November 21 (SeeNews) - Bulgaria's government said on Wednesday that it has given approval to the managing authority of Operational Programme Environment to sign a contract with Sofia municipality and Toplofikatsiya Sofia for the construction of a 370 million levs ($215.8 million/189.2 million euro) refuse-derived fuel (RDF) - powered combined heat and power (CHP) plant.
The agreement will allow the construction works to commence before the European Commission gives its approval for the project, the government said in a statement following its weekly meeting.
The project will potentially benefit from up to 180 million levs of EU financing under Operational Programme Environment 2014-2020.
According to the project summary, posted on the management authority's website, the project is expected to be completed within 65 months.
The plant will utilise RDF waste from the municipality's mechanical biological treatment system.
The project has raised concerns that it will further worsen the quality of the air in Bulgaria's capital.
Earlier this month, the European Commission urged Bulgaria to comply with a ruling of the Court of Justice of the EU in 2017, in relation to the country's failure to adhere to limit values for concentration of PM10 in the ambient air.
"While acknowledging that some progress has been made, the Commission is concerned by the slow pace of change and the lack of a coordinated approach between the environmental authorities and the other authorities concerned at national and local levels," the Commission said in its monthly infringements package.
Bulgaria has adopted measures related to road traffic, but is still at the planning stage of introducing new requirements for sulphur and ash in coal and briquettes used for domestic heating, as well as other measures, likely to improve air quality.
If Bulgaria fails to act upon the Commission's request, the institution may refer the country back to the Court and ask financial sanctions to be imposed. The sanctions may be in the form of a daily penalty, lump sum or both.
In addition, the Commission opened a separate infringement procedure against Bulgaria, as the country has failed to include into its national legislation the obligation to take appropriate measures to keep periods of exceedance of permitted values as short as possible, as envisaged by the air quality directive.
Bulgaria has two months to comply, or the Commission may decide to send a reasoned opinion.
(1 euro = 1.95583 levs)