Published on March 21, 2019

Bulgaria choses coal over ambition on renewables

, Genady Kondarev (Za Zemiata)

In its national energy and climate plan (NECP)* submitted to the European Commission, Bulgaria is one of the least ambitious countries, even compared to the rest of the central and eastern European block.

In the NECP draft document it sent (with delay) to Brussels, Bulgaria states that the country has 60 years worth of coal reserves, and that the country’s current reliance on coal is unlikely to change until 2030.

This is, of course, unreasonable. The majority of EU countries have committed to a coal phaseout or are in the process of deciding on a date. Even some central and eastern European countries have timidly approached the topic. The economics of coal is equally disastruous across the region, where the coal business survives largely because of state support.

If Bulgaria doesn’t commit to a coal phaseout in the near future, the country’s coal regions will only continue in their agony, to eventually be forced into a rushed end of coal, without the necessary time to reform and adapt. Given EU ambition on climate, the more stubborn member states will most likely have to implement an almost immediate shutdown of coal plants after 2030, leaving no time for transition. The Bulgarian government has to face this reality and start a dialogue in view of a planned coal phaseout date soon after 2030.

According to the NECP, Bulgaria seems to be omnivorous when it comes to new fossil fuel infrastructure. Gas pipelines, new oil, gas exploration in the Black Sea, LNG terminals, subsidies for households to switch to gas – all of that is planned. Of all those projects, the only meaningful ones are probably the gas interconnectors with the neighbours. If the rest happen, they will lock Bulgaria into gas dependency for decades. Such projects like mean an increase in the emissions of the country.

Bulgaria has stated that it would have more than 5 GW of installed renewable energy capacity in 2020 while the IRENA database shows a little less than 4 GW in 2017. How an extra 1 GW will have been installed is unclear but a cross check should be done in case pump hydro storage was included by mistake into this capacity accounting.

The target for renewable energy share in the NECP is so low that it will require zero effort from the government to achieve. The plan starts with a 16% share in 2020 but the country already currently declares 18% renewables share. The increase is only in the field of renewable heat while electricity production from RES stays almost unchanged.

It seems impossible that the levels of production will stay the same considering the development of technologies and the promises of grid upgrades and legislative changes included in the NECP. Such a scenario is possible only if the current barriers remain at place.

As the development of RES for electricity is on halt since 2014 in Bulgaria, if no development will happen by 2030, this means the country will have a decade and a half of dry regime for renewable energy developers. Bulgaria will also have to develop capacity at a later phase and will have lost the opportunity to be a leader in this new technological field.

As for the target for renewable heat – even now more than 40% of the Bulgaria households use wood to heat. Bulgaria is already practically meeting the stated goal and it will only take some creative reporting to present no action as progress.

Bulgaria has pointed that there are no fossil fuel subsidies and thus no need to phase them out. This is not true and complaints submitted to DG Competition argue why this is the case in detail. Fossil fuel subsidies and institutional privileges for fossil energy industries have to be phased out completely in the next decade.

Many projects on grid interconnectivity seem to serve Maritsa East Energy Complex – a doomed coal complex that should not benefit from public funds and projects in order to develop new capacity to export electricity.

The NECP does not provide a specific diagnosis on problems with grid and system integration of renewables, which makes it impossible to prescribe and debate the cure. Bulgaria has to clearly explain where the problem is and develop a plan how overcome it. It is good that the country states it will seek to develop renewables in a cost effective and competitive way mentioning auctioning and grid upgrades, but there is now specific plan how these will be introduced and by when.

All in all, this is a disappointing NECP with no ambition. Hopefully, the European Commission’s response will be determined enough to spur Bulgarian authorities into more action.

*National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs) are the new framework within which EU Member States have to plan, in an integrated manner, their climate and energy objectives, targets, policies and measures to the European Commission.

Countries have to develop NECPs on a ten year rolling basis, with an update halfway through the implementation period. The NECPs covering the first period from 2021 to 2030 will have to ensure that the Union’s 2030 targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions, renewable energy, energy efficiency and electricity interconnection are met. (source: CAN Europe).

All 28 EU members had until 31 December 2018 to hand in their plans to the EU executive to have their efforts audited and checked against the bloc’s new clean energy laws, including energy efficiency and renewable energy uptake.