In what is hardly a surprise development, the prolonged sub-zero winter weather in Bulgaria in January has resulted in high electricity bills for household consumers.
In the capital city Sofia, energy distribution company CEZ said on February 8 that electricity bills for January were between 23 and 70 per cent higher than those for December.
This statement came on a day when large parts of the city had no central heating or hot water because of a breakdown. For parts of the city, this was the fourth day without hot water or heating.
High electricity bills have a sensitive place in recent Bulgarian history. In 2013, they were used as a catalyst for anti-government protests and as a vehicle for campaigning by nationalists and populists to expel the foreign-owned energy distribution companies from the country.
In Plovdiv on February 8, a protest was planned against the energy distribution company in that region, EVN. In symbolism reminiscent of the 2013 protests, participants on a Facebook page about the protest likened the Austrian-owned company to Hitler and portrayed it as a colonial regime.
Bulgaria’s energy system was heavily burdened by the lengthy below-freezing temperatures and mammoth snowfalls in January, leading to a mid-month suspension of electricity exports, now being lifted as of February 9.
There was an attempt in mid-January to turn Bulgaria’s energy situation into a political football, as the Bulgarian Socialist Party, then the largest opposition party in the now-dissolved 43rd National Assembly, alleged that the electricity supply was on the verge of collapse. The BSP claimed, among other things, that dams used for hydro-electric power had too low levels and that other power infrastructure was at risk.
Repeatedly, energy ministry officials countered that there was no risk of electricity restrictions.
A caretaker government is now in power, charged with leading the country to early parliamentary elections on March 26.
On February 8, Dimcho Stanev of CEZ’s customer service division told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio that electricity bills in Sofia ranged from 120 to 560 leva (about 61 to 286 euro) for January 2017.
On some days in January, which on average was five degrees Celsius colder than January 2016, electricity demand in western Bulgaria had hit a 20-year high, Stanev said.
On February 7, EVN told a news conference in Plovdiv that 39 per cent of its clients in the Plovdiv region had average bills of just more than 22 leva, including value-added tax. In 43 per cent of cases, the average was just more than 102 leva. About 18 per cent had used more than 1000 kilowatts, with average bills of just more than 263 leva.
Local media in Plovdiv said that residents of the city did not accept these figures, saying that their bills were “double, even triple”.
The third energy distribution company in Bulgaria, Czech-owned Energo-Pro, which covers northern and north-eastern Bulgaria, has made no recent statement on the issue of bills, since a January 18 announcement that it would consider requests from customers to reschedule payments of December 2016 electricity bills, which the company said were about 10 per cent higher than in December 2015.
The January 18 statement by Energo-Pro said that in the first 10 days of 2017, electricity consumption in its area was 6.5 per cent higher than last year.
The statement said that on January 11, power consumption by Energo-Pro customers was 61.7 per cent higher than on January 11 2016.
(Photo: Joe Zlomek/freeimages.com)