Bulgaria to spend over $867 mln to offset high energy costs

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SOFIA, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's government approved on Wednesday a four-month scheme to provide more than 1.5 billion levs ($867 million) to help businesses cope with soaring energy prices during the winter months, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said on Wednesday.

The centrist coalition government, which took office this month, said the plan aims to cushion industry and business from the impact of high electricity prices and protect heating utilities from high natural gas costs from December until the end of March.

"The electricity prices have hit new record highs. We will provide support of over 1.5 billion levs in the next months," Petkov told reporters after a government meeting.

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Europe's wholesale power benchmark jumped above 300 euros a megawatt hour (MWh) for the first time on Tuesday, driven by concerns about winter gas availability for power stations and low renewable and nuclear output.

The average electricity price on the Bulgaria power bourse's day-ahead platform eased to 667 levs per MWh on Wednesday from a record high 824 levs per MWh on Tuesday.

The relief measures are pending approval from the European Commission. They will be financed by the country's fund for energy security, state energy producers' profits and this year's outperforming state budget revenue.

The Balkan country has compensated businesses in part for high electricity bills in October and November.

The new measures will include compensation to power distribution companies and heating utilities to try to avoid a spike in the regulated energy prices for households, once a freeze on them expires at the end of March. read more

($1 = 1.7306 leva)

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Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova, editing by Ed Osmond and Barbara Lewis

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