Bulgaria intends to diversify its energy resources, including supplying the country’s main refinery in Burgas – the largest in the Balkans – with non-Russian oil. Regional cooperation is emerging as the key to energy security, diversification, and the stability of the Balkan region.
“Two weeks ago, the ministers of energy of Bulgaria and Greece signed a memorandum of understanding for the development of pipeline Burgas-Alexandroupolis. This is a project that started almost twenty years ago but at that time the idea was to transport oil from the Burgas port in Bulgaria to the Greek coastal city of Alexandroupolis. Unfortunately, over the years it was abandoned. There was a lot of the paperwork and research done but the construction didn’t start,” Lyubomira Gancheva, Head of Cabinet of Bulgaria’s Energy Ministry for the country’s caretaker government, told NE Global in an interview on the sidelines of the 8th Balkans Energy Summit on March 1.
“Now with the war in Ukraine and the severe geopolitical situation, this project is a way for Bulgaria, for Greece, for the region to diversify the supply with non-Russian oil and we decided to negotiate the restart of the project but to change the direction. This time the flow will go from Alexandroupolis to Burgas,” she added.
“This project is important for Bulgaria because we have on our territory the largest refinery in the Balkans and it’s working predominantly with Russian oil. Due to our geographical location, we don’t have access to another route and in practice, we cannot diversify so we should establish new routes and this project is good. It’s good for Greece as well because Alexandroupolis is becoming an energy hub,” Gancheva said, adding that the refinery in Burgas produces oil products not only for Bulgaria but also for other countries and it will be of common importance for the region.
Expanding interconnector pipelines across national borders
Turning to the diversification of gas supplies, Gancheva said the Interconnector Greece Bulgaria, more commonly referred to by industry insiders as IGB, which is a continuation of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, or TAP, and TANAP – the Trans Anatolian Pipeline – was launched by Bulgaria’s caretaker government at the beginning of autumn 2022 and it is planned to increase its capacity by 2025 in conjunction with the TAP and TANAP expansion.
“It helped us diversify the sources and the routes of natural gas in Bulgaria because when the Ukraine war started, Bulgaria was the first country that was cut off from Russian gas supplies,” said Gancheva.
She also noted that the crisis helped boost solidarity with neighboring countries and accelerate the construction of infrastructure projects. “I’m very happy that with Greece, with Romania, with other countries in the region, the crisis made us in a way more secure because we worked together. We can see the crisis as a test not only for energy security and the national systems but for the solidarity and the common values – to see them in practice,” she said.
In addition to planning the increase the capacity of the IGB by 2025, Bulgaria has simultaneously started working on the Interconnector from the Bulgarian town of Novi Iskar to Nis in Serbia, as well as supporting work on the liquified natural gas Floating Storage and Regasification Unit in Alexandroupolis.
At present, an extension of Russia’s TurkStream pipeline allows for the transit of Russian gas through Bulgaria. “So, we are making a whole network that’s going to provide as much natural gas of non-Russian origin, not only to our region, but to the rest of Eastern Europe, including Ukraine and Moldova, both of which are suffering,” Gancheva argued.
Bulgaria’s Energy Minister Rosen Hristov launched a gas market test while taking into consideration the demand of all of its neighboring countries for a period of 3-4 years, the current condition of the natural gas transmission system and plans for upgrades. In addition to access to energy sources, it’s important to have affordable prices for households and for the well-being of society, she said.
Pipeline projects will be built for green energy
Gancheva argued that energy transition should not compromise energy security. “We have a straightforward policy, and we have the will to make the green energy transition of Bulgaria for a green energy future and stability, but this should by no means jeopardize the well-being of the society or the economy,” she said, calling for a step-by-step approach to greening the economy.
Natural gas is currently a transition fuel, but regional pipelines are designed so that they can also transport green hydrogen in the future.
Diversification of nuclear fuel supply planned
Regarding nuclear energy, Gancheva said Bulgaria’s state-owned nuclear plant Kozloduy signed two agreements for nuclear fuel with French energy company Framatome and American nuclear power company Westinghouse in December “thus we are working on our plans for diversification in the nuclear sector as well.”
Bulgaria, which currently relies solely on Russian nuclear fuel from Rosatom for Units 5 and 6 at the 2,000 MW Russian-designed Kozloduy plant, is seeking to diversify nuclear fuel supplies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On March 13, Hristov and Deputy Minister Elenko Bozhkov held meetings with the management of France’s Framatome and EDF, to discuss, according to Bulgaria’s Energy Minister, the terms for the supply of fresh nuclear fuel and the need for complete transparency and keeping the public informed of all matters concerning the safe and secure operation of the Bulgarian nuclear plant.