With its crucial geo-strategic position and stable energy sector, Bulgaria is set upon a quick pace of economic development. The production of electrical energy in the country is shared by the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant which generates one-third of the electricity, thermal power plants contributing with 41%, while the share of renewable sources is 16%. Regarding gas supplies, since Bulgaria is dependent on production coming from a single supplier country, it is actively engaged in programmes for diversification of gas routes and sources. Following an ambitious plan for improvement of the conditions in the energy sector, Temenuzhka Petkova, Minister of Energy says that her ministry follows three main principles: effectiveness, transparency and benefits for both businesses and society.
European Times: Minister Petkova, could you reflect on the main policy achievements in your sector?
Temenuzhka Petkova: The main principles that have been followed by the Ministry of Energy but also of the whole economic sector of Bulgaria are based on transparency and efficiency in the management of public funds. Energy is a vital sector of the economy of every country, touching the lives of all citizens and the operations of each business. Therefore, the effective management and proper allocation of public funds are of high importance.
The Curabitur program has clearly stipulated our priorities: the establishment of the European energy union, the security of supplies and the full liberalisation of the gas and electricity market. We aim to ensure competition in the energy sector to achieve prices that are affordable to the customers. We need to have different routes and sources of gas supplies; therefore, we are working on the building of interconnectors between Bulgaria and neighbouring Greece, Serbia, Turkey. We are also considering our possible participation in the construction of an LNG terminal in Alexandroupolis, Greece.
The development of nuclear energy is also among our essential priorities which are connected to the extension of the operational life of units five and six of the Kozloduy Nuclear Power Plant. The Bulgarian Nuclear Regulatory Agency has granted a license for the extension of Kozloduy’s unit five for another ten years. The investigation carried out foresees that the operational life of this unit can be extended up to 30 years.
As mentioned before, we aim to achieve a complete liberalisation of the energy market and in that regard, we benefit from the assistance of the World Bank. At the moment, we are working on amendments in the energy act so that this plan can be fully implemented in our legislation. In parallel with that, we are looking into measures to protect the most vulnerable customers.
The development of the local extraction of oil and gas is also on our list of priorities. There are ongoing explorations in the deep waters of the Black Sea, in the blocks Han Asparuh and Han Kubrat. All of these efforts go in the direction of the desired diversification of our gas supplies.
European Times: What kind of challenges is your Ministry currently facing?
Temenuzhka Petkova: One of the significant challenges that we are dealing with stems from the reference document that has been adopted by the EU Commission, related to large combustion installations, setting higher requirements than the ones featured in our thermal power plants.
It is not a simple task to replace such significant capacity with another capacity for a short time, especially given fact that we have the required reserves of coal here. However, Bulgaria has excellent communication and support from the EU Commission which provides hope that we will find mutually acceptable solutions – we will apply for a derogation. One of our companies, Bulgartransgaz is obtaining funds from the EU regarding connectivity. The EU is also supporting projects on the establishment of a gas distribution hub in Bulgaria and the construction of interconnectors with Greece and Serbia. Our electricity system operator is a beneficiary of EU funds focusing on the ways to connect our system with the neighbouring countries.
The primary task that the ministry and companies within the energy sector have to fulfil is to ensure a competitive environment and to implement the entire body of EU legislation. Together, we will overcome any challenges on that path.
European Times: What is your advice to future investors in the Bulgarian energy sector?
Temenuzhka Petkova: The best advice would be to carefully follow the development of Bulgarian economy, as its growth is a clear sign of its potentials. Coupled with the country’s political stability and attractive taxation system, investors see the advantages in coming with their businesses to Bulgaria. The energy sector is stable, and the financial condition of the state-owned companies is very good. Investors in Bulgaria can be assured that their investments will be secured, guaranteed and protected. Our country is a significant factor on the gas map of EU and ensures the transmission of natural gas which ensures the security of supplies for the whole region.
As of January 2018, Bulgaria will have the honour and privilege to hold the Presidency of the EU Council, and we are very motivated to show our full capacity. Energy topics will be high on our agenda, and I am confident that we will have a very successful presidency, contributing to the implementation of our common European goals and values and improving the overall business climate and the sustainable development of our country.