Encouraging the large scale market presence of electrical vehicles is an important objective and, in addition to tax reliefs and financial premiums on purchasing such vehicles, the development of charging station infrastructure for electromobiles will be one of the most important factors in achieving this. But while financial incentives do provide some encouragement, the lack of a suitable network of charging stations at a city and national level discourages many of the enthusiasts willing to use electromobiles.

According to the information published on the website of the European Commission in 2015, the Netherlands is the leader in establishing charging stations, followed by Denmark and Austria. Bulgaria is near the bottom of this ranking.

Legal regulation trends in the European Union

In July 2016 the European Commission developed a strategy for low emissions mobility. One of the main measures it contained was the expansion of a network of publicly accessible power charging points. Two proposals have been made in relation to this: One focuses on the amendment of Directive 2010/31/ЕU on the energy performance of buildings. In particular, this proposal envisages the following innovations with regard to charging station infrastructure for electric vehicles: the Member States will be obliged to ensure that all new non-residential buildings (including those undergoing large-scale renovation) which have more than ten parking spaces will have at least one charging station for every 10 parking spaces. The Member States will however be obliged to provide pre-cabling for said buildings, allowing a charging station to be installed in each one of these spaces. It is expected that the requirements regarding non-residential buildings will come into effect in 2025, and the deadline for the law to be changed in the separate Member States is indicated to be 12 months after the Directive is adopted.

The second proposal came into effect at the end of November 2016 and aims to amend Directive 2009/72/EC, concerning common rules for the internal market in electricity. It provides the first definition of the term "charging point" and indicates that energy distributors shall expressly include in their network development plans a network of charging points for electric vehicles. Member States will have to make appropriate legislative changes to facilitate the connection of private and public EV charging points to the energy transmission networks, as following the principle of equality.

Legal framework in Bulgaria

The national plan to promote green vehicles includes electric mobility and was adopted in 2012. It kicks off the national legislative changes with the aim of deciding the status of charging stations for electric vehicles (EV charging stations).

Following this plan, art. 56. (1) of the Law on Spatial Planning ("LSP") now contains the term "charging columns for electric vehicles" in the list of types of movable objects for trade and other service activities. LSP also provides that movable vehicle should have access to the networks and facilities via temporary connections, in order to ensure proper operations.

The law also explicitly states that the order to install such charging stations is determined by the municipal council responsible for the territory of each municipality, leading to different and even contradictory administrative regimes being in place. This in turn prevents or at least seriously impedes the development of large scale projects to build EV charging station infrastructure at a national level.

Similarities and differences in the municipalities of Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna

Two different regulation procedures are in place regarding whether the charging column will be installed on private or municipal, i.e. state-owned territory.

Municipal/ State-owned property

In general, placing the charging point on municipal/state-owned land requires an installation scheme and that permission for installation be given.

The installation scheme should be approved by the Municipal Expert Council for the territory and then authorised by the chief architect. In the case of Sofia, if the EV charging point is installed in an inner city area, then the scheme should be additionally approved by the City Council. In Plovdiv and Varna the Chief Architect and the Municipal Council or an Expert Council on Spatial Planning are also involved in the approval process, depending on the region where the charging column will be placed. If the columns are to be installed on state property, the installation scheme shall be coordinated in advance with the main administration which owns the property, and in other cases with the district governor.  

The installation scheme is prepared by official experts in the relevant municipality or by external experts where they are explicitly requested to do so. In Plovdiv, the issued installation scheme includes permission for research and design, and also indicates how activities are to be coordinated. Said co-ordination includes in particular contact with the relevant electricity supplier regarding options to access the grid, while in Sofia the coordinative activities with the relevant companies are to be carried out before the scheme is approved. This issue has not yet been settled in Varna.

The person who obtains the right to install an EV charging column is in charge of the design process. After project approval, authorisation for installation is issued. The authority issuing the permit is different in the municipalities; for Plovdiv it is the Mayor of Plovdiv (the central regions) or the district mayors; for Sofia it is the Chief Architect of the Sofia municipality for the inner city zone and for the remaining districts it is the chief architect of the respective region; for Varna it is the mayor of the respective region or, in rare cases, the mayor of Varna.

The authorisation term also varies in different municipalities. In Sofia and Plovdiv the installation of EV charging columns on municipal/ state-owned land is valid for 5 years and in Varna  for up to 3 years.

In addition to authorisation for installation being necessary, explicit written consent from the mayor of the respective municipality is required in Sofia. 

Private property

The regime for the installation of EV charging station on private grounds is simpler. There, a scheme with installation guidelines is required. The process for issuance is different to that for an installation scheme. Here, the chief architect issues a scheme with installation guidelines directly on the application of the concerned person (for central regions). Where the chief architect is responsible for an entire region, other municipal bodies do not need to be involved. In Sofia, the issuance of the scheme requires that the relevant energy supplier be involved in preliminary compliance procedures in relation to how the grid may be accessed.

Once approval for the scheme is obtained, the design process begins and authorisation for installation is then issued. Again, there are significant differences regarding how long it takes for the various municipalities to authorise installation – up to 10 years for Sofia and 5 years for Varna.  

In Plovdiv, there is no specific procedure for the installation of movable objects on private property.

Placing in service

Only the regulations of Sofia Municipality contains provisions on how the columns are to be put into commission as a last stage in the procedure for their installation. The authority issuing the permit for installation requires the owner of a charging column in an individual project to file a request for a certificate of commissioning within 7 days of installation. At this point, an application to access the grid of the energy supplier should also be submitted. The connection itself is subject to a separate procedure as set out in Regulation 6 of the Municipality’s code (“On access by producers of electricity and clients of electricity producers to the transmission system or distribution networks”). The Regulation makes clear that only after authorisation for installation is given may an application to study the conditions for access to the network be submitted, which creates a certain conflict with the provisions of the regulations in Sofia and Plovdiv on the prior coordination of movable objects.

Fragmented and somewhat confusing legislation is a serious obstacle to building an EV charging infrastructure. However, there are already around 20 EV charging stations in Sofia alone. Most of them are placed on private property. There is a trend towards large retail companies starting to build such EV charging stations in order to increase competitiveness. At the same time, Sofia Municipality last month declared its readiness to launch a major project in preparation for schemes to install 80 EV charging stations in the next two years. Such a project would encourage the use of electric vehicles, at least in Sofia, and will serve as an example for other cities wishing to support the development of environmental technologies.