SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Bulgaria’s caretaker prime minister said Friday that his country has set the future decarbonization of the economy as a priority in its pandemic recovery plan submitted formally for consideration to the European Commission.
But Prime Minister Stefan Yanev also warned that Bulgaria will try to negotiate for itself a 10-year extension in the European Union target deadline for phasing out coal in electricity production. The Balkan country's power generation system depends on the pollutant fuel, which is extracted locally, and unions fear its elimination would result in huge job losses.
Bulgaria, which has been for months embroiled in a political crisis amid a surge in coronavirus infections, is among the last EU nations to submit the document that would allow it to receive up to 6.6 billion euros ($7.7 billion) in grants.
Bulgaria has been without a regular government and a parliament since May, and and is scheduled to hold the third general election this year on Nov. 14.
Speaking at a forum on green transition, Yanev said Bulgaria’s economy is energy intensive and dependent on coal, which is why a smooth transition to green energy was needed. He said Bulgaria will try to negotiate 2040 as its target deadline to phase out coal for electricity production.
European Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans told the forum that transition in the coal-producing regions would be achieved in a fair manner and promised that no one would be left behind. “What is needed in those regions are better jobs, social and economic development,” said Timmermans.
He did not indicate whether the deadline set by Bulgaria would be acceptable to Brussels. The EU has urged its members to phase out coal-powered electricity by 2030.
But Greenpeace Bulgaria urged the government Friday to stick to the EU schedule.
“The Bulgarian government’s dragged-out coal exit fails to protect its people and allows coaligarchs to continue scooping up millions in taxpayer money, while polluting our air and water," said Greenpeace campaigner Desislava Mikova.
“A just transition in Bulgaria would not only put an end to this, but would help combat the climate emergency, and breathe new life into devastated local environments and communities monopolized by coal,” she added.
On his way to the forum, Timmermans was confronted by protestors with banners reading: “Green deal=Bloody deal” and “Don’t turn off Europe.”
Earlier this week, hundreds of coal miners and energy workers staged a protest in Sofia to demand guarantees for their jobs amid EU-imposed pit closures.
According to union estimates about 100,000 jobs are at risk should the biggest coal mines and energy plants close.
On Friday, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev also stressed the need for a green transition but cautioned that “it must unfold very carefully so that countries like Bulgaria do not lose their competitiveness and do not pay too high a price.”
“We will defend our coal-fired power plants because at the moment they ensure our autonomy and independence ... they provide the mix that Bulgaria needs and has nothing to replace with,” Radev told reporters.
Nearly half the electricity in the country of 7 million is produced by coal power plants, and another 35% from nuclear energy. The rest is covered by hydroelectric, solar and wind generation.
The Associated Press