Bulgarian PV industry protests limits on renewable energy production [UPDATED]

Bulgaria’s photovoltaic industry is up in arms after being continually forced to limit power generation by the country’s utility companies.

The situation has led the Bulgarian Photovoltaic Association (BPVA) to file official complaints about the practice to the prosecutor general as well as the country’s president and prime minister.

On June 10, electricity distribution company CEZ Distribution Bulgaria limited the maximum power generation of all PV and wind plants on the territory it services by 40%. The plants were ordered to limit their power production from 10 am to 5 pm.

CEZ operates in western Bulgaria and covers an area of 40,000 square kilometers, including the capital city Sofia.

According to the BPVA’s Desislava Lesova, EVN Bulgaria and Energo-Pro Bulgaria, the other two Bulgarian electricity distribution companies, as well as the transmission company also limited the production of PV and wind plants on the day.

The Bulgarian Electricity System Operator (ESO), which operates Bulgaria’s electric power system and oversees the country¬ís energy market, ordered the move, according to CEZ. Bulgaria’s ESO says the action was necessary due to an imbalance between the production and consumption of electricity.

Previous limitations on PV production

Imposing restrictions on the generation of renewable power plants in Bulgaria is not new. The Bulgarian ESO imposed similar restrictions on the production of energy by PV plants and wind farms earlier this year. According to the BPVA, until June 13, there had been 20 days of limitations.

Lesova told pv magazine that "the suspension of the renewable energy system (RES) power plants started on April 4. EVN and Energo-Pro gradually started disconnecting 40% of the RES power plants, installed in their territory. CEZ cut off all of the PV and wind power plants on the territory of districts of Sofia, Pernik, Kyustendil and Montana. The same procedure was applied on April 6."

Lesova added that on April 13 and 14, between 11 am and 5 pm, "as a result of ESO’s operational order, EVN and Energo-Pro limited by 40% the maximum operating capacity of the electricity produced from PV and wind power plants, and CEZ limited by 40% all of the power plants installed in the territory of district Blagoevgrad."

The difference, Lesova said, is that on April 4 and 6, "ESO ordered a limitation by 40% of the electricity produced from all energy sources in the country, including PV and wind power plants, nuclear, thermal and factory plants with a combined production cycle." However, on April 13 and 14, "ESO’s order referred solely to PV and wind power plants and no other electricity power plants were subject of that order," Lesova added.

ESO’s practice

In defending its decision, the Bulgarian ESO said that Bulgaria’s electricity exports in the first quarter of 2013 had decreased by 22.5% year-on-year, while domestic consumption of electricity had fallen by more than 13%.

Lesova said the imbalance between production and consumption of electricity in the country "came as a result of the ongoing and by that time intensive snowmelt and rainfall, which caused overflow of the dams, which in turn imposed a higher productivity of hydro power plants. These factors, combined with a sharp decrease in the industrial electricity consumption and a lack of export, put the energy system in the country at risk and caused the reduction of the electricity production."

However, Lesova argued, "it is impossible for RES producers with power plants with an installed capacity of some kW to some MW to influence the balance in the energy system in the country."

The Bulgarian legislation allows ESO to take power production limitation measures if special circumstances occur. Until mid-June though, "the ESO has not issued any written document, proving that none of the circumstances specified in the law circumstances were present by the time of the suspensions," Lesova told pv magazine.

Furthermore, she pointed out that EU legislation, directly applicable to Bulgaria, gives RES plants the privilege of priority dispatch. "The actions of the ESO are in direct contradiction with the provisions of EU regulations."

In view of the alleged violation of the law by the limitation and suspension of the RES power plants, the BPVA has filed complaints to the prosecutor general, the president, the prime minister, the deputy prime minister, the minister of economic, energy and tourism, the chairwoman of the state energy and water regulatory commission, ESO, EVN, CEZ and ENERGO-PRO, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, Sofia news agency Novinite reported that Bulgarian renewable electricity producers have requested a meeting with the minister of economy and energy to present their side of the story and discuss what they described as questionable tactics by ESO.

European Commission and World Bank foresee grid power overload and declining electricity consumption

A recent report by the European Commission confirmed Bulgaria’s grid power overload and predicted Bulgarian electricity consumption would decrease in the next 10 years due to population decline.

The Commission has advised a reexamination of power plants conditions and closure of plants that are least efficient and most damaging to the environment. It has also recommended measures to facilitate market liberalization, increase transparency, establish the independence of the price regulatory commission and increase power exports.

A similar report by the World Bank says that current power plants will be in excess even in 2030. The World Bank report has also blamed the lack of transparency in the management of state-owned companies and an insufficiently independent regulator to control the entire energy system.

Both the European Commission and the World Bank have called for more support for low-income households that are unable to cope with energy costs and have proposed further financial assistance and funding for heating assistance programs. The World Bank report states that 61% of Bulgarian households cannot afford energy and that only 12% benefited from social assistance to cover heating costs.

High energy costs were among the issues that led to the street protests in early 2013 that toppled the former government on Feb. 20, leading to early elections on May 12.

The Bulgarian Commission for Protection of Competition, the country’s antitrust authority, submitted in June to the Bulgarian parliament a series of amendments to the Bulgarian Energy Act to tackle the "dictatorship of the energy monopolies" and protect electricity consumers.