SOFIA (Reuters) – Slovenia’s Holding Slovenske Elektrarne (HSE) made the highest bid of 85.1 million euros to buy a 400-megawatt thermal power plant in the Danube River city of Rousse, Bulgaria’s privatization agency said yesterday. It is the Balkan country’s second try to sell the Rousse plant, part of a larger strategy to put state utilities in private hands to boost public services and liberalize the country’s energy market ahead of EU entry next year. HSE outbid French company Dalkia International, a unit of Veolia Environment, which offered 51 million euros for 100 percent of the Rousse plant, and Germany’s E.ON, which bid 29.1 million. A fourth short-listed company, Czech firm CEZ, did not bid. «We will name a winner of the tender next week and we will try to limit the negotiations to a month,» said Todor Nikolov, executive director of Bulgaria’s Privatization Agency. «We hope to sign a deal by the end of this year or early next year.» Nikolov said price was the main criterion for the deal and the agency was happy with the bids. Russia’s Unified Energy System won a first sale tender for Rousse last year with a bid of 178 million euros ($228.2 million), but it later withdrew from the negotiations and analysts said the company had overbid. Bulgaria’s Socialist-led government then scrapped the tender in February because it said the 36 million euros in cash and investment offered by the second bidder, CEZ, was too low. The Rousse plant’s sales increased by 20 percent to 55 million leva ($36.14 million) last year, but it ended the year with a pretax loss of 8.6 million leva. Sofia is also trying to sell a 630-megawatt coal-fired plant at Bobov Dol to Greece’s PPC, but the deal has been fraught with political opposition and legal challenges. The deadline for finalizing that sale expires on December 11.