Bulgaria's day ahead power exchange hits new delay
* Grid says has waited more than 5 months for state approval
* Grid's pull-out will delay start of electricity exchange
SOFIA Oct 14 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's state-owned power grid operator ESO has withdrawn its application to run the country's proposed day-ahead bourse, a move electricity traders said was a surprise and would delay the start of the exchange.
Bulgaria has been planning to launch a day ahead exchange from 2014 to boost transparency and ensure fair wholesale prices in the European Union's poorest country, where electricity costs for households are politically sensitive and state-regulated.
ESO, which operates the energy grid, confirmed on Monday it had withdrawn its application to operate the exchange, saying it had waited more than 5 months to get an approval from the state energy regulator. It declined further comment.
The energy regulator said it had asked for additional information from ESO in order to move forward with its licensing, but instead the company had withdrawn its application without giving any reasons for its decision.
Power traders said the move would hinder plans to get the exchange working from the beginning of 2014 and increase the pressure on struggling power producers to seal short-term deals to compensate for what they were expecting to buy on the bourse.
Any new operator would have to apply to run the exchange and then create a trading platform, something that made it unclear when the bourse might actually be operational, they said.
"I am surprised," one Sofia-based trader said. "The bourse is necessary to decrease risks on the market and boost transparency. Now this process will be put off and power producers will be forced to become much more flexible."
Bulgaria is a net power exporter to other countries in southeastern Europe, mainly Greece and Turkey, due to its nuclear and thermal power capacity.
Its electricity exports have jumped 30 percent since August, when the state energy regulator significantly cut power export fees that traders had long complained about.
A delay of the proposed day ahead market could also hurt the credibility and reliability of the exchange when, and if, it opened, other traders said.
"ESO have been preparing for this for several years," a second trader said. "They have rehearsed the whole thing and were ready to start. The bourse now may fall into hands of an operator who lacks experience and competence." (Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova,; editing by Michael Kahn and James Jukwey)