SOFIA (Reuters) – Italian utility Enel may expand its generation capacity in Bulgaria with a 500-million-euro, 900-megawatt project at the Maritsa East Three lignite coal complex, its chief executive told the Bulgarian daily Trud yesterday. Enel got the green light last month to acquire a majority in the Balkan state’s third-largest thermal power plant at Maritsa East Three, where it is conducting a 600-million-euro environmental upgrade project. CEO Fulvio Conti said the company was now looking to more than double the existing 840 MW of generation capacity at the plant. «Now we are discussing the possibility of widening Maritsa East Three with new capacity. We are talking about 900 MW we want to build and operate,» Conti was quoted as saying. «Preliminary calculations show the investment would be no less than 500 million euros… Apart from that we are continuing the rehabilitation of the existing units.» A spokeswoman for Enel in Bulgaria verified the comments. Bulgaria is courting power majors like Enel, US AES and Czech CEZ to invest in new capacity and remain the region’s leading power exporter as it closes Soviet-era nuclear reactors ahead of planned 2007 EU entry. Enel currently owns 44 percent in the Maritsa plant and has an option to acquire another 29 percent held by its joint-venture partner, the US based utility Entergy. Bulgaria’s anti-monopoly watchdog gave the go-ahead for Enel to execute the option in May. Analysts have valued the deal at around 100 million euros. «It is expected that the deal to buy Entergy’s share will be finalized in the next few days,» the spokeswoman said. The remaining 27 percent in Maritsa East Three is owned by Bulgaria’s dominant, state-owned power utility NETC. Enel’s Conti also reiterated the company’s interest in participating in other power projects in Bulgaria, including the construction of the 4.2-billion-euro Belene nuclear power plant and gas pipelines from the Caspian Sea and Middle East to Southeast Europe.