SOFIA Bulgaria will seek an exemption from European Commission plans to introduce more pollution curbs on big thermal power plants, saying they would pose risks to the country's energy security and economic competitiveness.
Bulgaria's big coal-fired plants produce about 40 percent of the country's electricity.
A special commission of EU member states is expected to approve higher curbs on sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions at the end of April and introduce limits on mercury emissions from combustion plants with thermal input of over 50 megawatts.
"The planned levels ... will be unbearable for Bulgaria's coal-fired plants," the energy ministry said in a statement on Monday. "Initial calculations show that an investment of over 1 billion levs ($556 million) in total will be needed to meet the new environmental norms."
The ministry said it would seek meetings with EU environmental and energy commissioners and demand lower levels on polluting emissions for the Balkan country than those planned for other member states.
The country's big coal-fired plants are located in the Maritsa East lignite coal mining complex in southern Bulgaria where the coal deposits are rich in sulphur.
The ministry said the new curbs would pose a risk to the security of energy supplies and hit the competitiveness of Bulgaria's small economy.
Environmentalists say Bulgaria needs to focus on developing a low carbon economy and improving air quality rather than seeking to extend the life of heavily polluting plants.
($1 = 1.7970 leva)
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Susan Fenton)