficult winter in Spain 

Villa Nova Spain

Still, a year ago, the Madrid Provincial Court agreed with Moreno and imposed the costs on Endesa. That was peanuts compared to what was in store for the company later on. Moreno denounced the €9 that Endesa charged for the connection of each new electricity meter following the ministerial decision to modernise the meter park. Those €9 would be illegally calculated. Moreno denounced then Prime Minister Zapatero for allowing massive fraud and wrote a letter to the National Energy Commission, which dealt with the matter and then lowered the rate. This ultimately resulted in Endesa and other energy companies having to replace approximately 30 million electricity meters for free. Which was good for at least €300 million in ‘lost’ income. 

“All governments colluded with energy companies” 

“All the governments of Spain have colluded with the electricity companies,” Moreno said in El Confidencial’s Teknauta section. He continues indignantly: “Prime Minister González allows the rent of the meters to be increased from 1984. Aznar follows and covers his predecessor on the direct orders of José María Amusátegui, president of the employers’ association, and Zapatero culminates it by looking away from the constant illegality of the electricity companies”. 

According to Moreno, on paper, the meter rental rate should have evolved in parallel with the average market price of the devices, which, as is logical with any technological device, has not continued to fall. However, the calculation is made in relation to the amount of kWh, which has risen since 1984 to become the third most expensive in Europe. 

Rent electricity meters down 

Moreno, after years of writing to regulators, the government, and even the king, has managed to cut meter rents by 10% in 2002 and paralyse their price rise to this day. Because of this and thanks to him, the electricity companies lost another €200 million. 

Smart meters and opaque management networks 

Despite the engineer’s personal success, it was never much publicised by the press. Currently, Moreno focuses on processing all requests he receives through his website. Users submit claims to him and he continues to fight against Endesa and the rest of the electric companies. He accuses them of having earned €11.2 billion over the past two decades on the back of consumers. This is thanks to smart meters and opaque management networks. 

Still ‘two atomic bombs’ up its sleeve 

Moreno warns that he has “two or three atomic bombs” up his sleeve to detonate if the opportunity presents itself. He doesn’t think twice about stepping back at 70, even though his struggles rob him of valuable time with his family. 

“Corruption is the worst plague in a country” 

“I believe that corruption is the worst scourge in a country and it must be eradicated at all costs. I believe that a more just society is possible. And, I believe that everyone should try to leave a better world for future generations,” concludes Moreno in the article in El Confidencial which can be read in Spanish here. 

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