EVN Bulgaria Board Chairman J?rg Sollfelner: Bulgarian Electricity Distribution Sector Needs Steady Pace of Investment
An interview with J?rg Sollfelner, Chairman of the management board of EVN Bulgaria, for "International Survey: Bulgaria-Austria" of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency) and Novinite.bg.
As an Austrian manager in Bulgaria, how do you evaluate Bulgaria's business environment?
When you look at most surveys on doing business around the world Bulgaria is always mentioned as a place where the tax environment is favourable for investments but there are challenges with the pace at which the public administration works and the effectiveness of the court system.
A lot has been done on these two issues in the past years but this is an ongoing process of improvement of the public services which is not something limited only to Bulgaria.
More specifically, how do you see the energy sector in Bulgaria in terms of state regulation, potential, and investments?
As with the rest of the EU Bulgaria is undergoing a constant process of changing and adapting its legislation to EU directives. Some of the EU countries have finished this process quicker than Bulgaria but in general - as we are talking about a long-term oriented sector with high investment needs - it should be pointed out that quality of the process is the top priority.
As for investments in the energy sector there are some areas where we need to follow a constant and steady pace of investment in order to reach the quality we want.
This is the case with the electricity distribution where we need a lot of efforts and investments to compensate for the years after 1990 when due to the economic transition this was not followed so steadily.
The same applies to the district heating sector where we need a general policy aimed at improving not just energy production as we have done with our new cogeneration central in Plovdiv but also policy aimed at energy efficiency measures applied on national level.
What are EVN's investments in Bulgaria to date? How do you evaluate their impact on the Bulgarian energy sector, economy, society?
At the end of 2011, EVN reached a threshold of investment in Bulgarian energy infrastructure of more than BGN 900 M since 2005. This achievement together with our cogeneration project in Plovdiv worth BGN 100 M was recognized by the Bulgarian Invest Agency who awarded EVN as an Investor of the Year 2011.
Ever since we started our operations in Bulgaria the focus of our investments has been to improve the security of supply and to offer the best services to our clients. We have done a lot of things in this respect and we have a lot of ideas and plans how to continue with this policy which at the end has its direct impact on the quality of life and business.
Building upon that, what are EVN's investment plans in Bulgaria? What is going to be the focus of your business activity as both a foreign investor and a power utility?
As I said we have made more than BGN 900 M of investments in the Bulgarian energy sector since 2005. If you look at our plans for 2012 you will see that we have earmarked more than BGN 150 M of investments in both the electricity distribution and heating grids and production.
As until now our focus continues being improving the security of supply, client services, energy efficiency together with new connections for both the electricity distribution and heating grids.
How do you evaluate your customers' satisfaction with EVN's services?
When it comes to getting feedback from our clients we rely on several sources. One is the direct contact which we support though our non-stop 24/7h telephone customer care centre where clients can share their opinion or ask for information. We also have a network of 38 front offices throughout south-eastern Bulgaria where clients can discuss with us all matters of their interest.
Next to that we also use the ''secret client'' survey and the customer satisfaction survey as a very good indicator of what clients think or expect from our services. A lot of the improvements we have made in our activity have come from such surveys which is why we see them as a valuable source of information.
EVN services the region which was badly affected by floods in February. What have been the damages, and how have you coped with the situation on the ground?
When the disaster happened we had one task ahead of us: to secure the lines and transformer stations in the affected areas some of which were flooded and to restore supply where possible as quickly as we can.
Thanks to the good coordination with the state and local institutions we managed to restore the supply very quickly. We had our specialists on the site during the recovery operations launched by the government and with join efforts we managed to put the situation with electricity supply under control.
Why is there a difference between what the three electricity distribution companies in Bulgaria request from the state regulator as an investment permit? Is the price of electricity the only factor leading the Bulgarian regulator to approve the allowed investments of the utilities?
Talking about EVN's approach when we calculate our price proposal to the regulator we always keep in mind what the grid needs as an investment per year in order to fulfil our clients' expectations and the criteria set by the regulator.
This is a clear method which answers to our vision and expert opinion about what is required in order to follow our policy of constant and steady investments every year and to have a long-term and sustainable development of the grid.
What sorts of measures (investments, technologies, regulations) does electricity distribution in Bulgaria need?
We need a clear and long-term vision about where we want to see the sector in 10 or 20 years time and a debate what we as a society are ready to invest in it and what quality we want. Our vision is that by keeping investment rate at a steady pace and at a reasonable value we can answer to our clients needs in the best possible rate.
What are the ambitions of EVN Bulgaria from here on?
We are determined to continue the process of improving our services, decrease and limit the number of breakdowns and grid losses all in view of increasing customer satisfaction.
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