Following the closure of two nuclear power units in January 2007, Bulgaria has seen an abrupt decline in electricity capacity, leading to the current shortfall. The country also faces challenges in terms of the efficiency of its energy production, and still has some work to do to bring the sector in line with European standards. Changes have followed, including higher consumer prices and a ban on energy exports, which will stay in place for the first months of 2008.
While the country is working to build up its capacity, it remains dependent on oil and gas imports, much of it coming from Russia. Bulgaria transports Russian gas to Turkey, and when the Nabucco pipeline project comes on line, it will significantly increase the amount carried through the country to Western Europe. The Burgas refinery, with a capacity of 300,000 barrels per day, is undergoing an expansion programme that aims to increase bring production figures even higher.
Further liberalisation is in store following EU membership, and despite the electricity market being about 60% liberalised, it is still somewhat difficult for small players to enter the market – production is state-owned and distributors must get prices approved. A contract signed in January 2008 with Atomstroyexport, controlled by Russia's Gazprom, anticipates the construction of two nuclear reactors, the first scheduled to be completed in 2013.
There has been some criticism however, that the plant may not be economically feasible. While the country is home to significant coal reserves, environmental issues are becoming increasingly pressing and Bulgaria is taking its EU membership commitment to generating a portion of its electricity through renewable sources, looking in particular at developing hydropower, which currently accounts for about 10% of the country's production. Wind power also shows significant promise, with several new wind farms coming on line.
This chapter includes an interview with Andris Piebalgs, EC Commissioner for Energy.