March 3, 2020 / 12:49 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-Bulgaria agrees deal to cut price of Russian gas imports by 40%

* New gas price to help economic growth, industry

* Bulgargaz plans to reimburse consumers with 150 mln levs

* Bulgaria’s gas diversification push helped the price cut

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* (Adds analyst comment, details)

SOFIA, March 3 (Reuters) - Bulgaria has agreed a 40% cut in the price of gas it imports under its long-term contract with Russia, its dominant gas supplier, Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said on Tuesday.

Bulgaria, which relies on Russian imports for more than 80% of its gas needs, is the last of eight east European countries to agree a price cut after Brussels reached an anti-trust agreement with gas giant Gazprom in 2018.

Borissov told reporters it had been the biggest and will help the Balkan country’s small and open economy. Market analysts said it was good news but long overdue as Bulgaria has been paying almost 50% more for Russian gas compared to its European peers for the past several years.

“This morning Gazprom sent us the signed contract, which has the biggest price cut from all the countries that renegotiated their contracts. We have a 40% decrease,” Borissov said.

Under the deal with Brussels, Gazprom agreed to allow its customers to ask for lower prices when these diverge from benchmarks such as those in Western European gas markets.

The new price will be valid from August last year and Bulgargaz will reimburse its clients, mainly large industrial companies and gas retailers with 150 million levs.

The price cut was achieved after Gazprom agreed to link a significant part of the price to European gas hubs. It partly remains linked to oil prices.

“It took a long time for Sofia to finally face Gazprom on prices,” said Martin Vladimirov with independent think-tank Center for the Study of Democracy.

Bulgaria imports 2.9 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas per year from Russia under a long-term contract valid through 2022.

The negotiations have been long and difficult and were helped by the European Commission, said Nikolai Pavlov, the head of state-owned gas company Bulgargaz.

The price cut was agreed after Sofia imported 0.5 billion bcm of liquefied natural gas (LNG), including from the United States for the first time last year.

Sofia has stepped up building a gas link with neighbouring Greece, through which it plans to import mainly Azeri gas, and agreed to buy a 20% stake in a new LNG terminal in northern Greece.

The substantial price cut also reflected Bulgaria’s willingness to speed up the construction of the extension of Russia’s TurkStream gas pipeline through its territory, industry officials said.

“This is what happens when Bulgaria starts to diversify its gas routes and supplies,” Vladimirov said but added that many risks remained that could keep Bulgaria dependent on Russian gas, especially linked to its commitments to TurkStream.

$1 = 1.7587 leva Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova, editing by Louise Heavens and David Evans

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