THE OBSCURE ENERGY FUTURE
All who had the decisive say on the development of Bulgarian power engineering in recent months liked to talk about the key projects for our country and outline a bright future for the sector's development. However, the conditional mood was the common thing for these statements. And the construction that began years ago, aimed to lead Bulgaria to the position of an energy centre in the Balkans, is still considerably lagging behind schedule.
Just some ten days ago it became clear that the building of the new power station on the site of
the Maritsa-Iztok 1 thermoelectric power plant (TPP)
by the US company АЕS is already late by seven months. The confession came from the investor's country manager for Bulgaria, Peter Lithgow at the opening of the concrete structure of the future station's first reactor. The feasibility study, the time for cleaning the terrain because of the asbestos discovered there, and the actions of some of the Bulgarian subcontractors, were pointed to as reasons for the delay. At the same time it was promised that efforts would be taken to at least partly make up for the delay. On paper the first 335-megawatt unit of the new TPP is to be commissioned in June 2009, and the second one - five months later. But considering the difficulties in building the turbines, the far more realistic term moves towards the year 2010.
The situation regarding
the Tsankov Kamak hydroelectric power plant (HPP)
is even worse. Its construction started with a solemn and pompous ceremony in April 2004. The then premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha personally detonated the first three explosives and the clearing of the construction site began. We'll take the liberty to quote part of the official information presented then. The Tsankov Kamak water-power system is included in the national strategy for the development of power engineering till 2010 and its commissioning is planned for the beginning of 2007. A dam of 111 million cu m is projected to be built, with a 125-m-high wall, 540-m-long underground derivation and the Tsankov Kamak HPP with 80 megawatt of installed energy capacity and annual production of 185 million kilowatthours.
But now, almost four years after the beginning, the terms for construction are being extended by more than 18 months, till the end of 2009, and its worth of EUR219MNB will be probably updated in accordance with the inflation rate for the passed period.
In the words of Nikolay Valkanov, Executive Director of the Alpine Bulgaria company which is the subcontractor to the Austrian consortium Alpine Bau - Wateh Hydro, the delay is due to the big floods and changes of the project resulting from geological research. In addition, international experts established that the dam wall's safety should be improved and that led to a six-month delay. However, it's another question if the problems could have been avoided. But it's a fact that the lagging behind the initial schedule has a negative effect on our country's energy balance and is not the best advertisement for the Kyoto Protocol. The water-power system is a pilot initiative between Bulgaria and Austria in accordance with that document and the mechanism allows the investor (the National Electricity Company in this case) to attract cheaper financing without the need of a State guarantee. And the benefit for the Austrian Government is that it honours the commitments it has undertaken for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.
The realization of
the Belene N-plant
also drifts away. It's true that a few days before the Easter holidays the French BNP Paribas won the tender for choosing a structuring bank for financing the project, estimated at some EUR4BN, but the schedule for commissioning the first reactor is at least five years late from the initially planned 2009-2010. The Minister of Economy and Energy Peter Dimitrov promises that construction proper would begin by the year-end, but it's questionable if the terms fixed by him would be observed. The contractor Atomstroyexport has not presented the project for the capacity at the Nuclear Regulatory Agency and experts there will need at least nine months to consider the entire documentation and issue a building permission.
We can also put the rehabilitation of
Maritsa-Iztok 2 and 3 TPPs
in the list of delays. Because of the eight-month delay in Maritsa-Iztok 2, the Council of Ministers inspectorate is already inspecting the repair of the first four units, the construction of their sulphur-purifying installations, as well as the financial condition of the company. The project costs EUR226.2MN and is implemented by the Japanese Mitsui company through a loan from the Japanese Bank for International Co-operation. The 2010 deadline by which the sulphur-purifying facilities of turbines 5 and 6 of the power plant should be built and put in exploitation will hardly be met, either. The procedure used to be financed through the ISPA programme, but because of the high prices offered by the contractors it was terminated and a new one is currently in course.
Maritsa-Iztok 3 TPP which is owned by Italy's Enel missed the initially fixed deadlines, too. Modernisation started in the early spring of 2003 and was planned to last about three years. Well, it did not happen this way and one of the main contractors, Germany's DSD, was labelled the guilty one. In early 2006 the German company was replaced and the change seemed to bring results. Today all the three rehabilitated units - 1, 2 and 3, are in exploitation and operate with active sulphur-purifying facilities. Once they were repaired, the installed gross capacity of each of them was increased from 210 to 227 megawatts. This increased Maritsa-Iztok 3 TPP's total capacity to 681 megawatts. The amount of sulphur dioxide emitted in the air is now more than 94% purified. Generator 4 is the only one that is not operating yet - its renovation has already begun and is progressing according to schedule.
Both thermoelectric power plants are still to have difficult times. The European Commission is going to initiate large-scale inspections in Maritsa-Iztok 2 and Maritsa-Iztok 3 and will announce whether or not they meet the requirements of the European directives for complex permissions and large fuel installations. Should inconformity with the European ecological standards emerge, the case may even go to the European Court in Luxembourg, the European Parliament Member, David Hammerstein, announced in Stara Zagora on May 2.
A signal from Brussels is also expected for the selection of an investor in the construction of the new 600-megawatt power plant in the Maritsa-Iztok complex. As the Minister of Economy and Energy, Peter Dimitrov, explained, the announcement of the procedure was delayed because the European Commission had not yet approved the technology for collection and preservation of carbon dioxide emitted in the coal burning process.
There are certainly more delayed projects in the Bulgarian energy sector, but it is not that important to enumerate all of them. What is more significant is that if things keep going this way, the European Union fines will be the smallest punishment for the country. The worse perspective is import of electricity and the worst one - power-supply restrictions.