Bulgaria hikes natural gas price by 30.4%

SOFIA, Jan 1 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's energy regulator said on Saturday it has approved a 30.4% increase of the wholesale natural gas price for this month, following a request by Bulgargaz, the Balkan country's main gas provider and public supplier.

Natural gas prices have soared in Europe in the past year, adding to inflationary pressure and threatening to dent consumer confidence.

The regulator set the January gas price at 133.4 levs ($77.60) per MWh before costs for transport and taxes from 102.3 levs in December.

Bulgargaz said the price for Bulgarian consumers would still be some 35% less than prices at European gas hubs, as the company secures its gas mix under a long-term hybrid contract with Russia's Gazprom and an oil-indexed contract with Azerbaijan's SOCAR.

The energy regulator said the increase is likely to put heating utilities that rely on natural gas under pressure, after parliament froze the prices for electricity and heating until the end of March. read more

It urged the new centrist government to launch its state aid scheme to help the heating utilities cope with the higher gas prices. read more

Bulgaria imports about 3 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas per year, mainly from Russia's Gazprom. Smaller amounts of gas are also imported from Azerbaijan. Bulgargaz said in a separate statement it has enough natural gas in storage to meet increased demand until the end of March.

($1 = 1.7193 leva)

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova.

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