Bulgaria’s State Energy and Water Regulatory Commission (SEWRC) approved on October 1 electricity price increases of an average 9.79 per cent, effective immediately.
The increases vary among the areas served by the three energy distribution companies.
For the Sofia-headquartered CEZ area, the increase in the price of the daytime rate is close to 9.97 per cent, with an increase in the night rate by 9.84 per cent . For customers of Plovdiv-based EVN, the increase in the daytime tariff is 9.7 per cent and 9.35 per cent in the night-time tariff, while for customers of Varna-headquartered Energo Pro, the daytime tariff increase is 9.8 per cent and the night-time tariff increase is 9.51 per cent.
The increased electricity prices are projected to bring the National Electricity Company (NEC) nearly 200 million leva to cover part of the accumulated deficit in the system.
The commission made the decision on a second day of meeting after failing to do so as scheduled at a sitting on September 30. Both days were accompanied by political protests, with the hot-button issue of electricity price increases coming just a few days before early parliamentary elections on October 5.
Earlier, a commission committee proposed increases, apart from close to 10 per cent for household consumers, of 2.2 per cent for companies on the free market, connected to the electricity distribution network’s medium voltage, and 1.6 per cent for those on high voltage.
The increases come against a background of a series of three decreases in the electricity price in Bulgaria in 2013, following a promise to do so by the now-departed Bulgarian Socialist Party cabinet.
Those decreases were decried by critics that denounced them as driven by populist political considerations and as serving only to exacerbate the profound problems in Bulgaria’s energy market.
Bulgaria’s caretaker Economy and Energy Minister Vassil Shtonov, speaking in a television interview a few hours before the October 1 SEWRC meeting began, said that he was “absolutely sure” that in the past, political pressure had been exerted on the commission.
Shtonov said that the deficits had been clear two years ago, one year ago and in the current year, but in spite of that, the regulator either had kept electricity prices unchanged or reduced them.
The electricity price increases were the subject of protests around the Sofia headquarters of SEWCR by, respectively, the Bulgarian Socialist Party, and two rival far-right ultra-nationalist political groupings, the Patriotic Front coalition and Volen Siderov’s Ataka party.
During the Ataka protest, eggs were thrown at the commission building, echoing an incident last week in which an individual associated with the February 2013 anti-government protests on the theme of electricity prices threw eggs at commission chairperson Svetla Todorova.
Also demonstrating against the price increase proposals on September 30 were people from the February 2013 protests.
The increases have been rejected by various left-wing and populist parties, who claim that the increases are uncalled-for and in fact the price of electricity could be reduced.
Separately, industrial users also have spoken out against the electricity price increases, saying that they will make them uncompetitive.
The September 30 decision is the second price increase in 2014.
On June 30 2014, SEWRC said that it approved higher prices for end-users starting July 1, despite previously having announced plans for a small price cut.
That was the first price hike ordered by the regulator since the 13 per cent increase approved in June 2012.
In 2013, the regulator cut prices on three occasions, wiping out most of the earlier price increase, but those moves led to state electricity utility NEK amassing large debts that now had to be compensated, the SEWRC head at the time, Boyan Boev, said.
On December 30 2013, SEWRC decided to reduce electricity prices starting January 1 2014
A one per cent reduction was made to household daytime tariffs; while the night-time rate was cut by 10 per cent. Electricity prices for industrial consumers were reduced by 1.5 per cent.
To fund the price cuts, the regulator said at the time that it would reduce the margin of “technological losses” afforded to the three private electricity distribution companies (owned by Czech CEZ and Energo-Pro, as well as Austria’s EVN – all of them having opposed that latest price cut) from 12 per cent to 10 per cent.
On July 30 2013, SEWRC said that it had approved the electricity price cuts as of August 1 2013.
Those price cuts averaged between 4.2 per cent and 4.9 per cent for daytime tariffs, depending on the geographic location of end-customers. Night-time tariffs were cut by between 3.4 per cent and 6.8 per cent.
On March 5 2013, SEWRC said that it approved electricity price cuts that took effect immediately. The price cuts averaged between 6.2 per cent and 7.3 per cent, depending on the geographic location of customers.
The March price cut was preceded by February public protests mobilised around electricity prices and directed against Boiko Borissov’s centre-right GERB government, which stepped down after an incident in violence in Sofia when protesters and police clashed.
In June 2012, electricity prices in Bulgaria were increased by 13 per cent, rather than 10 per cent as had been previously announced, starting July 1 2012, the head of Bulgaria’s utilities regulator at the time, Angel Semerdjiev, said on June 29.
(Photo: Petr Kovar/freeimages.com)