Bulgaria again extends deadline for power plant sale

SOFIA – Bulgaria’s privatization agency has for the third time in two months delayed a deadline to conclude the sale of two coal-fired power plants to Russia’s Unified Energy System (UES), it said in a statement. «The privatization agency extended, by another 30 days, the deadline for signing the contracts of the sale of up to 100 percent of the thermal power plants Varna and Rousse to Russia’s UES,» the agency said. It said it had extended the original August 19 deadline to resolve outstanding questions. The Russian company has offered a total 757 million euros ($930 million) for the plants, but the deals have bogged down for a number of reasons. The two sides have hit stumbling blocks concerning regulatory issues and power purchasing agreements, and in July Bulgaria’s competition office said UES could buy only one, but not both, of the generators. UES vastly outbid other competitors in the original sale tender, offering 578.8 million euros and 178.2 million in cash and investments, respectively, for the Varna and Rousse plants. But the sales have been fraught with difficulties, which was illustrated in June when the ousted government of ex-king Simeon Saxe-Coburg canceled a parallel deal in which Greece’s PPC bid 105.3 million euros for a third plant, Bobov Dol. UES has yet to say whether it will appeal against the anti-monopoly watchdog’s decision that it can buy only one of the plants. Originally, the tender rules stated that a bidder could buy more than one. If it chooses not to pursue both, Bulgaria can either launch talks to sell the other plant to Czech utility CEZ, which offered the second-highest bids for both of the generators in the sale, or it can cancel the deal. Bulgaria is selling the 1,260 megawatt Varna, 400 megawatt Rousse, and 630 megawatt Bobov Dol plants to maintain its competitiveness as the country prepares to join the EU and its liberalized energy market in 2007.