Maria Cristina Portugal, president of the Regulatory Authority for Energy Services (ERSE), died this Wednesday, aged 56.
“The Energy Services Regulatory Authority communicates with great regret and consternation the sudden death of Dr. Maria Cristina Portugal, Chairman of the Board of Directors, which occurred in the early morning hours of September 8, 2021”, reads the note of regret issued by ERSE. “The members of the Board of Directors and employees of ERSE pay heartfelt tribute to Dr. Cristina Portugal and join in the pain of her family, assuming the commitment to continue their commitment and enormous dedication to the service of ERSE”, reads also in the note from the energy sector regulator.
The death of the president of the regulator takes place a month before the proposal for the 2022 electricity tariffs is presented and at a time when there is great upward pressure on prices in the wholesale market.
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The Government has already admitted that electricity may rise, albeit not very significant, in the next year. In order to stop a significant increase in prices, legislative measures and political decisions may be adopted that will have to be carried out by the regulator in the process of setting annual tariffs.
With the death of Cristina Portugal, the ERSE board of directors is reduced to two elements, and it is not yet clear whether the Government will have to quickly appoint someone to guarantee the existence of a quorum for deliberation. The framework law for regulatory bodies provides that in the event of the death, disability or resignation of a member of the administration, the vacancy must be filled within 45 days, but there are regulators who are working with unfilled positions in the administration for longer than that. It all depends on whether the conditions laid down in the statutes for the existence of a quorum are met.
ERSE’s board of directors has three elements. The president and two members, Pedro Verdelho and Mariana Pereira, who are also two members of the regulatory body.
Maria Cristina Portugal has been the president of the energy sector regulator since May 2017, having been appointed by proposal of the Minister of Economy, Caldeira Cabral. Before, he had been a member of the Board of Directors and chairman of the Tariff Board for 15 years. Cristina Portugal was the third president of ERSE, after Vítor Santos and Jorge Vasconcelos, and the first woman to hold the position.
Her term, which ended next year, was marked by a parliamentary inquiry committee into excessive EDP rents between 2018 and 2019, in which she was one of the respondents. Under his presidency, ERSE adopted several regulatory measures, some following political initiatives by former Secretary of State for Energy, Jorge Seguro Sanches, which resulted in cuts in EDP’s revenues.
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The main cuts resulted from the calculation (or recalculation) of the compensation owed to electricity by the CMEC (costs of maintaining the contractual balance) which allowed lower electricity tariffs until 2019, but generated administrative and judicial challenges by EDP, which is still in litigation .
In a message published on the official website of the Presidency of the Republic on the Internet, the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, “regrets the death of Maria Cristina Portugal and sends his most heartfelt condolences to family and friends, recalling her dedication to the public cause, with special emphasis on the sector of regulation of energy services, where, in a recognized and respected manner, he dedicated the last years of his life”.
The Environment Minister, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, said that he received the news of the death of Maria Cristina Portugal with “great regret”, highlighting the “decisive” contribution of the then president of the ERSE Board of Directors.
“His contribution to the development of the Portuguese energy sector was decisive, as was his role in stabilizing the regulatory framework that allowed the great push of renewable energies”, said João Pedro Matos Fernandes in a statement issued by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Action. “In the two years that we worked closely, I learned to admire her professionalism and independence, values she left behind at ERSE and which she knew so well to transmit to those who worked with her”, added the Minister for the Environment.
Also the energy company Goldenergy “regrets its death so early that it left us all in shock”. And thanks Maria Cristina Portugal for the dedication and commitment to the development of the Portuguese energy sector, which she describes as a “very human person and excellent professional, who gave a lot to the energy sector, contributing to the development of sustainable energies in Portugal and demanding from companies like ours is the total guarantee of compliance with the highest levels of rigor, always in defense of consumers”, according to Miguel Checa, CEO of Goldenergy.