Only yesterday, in a rare moment of revelation, did I discover the secret of the central heating system in Sofia: if you want to stay warm in winter, you don't switch it off. Ever. Forget about the hefty bills and crank it up!
Just as in the good old days, before the advance of heating meters and evil companies who read them, heating had one mode, and it was "ON". All winter, no matter how cold or warm it was, the heating was ON - and it was affordable.
Back then I was angry that I lived in an area of Sofia which was not connected to the heating system. Now I am happy. Not that I am ever warm in the winter, but at least I'm not actually freezing.
Since the introduction of the mandatory heating meters a few years ago, central heating has become synonymous with endless horror, confusion and crazy bills. People, who were not that warm actually, received cryptic invoices, which they were unable to decipher, but which inevitably ended with huge sums to pay. Some stopped paying in protest, others contested the bills in court and, of course, lost.
The greatest paradox is the fact that even if you have switched the heating off, or even removed the radiators from the walls, you still have to pay. The heating pipes that pass through your apartment apparently emit so much heat that they are deemed to have warmed your apartment. The logic of this is beyond me, but those who write the regulations are maybe smarter than I am.
Living in an area with no central heating, I am a bit confused as to why we should be paying heating bills in July, and why I should pay for something which I don't use, but as I said, there are smarter people than me.
This summer's big scandal concerned Valentin Dimitrov, the former head of Sofia district's heating company, the Toplofikatsiya. His millions in foreign banks and bank vaults, the Jacuzzi, the yacht, the French mineral water and the other luxury items which "Valyo Toploto", as Bulgarians christened him, bought while in office enraged everyone, but to no avail. Dimitrov is currently in police custody awaiting trial for tax evasion and money laundering, and every now and then appeals the court rulings.
No one knows where or how he got the millions of euros and leva. His latest claims in court are that they are not his, he was only keeping them for someone else, but the speculation is that this is dirty money, gained through illegal activities. I suppose we'll just have to wait and see what comes out of all this. Meanwhile, winter is coming and the heating is on. The bills will start arriving and people will once more be confused as to why they have to pay so much when they hardly switched the radiators on.
"The dogs keep on barking but the caravan moves on," as we like to say in Bulgaria. Toplofikatsiya will continue providing its service, of questionable quality, and people will continue to pay. Those who don't will again have their names put up in the apartment building entrances for everyone to see and reportedly laugh at. The only difference this time around is that someone will scrawl "Give us back the money Valyo Toploto stole from us" on those lists, as has already been done. And someone will go and pay their bill with a sack full of small coins, as too has been done before.
Central heating in Sofia
Sofia's Central Heating System is one of the biggest in Eastern Europe. Central heating in this context refers to a system that supplies heat to numerous buildings, rather than the kind of heating found in individual homes.
In Sofia, the system supplies 900,000 citizens and about 5,900 companies, including almost all industrial enterprises. (Source: Sofia Municipality website, www.sofia.bg). After Toplofikatsiya was declared insolvent, the Bulgarian Privatisation Agency put it up for tender.
Austrian company EVN, which already owns the heating utility in Plovdiv, won the bid. At the same time, Energy and Economy Minister Rumen Ovcharov launched an investigation into allegations that EVN had inflated clients electricity bills in Plovdiv and Stara Zagora (Source: derStandart.at)