Energy sector hit by its own “heat wave”

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Photo: BGNES

It may be high season, yet people in power generation are apparently hard at work, and every day the public gets to learn something new about the problems, the plans and the future of this strategic sector of the Bulgarian economy.

A few days ago, the public was informed that the government has no intention of giving up on the nuclear energy industry, quite the reverse. It intends to make every effort to extend the life of the two 1,000 MW nuclear reactors of the only NPP in the country – that at Kozloduy. And not only that - the governance programme for the period until 2021 clearly states that despite the parliamentary veto, practical steps will be taken towards implementing the project for a second Bulgarian nuclear power plant in Belene on the Danube. All the more so because much of the work on this project has already been done – the platform is ready and certified, the first Russian reactor for the power plant has been manufactured and delivered. What remains to be done now is find a strategic investor to pay the government for all this, because it was built and paid for with taxpayers’ money, but also finish off the energy capacity which will cost at least another 3-4 billion euro. China is, for the time being, displaying the greatest amount of interest, though there is nothing on paper. 

There is no tangible need to build new Bulgarian nuclear power stations at this time. The existing capacities are even producing more than the country needs and there is surplus electric energy for export. Which is a good thing, though this state of affairs is hardly likely to last forever. We already made mention of the old reactors at NPP Kozloduy which are due to be “pensioned off”. This will deprive the national electricity grid - which has a capacity of around 10,000 MW - of 2,000 MW. Extending their lifespan, as the government wants, is not guaranteed, nobody knows how much it will cost and whether the country will be able to afford it. To this potential risk we should add the new environmental requirements of the European Commission regarding coal-fired power stations. They have four years to adjust to the new stricter requirements so as to avoid paying fines.  Environmentalists may be pleased with the news, though the government and many members of the public fear this will only push up the price of electricity they produce. These plants play a key role on the market – three of the biggest, among them two super-modern American plants, turn out around 40 percent of the electricity consumed in the country. The EC directive is clear, but all experts in the country are saying that Sofia will as for a derogation – i.e. an exemption from these requirements for a certain period of time. The American AES power plant even stated there was no cause for concern and the Bulgarian electric energy market will remain stable.

But it is not just in the electric energy sector that tension has been mounting. Under the very real threat of the closure of coal-fired plants using low-quality local lignite or unacceptably high prices of the electricity they produce, the authorities and experts have been turning their attention more and more to a different electric energy source – natural gas. But no gas has been found in Bulgaria in any sufficient quantity. And for this reason, Bulgaria imports gas, almost exclusively from Russia. Geopolitical developments in recent years have undermined relations with Russia considerably, and some are saying that to rely solely on Russian gas is a threat to this country’s national security. That is why Bulgaria has been making frantic efforts to connect the country’s gas transmission system to the networks of neighbouring countries which would mean alternative gas supply sources in the event of fluctuations in Bulgarian-Russian relations. The countries in question are, first and foremost, Romania, Greece, Turkey, Serbia and Macedonia, as well as the notorious even before any ground has been broken gas hub Balkan, which Bulgaria is pinning its hopes on for a more substantial role on the European gas markets. The project is far from the practical implementation stage, and will not get any closer, at least not until we know for sure whether there will be Russian gas reaching it, as there simply is no other gas. The interconnectors with Romania and with Greece have reached the most advanced stage, with Turkey the interconnector is at a project preparation stage. The interconnectors with Serbia and Macedonia are also still on paper only, in the form of political declarations and agreements. All this goes to show that even when the heat wave is over, the Bulgarian energy sector will continue to generate a “heat wave” all its own.

English version: Milena Daynova
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