Bulgaria rolls back plans to phase out coal amid fears over energy and job security

Miners and utility workers protest against EU commitments to phase out coal and cut energy sector greenhouse gas emissions, in Sofia, Bulgaria, 12 January 2023.
Miners and utility workers protest against EU commitments to phase out coal and cut energy sector greenhouse gas emissions, in Sofia, Bulgaria, 12 January 2023.   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Spasiyana Sergieva
By Euronews Green  with Reuters

Bulgaria's lawmakers have voted to roll back plans to decarbonise the country's energy sector.

The move came on Thursday after as more than 1,500 miners and utility workers demonstrated in front of the parliament in support of the coal industry. They were protesting against plans for an early phase-out of coal-fired power plants.

In a 187-11 vote, lawmakers across the political spectrum agreed that the interim government should backtrack from its EU commitment to cut energy sector greenhouse gas emissions.

The target was to lower emissions by 40 per cent from 2019 levels by the end of 2025. That would prompt the early closure of some of the coal-fired plants, lawmakers said, adding the power generators need to be fully operational until 2038.

Why does Bulgaria want to retain its coal plants?

Bulgaria's coal-fired power plants produce over 45 per cent of the country's electricity

"These thermal power plants are giving us energy independence and security. We need to save them," former energy minister Temenuzhka Petkova told the chamber.

In April 2022, the country committed to decarbonising its energy sector, phasing out coal and increasing its renewable energy output as part of its plan to tap over €6 billion in European Union recovery and resilience funds.

Faced with the prospect of new elections and high energy costs following the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia, lawmakers were eager to appease voters. They agreed the climate objectives should be re-negotiated to protect the small and open economy, even if it meant losing some of the EU aid.

Bulgaria, a leading electricity exporter in southeastern Europe, has used the profits from its mainly state-owned energy producers to shield businesses and consumers from surging power costs.

Outside the parliament building, demonstrators urged lawmakers to protect the mines and power plants at the Maritsa East lignite coal complex in southern Bulgaria, which provide jobs to over 10,000 people.

Environmental group Greenpeace has been urging Bulgaria to focus on renewable energy and providing new jobs in the coal regions rather than keeping the polluting plants.