Energy minister Alvaro Nadal is seeking greater competition while also wanting an investigation into electricity prices. | EFE

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The civil prosecution service at the Supreme Court has initiated proceedings to investigate the reasons for "successive increases" in the price of electricity. The state attorney general's office says that this is being done to determine the facts behind the increases, taking into account consumer protection.

Under civil procedure law of 2014, the prosecution service is able to initiate actions to defend the rights and interests of consumers, who would otherwise be left "defenceless".

The cold weather has naturally produced increased demand for electricity, but it won't just be greater consumption affecting household bills, as there will also be the impact of a sharp rise in electricity prices.

Some estimates suggest that bills could rise by as much as 30%, the consumers association Facua saying that January bills will be the second highest ever. Bills in the first quarter of 2012 were the most expensive.

The prices fluctuate and they do so for complicated reasons. What is charged to consumers is the result of three key factors, one of which is the price paid in the wholesale market for electricity. It is this, more than anything, which will lead to more expensive bills, and there are various factors which influence the wholesale price, one of them being demand because of cold weather not just here but across Europe. Other ones include problems with gas supply from Algeria and a shutdown in French nuclear production.

What is actually charged does vary according to the time of day and to the level of demand. Across the Red Electrica grid, demand has been reaching levels not far off the record that was set five years ago. The highest demand has been recorded at twenty minutes past eight in the evening, and it is the eight to ten in the evening time slot which is the most expensive.

The national government and the National Competition Commission are eager to establish whether the price rises are solely due to pressures in the wholesale market or whether there is "inappropriate behaviour" on behalf of certain operators.

Meanwhile, the national energy minister, Álvaro Nadal, has announced measures to promote competition in the gas market in order to increase supply and to bring about a reduction in the price of electricity.

Nadal has approved the establishment, for the first time, of a "market maker" in the gas sector. He recognises that the current rise in prices can lead to advantage being taken of the situation to artificially increase prices. He will also oblige dominant operators to make offers within the gas market so that the prices of gas are "more transparent".

The minister has asked the competition commission to investigate the behaviour of the gas market because of the force with which prices have been rising. An objective will be to develop as soon as possible a price methodology to be applied to the gas market.

Opposition parties are pressing the government to take measures to stop the increase in the price of electricity. Pilar Lucio, PSOE's energy spokesperson, has requested an audit of the costs of the electricity sector as a preliminary step in reforming the system.

Pablo Iglesias of Podemos has also demanded an audit, one of energy costs and for a reform of the tariff system to put an end to the "oligopoly" of companies which "abuse" consumers.