Bulgarian energy firm boost

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria will consolidate the biggest state-owned energy companies into a holding company to strengthen its position on the European market, Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev said on Sunday. The government will link Bulgaria’s dominant power utility NEK, its dominant gas company Bulgargaz, its largest coal mines Maritsa East, the country’s largest thermal power plant Maritsa East Two, as well as its sole nuclear power plant Kozloduy. «The government has decided to set up a Bulgarian energy holding,» Stanishev told reporters. «There is a wave of consolidation of the energy sector in the European Union and for Bulgaria to stay competitive, such a consolidation is necessary.» The holding should be operational by the end of the year, he said. Its assets will be -4 billion, and the expected annual revenue -1.8 billion. The new joint holding company will allow the Balkan state to invest in the neighboring countries and help building and financing of the planned -4-billion, 2,000-megawatt new nuclear power plant at Belene, Stanishev said. Sofia’s move to lump the state energy majors together could come at odds with a European Commission plan for breaking up Europe’s big gas and electricity companies to open markets for more competition. Bulgaria, along with seven other EU countries, supports an alternative proposal that offers full functional separation of supply activities from network operations but without splitting ownership of utilities’ infrastructure. The Commission’s energy chief has said he hoped for an agreement in June.