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High voltage in Bulgaria’s energy sector

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The political parties, business, media and the public have again focused on Bulgaria’s energy sector. This country’s Premier Boyko Borissov called the EU Green Deal a “big problem” and added that Bulgaria should keep the coal-fired thermal power stations running as much as possible. The Bulgarian employers are against state aid for state-owned thermal power plants. On the other hand, the labor unions disagree with the demands of the Bulgarian business and want to protect the social interests of the people employed at these coal-fired power stations and mines.

It is clear that sooner or later, the coal-fired power plants in Bulgaria must close and this will cost a lot of money. In February, the European Commission called on several EU countries, including Bulgaria, France and Germany to present their plans to reduce CO2 emissions by 2030. Bulgaria is the third biggest producer of CO2 and harmful emissions in the EU and in 2017, this country generated over 27 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions due to the production of energy from thermal power stations.

At a meeting with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen held in the beginning of February in Brussels Bulgaria’s Premier Borissov admitted that the European Green Deal is a big problem for Bulgaria. On this occasion Boyko Borissov noted that in the next 10 years Bulgaria has to work very actively in that direction. We have to find within the next 10 to 15 years mechanisms to replace coal with environmentally-friendly technology. This is a very difficult process, Premier Borissov further said.

Nearly 40% of the electricity in Bulgaria is produced in coal-fired thermal power stations and in the winter period, these facilities produce up to 60% of the total electricity in this country. These thermal power plants, together with the coal mines located in the Maritsa East basin employ over 30,000 Bulgarians and their closure would cause not only energy, but also a huge social crisis. There is no doubt that these coal-fired power stations pollute the environment, although in 2018 Bulgaria was second in EU in terms of reduction of CO2 emissions-8.1% on an annual basis.

The Bulgarian National Assembly adopted a resolution obliging the Bulgarian cabinet to do its best to save the state-owned thermal power station Maritsa East 2 which had incurred debts to the tune of over EUR 800 million and its future seems unclear in ecological and financial aspect. This decision, however, contradicts to the European Green Deal and was not approved by the employers’ organizations in Bulgaria, which content that the authorities are providing unlawful state aid to the power plant, which is a threat on the free market competition.

The business associations demanded the resignations of the management of the Bulgarian Energy Holding, the Maritsa East 2 thermal power station and the Bulgarian Energy Exchange. The electricity sold to the Bulgarian industry is the most expensive in Europe and the Bulgarian entrepreneurs show discontent with the fact that prices of industrial electricity are 20% to 50% higher than in other European countries. This is due to bad management and corruption in the energy sector, a declaration of the four major business organizations in Bulgaria reads. 

However, the Bulgarian syndicates supported the state policy to save the Maritsa East 2 power plant and said that the Bulgarian business was presenting the prices and the facts in the energy sector incorrectly. At a special meeting on February 13, Bulgaria’s Minister of Energy Temenuzhka Petkova and the Association of the Organizations of the Bulgarian Employers reached an agreement for full liberalization of the electricity market in Bulgaria and amendments to the energy legislation.

Bulgaria is fourth in the EU in terms of share of electricity production from coal in the total electricity production after Poland, the Czech Republic and Greece. The Bulgarian energy system cannot function well without the coal-fired power stations. That is why Bulgaria told the EC that by 2030 these thermal power plants will continue to function as base energy capacity, Minister Petkova said and insisted that the transition from coal-fired power stations to cleaner energy sources must be smooth and must not threaten the energy security of the country.

English version: Kostadin Atanasov


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