Bulgarian energy watchdog chiefs step down under pressure

SOFIA Thu Aug 28, 2014 12:10pm EDT

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SOFIA Aug 28 (Reuters) - The head of the Bulgaria's state energy regulator and his deputy resigned under pressure, the economy ministry said, as the government seeks to halt the financial deterioration of the heavily indebted state power sector.

Boyan Boev and Liliya Mladenova decided to leave after talking to Interim Economy and Energy Minister Vasil Shtonov, the ministry said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Shtonov had publicly called for their resignations, blaming them for making poor decisions that contributed to the energy sector's "very poor financial state".

"For a long time now, the decisions that have been taken in the country's energy sector have been inconsistent, and too many mistakes have been made," Interim Prime Minister Georgi Bliznashki told reporters before the resignations were announced, declining to provide details.

Boev and Mladenova could not immediately be reached for comment.

Shtonov said that electricity prices should have been raised gradually over the last 10 years, adding that prices will have to increase by up to 50 percent in the next five or 10 years.

Electricity prices are politically sensitive in the European Union's poorest member since power bills bite off a big chunk of monthly incomes, especially during the winter.

The Socialist-led government, which resigned last month, cut power prices twice after coming to office in May 2013, aiming to avert a repeat of street demonstrations against high power prices which toppled its centre-right predecessor in February 2013.

The Socialists then raised prices by an average of 2 percent from July 1, the first rise approved by the regulator since June 2012, in an effort to keep down costs and huge deficits in the energy sector.

Indebted state-owned power company NEK said it would increase electricity prices by 16 percent from next month for industrial consumers that do not buy energy on the free market.

Two senior officials of the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH), the parent of NEK and other state energy companies, also have been dismissed recently for "not working well", the ministry said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Bulgaria set up an energy board to ensure that badly needed multi-billion euro projects in the poorest European Union state are transparent. (Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; editing by Jane Baird)

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