Mining is extremely important and one of the fastest growing industries in Bulgaria over the last few years. The price of electricity generated from coal is relatively low, but it does not take into account environmental costs and costs to society. In 2009, annual health care costs related to air pollution (caused by Bulgarian thermal power plants) amounted to EUR 4.63 billion. Decisions taken by the state in the energy sector are not transparent. Also, public access to information about energy is difficult and sometimes even impossible.
In Bulgaria, the coal sector employs around 13,000 people. There is no information about the exact number of people employed in coal-based energy production, but there is data showing that about 16, 000 people are employed in the production of electricity from various sources.
In 2010, production of lignite reached 29 million tons and helped to produce 36% of the country’s electricity. Recognized lignite deposits amount to about 2.5 billion tons and they are found mainly in the region of Stara Zagora, in the southern part of the country, but also in the western and central part of Bulgaria.
According to Bulgaria’s Ministry of Economy, lignite is almost completely used to produce electricity and heat (97.4%). The rest is consumed for the production of briquettes (1.4%) and other uses (0.7%). Domestic heating consumes only 0.5% of the produced coal.
There is a system of feed-in tariffs for renewable energy in Bulgaria. Unfortunately, public opinion is negative about this system. The Renewable Energy Law was prepared incorrectly. Some groups (including companies) have enriched themselves using extremely high feed-in tariffs. Renewable energy was also blamed for the increase of energy prices. This “corrupt” of the Renewable Energy Law has blocked the development of distributed energy.
Opencast lignite mines and power plants
In Bulgaria, lignite extraction is carried out mainly in opencast mines. Most of these mines belong to the Mini Maritsa Iztok Ead energy company and produce 96.2% of coal. The total area which they occupy is 240 km2. Other lignite producers are: the Beli Breg mines (1.7%), the Stanyantsi mines (1.7%) and the Chukurovo mines (0.5%).
Apart from the fact that Mini Maritsa Iztok Ead has the largest mining area in South-Eastern Europe, it is also the biggest Bulgarian employer. The company owns several power plants. The largest is the Maritsa East 2 power plant (1600 MW) which is located near the town of Radnevo and is the largest thermal power plant in the Balkans. The power plant uses lignite from the Maritsa East Mines JSC. According to the Ministry of Economy and Energy, eight units of this power plant have filters which capture sulfur oxides with an efficiency of more than 94% – thus extending the life of Maritsa East 2 for 25 years.
The second largest thermal power plant in the Balkans is Varna, with an installed capacity of 1 260 MW. Varna has six mono-blocks with a capacity of 210 MW each. The power plant is 100% owned by CEZ (Czech Republic).