Power struggle

2010-08-20

Power cuts at resorts along Bulgaria’s coastline have left the hospitality industry irate and sparked sharp exchanges between the National Electricity Company (NEK) and Austrian-owned electricity distributor EVN, with NEK pledging to invest millions of leva by the end of 2010 to bolster the network at the seaside while EVN has underlined its own extensive investments. The first major power cuts were on July 22 and 23, affecting subscribers both to EVN and E.ON in Biala, Dolen Chiflik and Shkorpilovtsi, and the summer resorts of Sunny Beach, Pomorie, Ravda, Nessebur, Sveti Vlas and Obzor. However, in this case, at least part of the reason could have been sabotage or theft of cables, NEK said. The problem continued with outages as the electricity supply system became over-burdened, aggravated by the scorching heat at the Black Sea in the first fortnight of August. Sveti Vlas, Sunny Beach, Sozopol and nearby campsite Gradina were among places left without electricity for hours. On August 16, Bulgarian National Television (BNT) said that there were continuous complaints from various resorts of power failures that happened with no warning. BNT interviewed Gergana Georgieva, manager of a pharmacy in the town of Chernomorets, who said that vaccines and other medicines could be spoiled. "If the refrigerator stops working for more than half an hour, it’s scary," Georgieva said. Bar owners complained that they could not keep drinks cold. At Sunny Beach and other resorts, agreement was reached for hoteliers to lower power consumption by reducing lighting and air conditioning at certain times, while Golden Sands said that it had no problem with power because it had own electricity supply arrangements, which it had invested a large sum in upgrading in recent years, according to BNT. Mass-circulation daily Trud said that hotel owners along the coast were buying their own power generators. NEK said on August 14 that would invest 35 million leva before the end of 2010 to reinforce the high-voltage network in coastal areas. However, overcoming the power supply problem also would require investments from the electricity distribution companies that operated along the coast, NEK said. Three days later, it released a letter that it had sent to EVN, saying that it was "surprising" that the company was not commenting on why the distributor was "signing contracts with numberless new hotels and taking subscribers’ money since it is aware that the grid in the region does not have the necessary capacity and does not meet technical requirements for new subscribers". Reportedly on the orders of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Simeon Dyankov discussed the situation with Jorg Sollfelner, Regional Manager of EVN Bulgaria. According to an August 16 statement by EVN, the two agreed that the current problems resulted from a lack of investment by the operator of the high-voltage network. "The current problems cannot be solved in a few days, but require detailed analysis and the taking of urgent and concrete steps," the statement said. "The management of EVN Bulgaria has signalled its willingness to engage in future talks with all stakeholders," EVN said. The following day, it issued a further statement, saying that between 2006 and 2009, it had invested more than 77 million leva for repairs and upgrades in the Bourgas district and the 2010 programme included projects worth more than 10 million leva. At the end of 2008, EVN had installed three mobile sub-stations in the region, in Kableshkovo, Kosharitsa and Priseltsi, which were operating at full power. Listing these and other facilities, the company said that the investments were in line with the company’s legal and licensing obligations. "By law the network operator has no right to refuse connection of users and producers of electricity," EVN said.