1. Bulgaria’s lignite reserves and share in the power system

The geological reserves of coal in the Bulgarian operating mining enterprises are estimated to 3 billion tons. Lignites constitute 88.7%, brown coal – 10,9% and black coal – 0.4%. About 96% of the extracted lignites are burnt in TPPs, 3,2% are used for briquettes and 0.8% for other purposes. (Annual of the University of Mining & Geology, 2009)

According to the National Statistical Institute, in 2017 coal production in Bulgaria amounted to 34.4 million tons. The lignite coal are prevailing in the coal production structure – more than 90%. The main producer of lignites is Maritsa East Mines EAD with a share of 94.8%.The other producers are “Beli breg” mines (2.6%) and “Stanyantsi” mine (2.6%).

The geological research in the basin of Maritsa East began in 1948 and the total reserves and resources were estimated at more than 2.9 billion tons of coal. The complex Maritsa East was built in 1952 on the territories of four regions – Stara Zagora, Haskovo, Yambol and Sliven, covering an area of 240 sq.m.


2. Geographical and population characteristics of the Southeast Bulgaria region

The Southeast Region (NUTS 2) covers the administrative regions of Burgas, Sliven, Stara Zagora and Yambol, including 33 municipalities. To the north it borders central and eastern parts of the Balkan mountains, to the east – Black Sea, to the south its border coincides with the state border with Turkey (Strandzha and Sakar mountains). Other bigger geographical formations on the territory of the region are the Upper Thracian valley, part of the Sub- Balkan valleys, Burgas valley and Sarnena planina.

The Southeast region covers a total area of 19 799 sq.km, which constitutes 17.8% of thecountry’s territory. The agricultural land occupies 57%, forests – 35%, urbanized territories –4%. As of the end of 2016, the population of the region was estimated to 1 046 125 people, which was 15% of the total for the country. 39% of the population lives in the Burgas region, 31% – Stara Zagora, Sliven and Yambol – 18% and 12% respectively. The density of the population is 53.2 persons/sq.km, which is much lower than the country’s average (64.3). According to its demographic development and population structure, the region takes a relatively favourable position in comparison to the other regions. Urban population is 71.33%.

According to the GDP per capita at current prices indicator, Southeast region takes the second place with 11 623 BGN in 2016. The average for the country is 13 206 BGN. The region contributes 12% to the GDP in the country. The economic sector with highest contribution to the GDP is the services sector (51%), followed by industry (43%) and agriculture (5.8%). The unemployment rate for 2016 was 7.9%, which was one of the lowest compared to the other regions.


3. Description of Maritsa East Mines EAD

Maritsa East is the largest energy complex in Bulgaria. Built 66 years ago on a site with significant lignite deposits, the complex includes “Mini Maritsa Iztok” EAD consisting of three branches – Troyanovo 1, Troyanovo 3 and Troyanovo-North open mines, and four thermal power plants – the state-owned “TPP Maritsa East 2” EAD (1620 MW) and the privately-owned “ContourGlobal Maritsa East 3” (908 MW), “TPP AES Galabovo” (686 MW) and“Brikel” EAD (200 MW) – total capacity of 3414 MW. As of 1st January 2018, the lignite deposits in the East Maritsa basin amounted to 1 932 758 000 t, their average ash content being 31,93%. The coal of Maritsa East is classified as of low quality (1400 – 1500 kCal/kg).

The employees of Maritsa East coal mines encompass 7250 engineers, technicians, workers and administrative staff. Their social interests are protected by two trade unions. The personnel of the power plants burning coal from Maritsa East mines amounts to about 3900, or total of 11 150 persons are engaged in Maritza East region. There are several times more engaged workers in the connected with coal industry activities.

Regardless of the low flexibility of the facilities, the Maritsa East plants participate in the primary and to some extent in the secondary and tertiary control of frequency. In addition, they have the ability to maintain a significant cold reserve.

All TPPs are equipped with desulphurization installations. While in the 3 larger TPPs these have efficiency of 96% – 98%, in TPP Brikel the installation is different and operates at lower efficiency and stability. The plants dispose of warehouses for about 1 500 000 tons of coal total. The raw gypsum from the sulfur-purifying installations is processed in building materials by cement plants.

The coal cinders of TPP Maritsa East 2 and Contour Global Maritsa East 3 are mixed with the excavated opencast masses of the 1:3 ratio and is posed in the embankments, for which complex permits have been issued by the Ministry of Environment and Waters. Slag, ash and gypsum waste from AES Galabovo and Brikel are deposited in their own facilities. Emissions of nitrogen oxides of all three plants correspond to the European standards. The slug dump of TPP Brikel is open and wind carries ashes to settlements. To reduce these amounts, water is constantly poured onto the dump, but this solution is not reliable. Several years ago the Government decided to close this TPP, but protests organized by the owner and labor unions, made the Government postpone that decision.

The power generation from the four plants varies from 14 000 to 16 500 GWh, which is about 42% of the domestic gross electricity consumption. Over the years, the technology of burning of Maritsa East lignite has been upgraded and it now corresponds to the recommended best technologies for large combustion plants (LCP BREF): pre-crushing coal – grinding – vortex-tangential incineration scheme – staged combustion air supply – flue gas scrubbing by wet limestone desulphurization – drying of gypsum – deposition by mixing with ash and slag or utilization in construction.

For the production of spare parts, repair services, construction and assembly works, transportation of people and cargo, collection of humus and recultivation of the areas in internal and external embankments, supply of food, work clothes, protective equipment and other services, Maritsa East uses companies from the region and the whole country. Two plants for the production of non-standard equipment and repair work were built together with the mining and energy complex, mainly for the machines and facilities of the mines and TPPs.


4. Stakeholders interested for the transition of WMR to a post-lignite era

The Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Environment and Waters, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works and their executive agencies are the state institutions that have direct interest in the future development of the Bulgarian coal mines and of the respective regions. It should be noted that Maritsa East Mines are a property of the State and are subordinated to it.

The municipalities in the region (especially Stara Zagora), are mostly concerned by the transition, as coal mines and power plants constitute the basis of their economic development. Another group of highly interested stakeholders are the investors, who areinvolved in the improvement of power plants’ efficiency and in the upgrading of coal miningduring the period of their gradual replacement by other fuels (natural gas intermediate).

It is to be expected that the study will arise the interest of natural gas suppliers in the event that a transition to a greener resource would be decided before the final replacement of the fossil fuels. High interest is expected from the actors, current and future investors in the field of renewable energy and environmental activities.

Maritsa East Mines AD does not participate in the region’s Smart Specialization Strategiesand does not have links with the SET plan initiatives.



National Statistical Institute

Ministry of Regional Development, “Regional plan for the development of the Southeast planning region 2014-2020”, 2013

Maritsa Iztok Mines, “Анализ на състоянието и перспективи за развитие (Analysis of the state and perspectives for development)”, 2018