SOFIA, Dec 14 (Reuters) - Bulgaria plans to set up a state-owned company by the end of the year to operate a natural gas bourse, with liquidity secured through an agreement with Austria’s natural gas trading hub, its energy minister said on Friday.
Temenuzhka Petkova said Sofia will sign a memorandum for cooperation with the Vienna-based Central European Gas Hub (CEGH) next week as it pushes forward with plans for a gas trading hub in the Black Sea city of Varna.
CEGH is a trading platform for the central European Baumgarten hub, the arrival point for Russian gas flowing into Europe via Ukraine and through the Nord Stream pipeline across the Baltic Sea.
The new company will be a unit of state-owned gas network operator Bulgartransgaz, Petkova told parliament. Lawmakers voted on Nov. 30 that the operator should take steps to set up a gas trading bourse.
Bulgartransgaz also plans to seek binding bids from shippers by Jan. 16 for a new link to transport gas from its border with Turkey in the south-east to Serbia in the west, which will carry mainly Russian natural gas to central Europe.
The open season for booking capacity will be announced on December 21. Russia’s Gazprom has said it was considering taking part.
Petkova said Bulgartransgaz will also launch a tender to build the new 1.4 billion euro ($1.58 billion) pipeline on the same date, though the contract will only become valid once capacity is booked.
Brussels has said that any new infrastructure in Bulgaria would come under very close scrutiny.
It has tentatively backed a plan to build a Balkan gas hub to ensure any more Russian gas coming into the European Union competes with gas from at least two other sources, such as Azerbaijan or liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipped from Greece.
The planned Varna hub is expected to receive gas from both, as well as shipments from Russia.
Sofia is aiming to create a system that would see some of the gas it receives from Russia shipped to Serbia, Hungary and Austria, and some traded at its planned Balkan hub.
“We are doing a lot of important work recently, because we want to build the missing infrastructure by the end of 2019,” Petkova said. “Our work will be fully in line with national and EU rules.”
$1= 0.8853 euros Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Jan Harvey