Bulgaria seeks better offers for new nuclear plant

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thu Dec 20, 2007 8:04am EST

SOFIA, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Bulgaria's state power utility NEK said on Thursday it had asked strategic investors to file improved offers to acquire a 49-percent stake in a planned new nuclear power plant by Jan. 9.

NEK executive director Lyubomir Velkov told reporters all five short-listed bidders had been invited to sweeten their bids for the 2,000 megawatt, 4.0 billion euro ($5.75 billion) power plant at the Danube river town of Belene.

The bidders include Italy's Enel and RWE, Czech CEZ, Belgium's Electrabel, owned by French utility Suez.

Velkov said NEK expected bidders to improve their ideas about the management of the plant.

"Improvements are expected in the way the investors are seeing their role in the future management of the plant. The initial offers of some of them sound like they are going to have a majority stake," Velkov told reporters.

Velkov said he hoped a strategic partner will be picked in the first half of the year. NEK had earlier said it planned to wrap up the talks by the end of the year, but Velkov said negotiations proved hard and more time was necessary.

NEK has contracted Russia's Atomstroyexport, controlled by gas giant Gazprom (GAZP.MM: Quote, Profile, Research), along with French Areva and Germany's Siemens to build the plant. The reactors are expected to come online after 2014.

Belene aims to compensate for the closure of two 440-megawatt reactors last year and restore Bulgaria's position as a leading power exporter in southeastern Europe.

NEK has opened a tender to find a lead manager to arrange the financing of the plant.

The company has said it expects the new investor to help it secure the funds by either offering a corporate guarantee or by signing long-term power purchase agreements that will help it receive better debt conditions. (Reporting by Tsvetelia Ilieva; editing by James Jukwey)

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