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Air pollution in TPP Maritsa 3 could lead to shutdown of all coal plants in Bulgaria

Bulgaria halts TPP Maritsa 3 over air pollution

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Published

September 16, 2022

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Published:

September 16, 2022

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Due to breaches of air quality rules, the operation of the Maritsa 3 coal-fired power plant has been suspended. It will remain closed until it meets the norms and standards, the government said. It made the move at a critical time – Bulgaria could close all coal-fired power plants in the country for exceeding EU standards.

Officials temporarily shut down thermal power plant (TPP) Maritsa 3 in Dimitrovgrad due to violations of air pollution norms for sulfur dioxide. Minister of Environment and Water Rositsa Karamfilova and Minister of Energy Rosen Hristov announced the urgent move.

The automatic measuring station in Dimitrovgrad has recorded breaches of SO2 levels eight times in less than 12 hours.

“If the colleagues there fail to cope with the task, the plant will have to remain closed. They are closed to find a way to work within the norms, and if they do not find it, they should remain closed,” Hristov said.

Despite massive air pollution with SO2 from the lignite-fired Maritsa 3 plant, the population of Dimitrovgrad will not be evacuated, officials stressed at the briefing.

Bulgarian coal region

TPP Maritsa 3 is located in the Stara Zagora area in southern Bulgaria. It is part of Maritsa Iztok, the largest energy complex in Southeastern Europe. It consists of three lignite-fired thermal power plants (TPP Brikel which is the successor of TPP Maritsa Iztok 1, state-owned TPP Maritsa Iztok 2, and the currently inactive TPP Maritsa 3).

TPP Brikel is another coal plant in the area that recently received a closure order. Very high exceedings of SO2 limits were recorded, but the facility then remained in operation due to a court ruling.

Daily inspections are running in TPP Brikel and other coal plants in the country, Karamfilova said at the briefing.

Critical Moment for coal plants

The moment is critical as Bulgaria is the target of two lawsuits for air pollution. Decisive steps are needed, the environment minister stressed.

One case relates to a breach of standards for SO2, and the other for particulate matter (PM) pollution, Karamfilova noted.

In May, the European Union Court of Justice found Bulgaria guilty of systematically exceeding the permitted SO2 levels between 2007 and 2018.

“None of us wants to close the plants, but there are complex permits that define the conditions under which each of them must work,” Karamfilova noted.

Coal-fired power plants in Bulgaria operate under the European Commission’s derogation. Within this derogation, the country has limited numbers of exceedances of the norms that can be committed.

There is a possibility that the derogation could be revoked for the SO2 standards in the entire Maritsa Iztok coal basin.

“We are currently at 23 average violations per hour. With two more violations, this derogation will be lifted, which would lead to the closure of all coal-fired power plants in the country,” Hristov said.

He points out that thermal power plants in the Bulgarian lignite basin have a capacity of over 3,000 MW and are crucial for its energy system and the entire region.

The operation of all coal plants is at risk, and the country could lose 30% of its electricity production

This is not just another closure of the coal plant that can be appealed and reopened. The operation of all coal plants is at risk, and the country could lose 30% of its electricity production, warned the energy minister.

Coal boom

It is worth mentioning that Bulgaria’s state-owned coal-fired TPP Maritsa Iztok 2 tripled production in the first half of 2022, while revenues increased ninefold.

The company’s net profit in the first six months of 2022 amounted to EUR 173.1 million, Capital.bg reported

State-owned Maritsa 2 operated until the beginning of the energy crisis with only 20% of capacity because of high costs. The latest data shows that it sold more than 4.3 TWh in the first six months of 2022.

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