The amendments in the Recovery and Resilience Plan, which the outgoing parliament wants to make, set a dangerous long-term trap and the coal-dependent regions are particularly vulnerable
Keeping the coal plants open at all costs for an undefined period is a populist move, harmful for Bulgaria’s interests. The shortsighted election games have long-term consequences, and any delay increases the risk that the country will lose the money for energy transformation, requalification, compensation for workers in the energy sector and the rehabilitation of the sites.
Last week’s parliamentary decision obliges the Council of Ministers to take all necessary action by 31 March 2023 to renegotiate the targets for reducing carbon emissions from coal power generation by 40% by the end of 2025, as well as keeping coal-fired power plants open at least until 2038. The decision conveniently overlooks the fact that the current deadline for closing the coal plants, written into the NRRP, is also 2038 and the renegotiation initiative lacks adequate proposals and interim targets for how it will be fulfilled.
The pattern of Bulgarian politicians to have a very low horizon, which extends only until the next elections, and a complete lack of vision is once again reestablished. The political crisis, ongoing for two years now, is showcased in the frequent elections, short-lived parliaments and the rule of the President through caretaker governments. The consequences are the primitive and populist propaganda used by the politicians who are unscrupulously intent on attracting more voters for the next elections. This is how short-term political interests trump the long-term national ones, says Todor Todorov from the Energy and Climate team at Za Zemiata.
The grouping of the state-owned Maritsa East 2 with small, extremely polluting power plants like Maritsa 3 in Dimitrovgrad, associated with Hristo Kovachki, is a move which entirely protects the private interest of shady businessmen. Conveniently overlooked was the fact that Maritsa East 2 became profitable because of the war in Ukraine, and prior to that it was on the brink of survival, reporting losses of 182 mln leva in 2021, with a debt of 1.3 bln leva to its parent company, Bulgarian Energy Holding, and only state aid sustained its existence.
The loss of funding means that Bulgaria will have to look for other sources to finance compensations for the workers in the coal power plants and mines once the coal-fired power plants will have to close on a market basis.
Although it is legally possible to renegotiate the Recovery and Resilience Plan at any point, this means that it has to be defended with arguments – something that we did not see during the discussions. It is certain that the possible renegotiation will delay the second and third payments under the plan, which means that EUR 1.5 bln will not enter the Bulgarian economy and finance the energy transformation. Only 20 measures have been implemented out of the 46 set out in the RRP and 10 of these unfulfilled commitments are precisely those of the Ministry of Energy. Due to the missed deadline to submit the Territorial Just Transition Plans (TJTP) by the end of 2022, Bulgaria has already lost EUR 100 mln from the Just Transition Fund (JTF).
The Parliament has demonstrated the same lack of responsibility and incompetence with the task that was allocated to the government – to initiate the construction of two new Westinghouse AP 1000 type reactors in Kozloduy NPP without any economic analysis whether there is the need for new nuclear capacity in the country. Taking into account the fact that an interim government takes on the task of presenting Bulgaria’s long-term economic strategy until 2053, we are observing yet another attempt to predetermine the country’s economic and energy development for decades to come by people who are only temporarily in power and also completely irresponsible.