Bulgaria continues to lack revenue due to persistent delays in completing the gas interconnection with Greece, Energy Minister Alexander Nikolov told parliament on Thursday (January 6th).
A Greek company is building the IGB interconnector (also known as Stara Zagora-Komotini or ICGB).
Due to the delays, Bulgaria is losing € 750,000 per day, with the lost profits for Sofia for the last year amounting to more than € 250 million, Nikolov said at a parliamentary hearing.
For more than a decade, businesses and politicians in Sofia and Athens have made optimistic statements about the ICGB interconnection, but construction is still not complete.
The interconnection is crucial for Bulgaria because its realization would break for the first time the Russian gas monopoly on the Bulgarian market. The IGB will be linked to the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), carrying Azerbaijani gas from Greece to Italy.
After numerous delays, construction of the 182 km long pipeline began in May 2019 and according to the contract should have been completed by the end of 2021.
Bulgaria will continue to lose even more income due to endless construction, warned Nikolov. Bulgaria has a contract with Azerbaijan to import one billion cubic meters of gas per year (bcm / year), which represents about a third of its consumption.
Currently, Azeri gas is much cheaper than the gas that Bulgaria imports from Russia, and failure to bring in Azeri gas represents a loss of income for Sofia.
At the end of last year, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told his Bulgarian colleague Rumen Radev that Baku was ready to export larger quantities of gas to Bulgaria than the agreed supplies of 1 billion m3 / year in the framework of the current contract.
However, Bulgaria cannot avail itself of this chance because the pipeline is not completed. Small quantities of Azeri gas have been imported via existing links, the capacity of which is limited.
The construction of the gas connection is carried out mainly by the Greek company Avax. The company requested a further extension of the deadline for commissioning the interconnector, but the Bulgarian authorities refused. There is a risk that the new target date for commissioning the gas connection, July 1, 2022, will not be met.
Bulgaria insists that this target date is not negotiable. “The aim is for the gas interconnector with Greece to be put into operation by July 1, so that it is ready for the next heating season and Bulgaria receives all natural gas as part of the the agreement with Azerbaijan, “Nikolov told MPs.
He suggested that a new builder could be sought to complete the pipeline. According to the construction contract, the company owes € 90,000 per day in penalties as of January 1 of this year. This money has not yet been paid, but it cannot compensate for the losses anyway.
The opposition nationalist party Vazrazhdane, which is represented in parliament, accused Greece of deliberately delaying the launch of the interconnector.
Representatives of the four political forces of the ruling coalition did not go so far but blamed Boyko Borisov’s three successive governments for the considerable delay in construction. It was recalled that the continuation of the “Turkish Stream” through Bulgaria, which benefits Russia, was built in just one year and that this pipeline was a priority for Borissov.
On December 20, Bulgarian and Greek Prime Ministers Kiril Petkov and Kyriakos Mitsotakis issued a joint statement that the ICBG would be completed within months. They noted that the gas interconnection is vital for both parties. Mitsotakis said Athens and Sofia would begin “a new phase” in their cooperation on this occasion.
However, at the beginning of December, the interconnection was only 70% built and the delay on the Greek side would have been even greater. Not all piping has been laid along the route, and no testing or overhaul has been done.
The aim of the construction of the interconnector is to connect the Bulgarian gas transmission network to the Greek network, which would also allow gas to be imported from the country’s LNG terminals. The interconnection with Greece is considered by the European institutions and the United States to be crucial for Bulgaria’s energy security.
(Edited by Georgi Gotev)