SOFIA – Bulgaria, now a net power exporter, may have to import electricity as early as 2007 to make up for an expected 26 percent drop in the output of its sole nuclear power plant Kozloduy due to the planned closure of two of its units under pressure from the EU, a Kozloduy official said. Bulgaria, which aims to join the European Union in 2007, bowed to pressure from the group and shut two of the four 440-megawatt Soviet-built reactors in Kozloduy in 2002. The country pledged to close down the other two 440-MW units by the end of 2006 to allay safety concerns voiced by the European Commission. «In my point of view, if units Three and Four are decommissioned on December 30, definitely I will not be surprised if we have to import in the first months of 2007, the winter months,» Kozloduy’s deputy CEO, Ivan Genov, told SeeNews in a recent interview. Kozloduy produced 18.7 million megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity in 2005, or 42 percent of the total power generation of this southeast European state of 7.8 million. «In 2006 our generation will be comparable to 2005, because no significant change in our operations has been made yet,» said Genov. He added that he hoped that the European Parliament could reconsider its earlier vote and allow Kozloduy’s units Three and Four to carry on operating beyond 2006. EU rapporteur for Bulgaria, Geoffrey Van Orden, has urged greater flexibility from the EU regarding the time frame for the closure of the two units, but in December the European Parliament fell two votes short of approving a change in its earlier decision. The European Parliament may change its mind on the time frame for the closure of the two units at its forthcoming session in May or June due to growing concerns about global warming, Europe’s dependence on gas supplies from Russia and rising global oil prices, Kozloduy’s CEO, Ivan Ivanov, said. When the two 440-MW units at Kozloduy are closed, the nuclear power plant will remain with only two reactors of 1,000 MW each. Apart from the planned closure of the two smaller reactors in Kozloduy, Bulgaria is faced with delays in the revamping of its Maritsa East Two coal-fired power plant and the creation of new generation capacities, said Genov. The reconstruction of two units of the Maritsa East complex, which generates some 30 percent of the country’s electricity, has been significantly delayed and the construction of a replacement for its first unit is expected to be completed no earlier than 2008. Bulgaria’s state-owned power export monopoly NETC, which operates the nation’s high-voltage grid, plans to cut exports in 2007 to the minimum level possible in order to meet domestic demand. NETC exported 7.6 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2005 and was the key power exporter in Southeast Europe, helping the region to cover its rising electricity consumption. NETC has planned domestic electricity sales in 2006 at 2 percent above the 26.8-billion-kWh level recorded last year. In 2006, Kozloduy is aiming to strengthen its position in a liberalizing electricity market, because the export monopoly of NETC would expire in 2007. Kozloduy covered 39 percent of the electricity sales quota in the liberalized market set by the state-run energy regulator with 1,010 gigawatt-hours (GWH) sold in 2005. «We have finished contracting energy on the liberalized market for the first half of 2006. It is 850 million kWh of electricity. For the second half we expect the quota to be raised, for sure, above 39 percent,» said Genov. Bulgaria broke NETC’s monopoly on domestic power distribution in September 2004, allowing eligible customers, or big industrial consumers using at least 20,000 MWh per year, and energy traders to negotiate deliveries directly with power plants. Currently six producers, 13 eligible customers, three traders, and NETC operate in the market. Kozloduy has contracted direct supplies to eight customers in the first half of 2006, including Lukoil Neftochim oil refinery, Stomana Industry steel mill, the Chelopech copper and gold mine and the chemical company Polimeri.