In 2023, a series of changes to the Renewable Sources Energy Act (RESA) were planned. Many of them were to introduce long-delayed requirements of the RES Directive (Directive (EC) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and Council of 11 December 2018 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources).
Other changes were part of the legislative plan of the Recovery and Development Plan.
After lengthy public discussions and legislative working groups, the amendments and additions to the RESA were published on October 13, 2023. Below are summarized the main topics of affected regulations.
Geothermal energy is of prime importance for energy efficiency and clean energy in the EU's new policies. Even before the RESA changes, it required the introduction of RES installations covering at least 15% of the necessary energy for heating and cooling when constructing new or reconstructing old buildings.
With the changes, the RESA introduces a comprehensive legislative framework for regulating the investment process in small and large geothermal projects in Bulgaria. Amendments have been introduced in the RESA, the Water Act, the Underground Resources Act, and the Spatial Planning Act. The regulatory base outlines rules regarding the right to use geothermal resources, requirements for issuing permits, and cases where such are not necessary.
What has been introduced now, in short:
- Deep geothermal energy is now regulated under the same regime, regardless of whether it is located in rocks or fluids (water and others) under the earth's surface. The applicable regime is under the Underground Resources Act.
- Deep geothermal energy is defined as a mineral resource (underground wealth).
- Groundwater and mineral water will be under the regime of protection, preservation, and priority use, as they were regulated before in the Water Act. But the possibility of using their geothermal energy will be subject to permits and concessions under the Underground Resources Act.
- It will not be necessary to follow dual procedures for obtaining rights to geothermal resources; all permits will be issued by a single authority - the Minister of Energy; while at the same time following the principles of preservation and sustainable use of groundwater and the earth's crust through coordination with the authorities under the Water Act.
- An investor who has allocated costs for the search and exploration of deep geothermal resources will have reserved rights to use the established geothermal resources. Similar to other underground wealth.
- Citizens and businesses will be able to use shallow geothermal resources (up to 200 meters deep) for their own use on their properties freely without disproportionate fees and administrative burdens.
There is still a huge need for updating a number of basic technical regulations.
Energy communities and active customers
Changes were introduced in the RESA, marking the beginning of the regulation of energy communities.
Thus, the Energy Act introduced the concepts of "civil energy community" and "active customers", and in RESA - "renewable energy community" and "consumers of own renewable energy". The texts in these laws are almost literally taken from the European directives - Directive (EU) 2019/944 and Directive (EC) 2018/2001. The Energy and Water Regulatory Commission (EWRC) is expected to publish an analysis at any moment on what needs to be further specified so that these new forms of decentralized energy can operate effectively on all energy markets.
The main benefit of energy communities is the pooling of public resources and efforts to ensure accessible and clean energy for various consumer groups. Energy communities should not be managed by professional energy companies. They should primarily provide economic, social, and environmental benefits to their members, rather than financial profit. With the current overall legislation, it is evident that regulations will develop in parallel with practical experience in the country.
Biofuels play a significant role in the transition to more sustainable energy systems, which is why the mandatory minimum share of renewable energy in transport is increasing over the years. According to the new provisions in the RESA, the consumption of next-generation biofuels and biogas for transport from type "A" raw materials must reach 1% by 2025 and 3.5% by 2030.
As of September 1, 2024, persons who market liquid petroleum-derived fuels in transport must offer diesel fuel containing at least 6% biodiesel, with at least 2% of this biodiesel being a next-generation biofuel produced from type "A" raw materials. As of March 1, 2025, gasoline must contain a minimum of 9% bioethanol, produced from biomass, with at least 1% of the bioethanol being a next-generation biofuel produced from type "A" raw materials.
With the changes in RESA, restrictions arise regarding the participation of biofuels and liquid biomass fuels, produced from food and feed crops. When calculating the total energy consumption from renewable sources in transport, there is a requirement that this type of fuel should not represent more than one percent of the total consumption in 2020. In addition, their share cannot exceed 7% of the total energy consumption in road and rail transport.
Priority zones for the development of wind power generation facilities
ZEVI foresees a Plan for determining priority zones for the development of electricity generation facilities from wind energy. These zones are defined as areas where the production of electricity is not expected to have a significant impact on the environment, taking into account the specific characteristics of the respective zone. In determining the priority zones, artificial and built-up areas are considered, such as building roofs, areas with existing transport infrastructure, parking lots, waste sites, industrial areas, industrial parks, quarries, artificial water pools and reservoirs, urbanized territories, disturbed lands, and low-quality lands that cannot be used for agriculture.
The naming of the plan for determining the priority zones assumes that these priority zones are intended for the development of facilities for the production of electricity from wind energy, although the texts of ZEVI generally refer to the production of electricity from renewable sources.
The plan for determining priority zones for the development of facilities for the production of electricity from wind energy is developed by the Minister of Environment and Waters together with the Minister of Energy, the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works, the Minister of Transport and Communications, and the Minister of Agriculture and Food. In its development, an account is made of the share of energy from renewable sources in the total final energy consumption, and the planned capacities for electricity production, potential for electricity production from wind energy, forecasted electricity consumption, planned development of the electricity transmission network, as well as the environmental sensitivity of the zones.
The plan also provides for measures to avoid or significantly reduce negative impacts on the environment, including mapping of sensitive areas for wild flora and fauna, excluding certain protected territories and zones, established bird migration routes, forest and permanently grassed territories, certain marine areas where electricity production would have a negative impact, as well as other sensitive zones. Mitigating measures are also determined to significantly reduce negative impacts on the environment during the construction of facilities for energy production from renewable sources.
The plan for determining priority zones for the development of facilities for the production of electricity from wind energy is subject to environmental assessment and compatibility assessment, and these assessments, together with all necessary administrative procedures related to the construction, reconstruction and commissioning of facilities for energy production from renewable sources, are subject to issuance within a period of one year.
Administrative Service Centers
Administrative service centers should be established in every municipality.
They are designed to provide information to users of administrative services and to organize the procedures related to the construction of facilities and installations for the production of energy from renewable energy sources. Requests for construction permits, usage permits, and certifications for the commissioning of energy facilities will be submitted to these centers. Other responsibilities of the administrative centers include informing the operator of the respective transmission or electricity distribution network about the issued permits and providing the necessary documents, as well as creating schedules for the construction of the requested facilities, by coordinating the projects between the applicant, the competent authorities, and the operator of the respective network.
A deadline is set for mid-February 2024, by which the mayors of the municipalities should provide the organization of the activities of the administrative service centers. The purpose of the administrative centers is to facilitate the processes and provide assistance to citizens and businesses by providing them with guidelines for the implementation of energy projects. The effective functioning of these centers could be of vital importance for promoting the development of renewable energy.
Simplified procedures for connecting RES projects
Last but not least, the Renewable Energy Act (RESA) provides for simplified procedures for connecting new renewable energy power plants.
It is envisaged that all procedures for permitting construction and approving connection conditions should not take more than one year. To this end, the interim deadlines for the applicable procedures with network operators have been shortened.
The changes in RESA also include eased conditions when upgrading existing renewable energy power plants. When the total installed capacity of the plant is increased by no more than 50%, electrical network operators must consider connection requests as a priority. In such cases, a connection opinion is issued within a one-month period, without concluding a preliminary agreement. A connection agreement is concluded within a 15-day period after receiving a building permit. The connection is made through the existing connection facilities of the plant if technically possible.