Bulgaria announced plans for 1.6 GW pumped hydro storage projects

Bulgaria has announced plans to construct new pumped hydro storage (PHS) plants with a combined installed capacity of 1.6 MW. Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov and Energy Minister Rumen Radev made this announcement during a debate on a vote of no confidence in the government’s energy policy.

These two facilities, each with a capacity of 800 MW, will be located underground at the “Dospat” and “Batak” dams, which are part of the hydro systems managed by the state-owned “National Electric Company.” The target date for their operation is 2032, pending pre-project studies, economic efficiency assessments, and construction cost evaluations.

Currently, the “National Electric Company” (NEK) operates three PHS facilities, which include underground, above-ground, and dam wall-located facilities. Among these, the underground “Chaira” boasts the highest capacity with a design generator capacity of 864 MW and a pumping capacity of 788 MW, making it the largest hydroelectric storage battery in Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, all four of its hydro units are currently non-operational due to a serious accident that occurred during tests after rehabilitation in March 2022. The repair process has been delayed, and significant costs are expected in the coming year.

NEK Director Martin Georgiev described the situation at Chaira PHS as critical, as the accident has been severe. He anticipates that working units of the facility may be restored in the fourth quarter of the following year. NEK’s initial plans to increase the capacity of “Chaira” to 1,000 MW by constructing a new dam, “Yadenitsa,” remain as projects without secured financing.

The above-ground PHS, “Belmeken,” has a generating capacity of 373 MW, and its hydro units are also undergoing rehabilitation. PHS “Orpheus,” with a capacity of nearly 165 MW, is located beneath the “Vacha” dam wall and forms part of the “Dospat-Vacha” hydrocascade. This cascade includes the “Dospat” dam, where one of the new PHS facilities will be situated. The “Batak” dam is part of the “Batashki hydroelectric road” hydrocascade.

The financial sources for all these projects remain unclear, as the “National Electric Company,” despite reporting significant profits last year, still carries an accumulated deficit of approximately BGN 2.5 billion. This deficit is attributed to the energy regulator’s suppression of electricity prices for households.

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