SOFIA Feb 22 Czech utility CEZ will
defend its power distribution licences in Bulgaria by all legal
means, it said on Friday, adding public outrage against high
utility bills could only be eased by fully liberalising the
Bulgaria's energy regulator this month launched a process to
strip CEZ of its licences in the Balkan country, saying it had
evaded public procurement law among other malpractices.
The move followed protests by thousands of Bulgarians
against high utility bills that forced the centre-right
government to resign.
"The launch of the process to revoke our licences is
inexplicable to us and we will do everything possible to prove
that there are no grounds for such a move," CEZ Bulgaria
regional manager Petr Dokladal said in a statement.
"We have always worked in line with the laws and regulations
and will continue to do so," he said.
In the last two weeks, tens of thousands of people have
demonstrated across Bulgaria, the European Union's poorest
country, and demanded the government renationalise power
distributors CEZ, Czech firm Energo-Pro and Austria's
Czech diplomats and politicians on Thursday called on EU
partners to stop Bulgaria from stripping majority state-owned
CEZ of its licences.
The Bulgarian regulator has given CEZ a week to comment on
the process, and indicated there was room for compromise if the
company could prove the malpractices could be repaired. It will
not rule on the licences before April 16.
CEZ has denied any wrongdoing and said a fully liberalised
energy market, with a chance for consumers to freely and easily
choose power providers, was the only way to ensure transparency
and better conditions for customers.
Bulgaria has regulated the electricity prices for households
since the fall of communism, keeping them below market levels in
attempt to prevent the type of public demonstrations that have
now toppled the rightist government of Boiko Borisov.
Bulgaria still has one of the lowest electricity prices for
households in the 27-member EU despite a 13-percent increase in
prices last July.
But with average monthly salaries of just 400 euros and
pensions around 100 euros, electricity costs - especially during
the winter - have proved unbearable for many in the country.
As well as pressure from regulators, utilities like CEZ are
being squeezed by high fuel costs.
(Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Mark Potter)