BUCHAREST, June 15 (Reuters) - A much-delayed natural gas pipeline between Romania and Bulgaria is expected to become operational this year, a top Romanian energy official said on Wednesday.
The Balkan neighbours have stepped up efforts to link their gas networks with those of other countries after Moscow scrapped its South Stream pipeline project.
They are also interested in diversifying their energy imports to lessen their dependence on Russian supply.
"The interconnector will be completed by the end of this year," Corina Popescu, Romania's secretary of state at the Ministry of Energy, told an energy traders conference.
Work on the 25-km reverse flow interconnector began in 2012.
Plans initially called for it to be completed in 2013, but the project has been delayed by technical difficulties.
Located mostly in Bulgaria, it will have a maximum capacity of 1.5 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas per year from Bulgaria to Romania while the capacity going the other way will be 500 million cubic metres per year.
Romania produces about 11 bcm of gas per year, covering about 75 percent of its annual needs, and imports the rest from Russia.
Bulgaria, which is almost fully reliant on Russian imports, also aims to build a gas link with Greece.
Last year, 15 countries from central, eastern and southeast Europe signed a deal to speed up the building of gas links, improve security of supply, reduce their reliance on Russia and develop a fully integrated energy market.
Popescu said Romania also expects to complete construction of a 400-kilovolt power line with Serbia in 2017.
The link between Resita in Romania and the town of Pancevo, Serbia, will have a total length of 171 km, of which 63 km will be in Romania.
Romania's grid operator aims to expand interconnection projects by 2023 with Bulgaria, Hungary and Moldova, as well as strengthen its network in southeastern Romania, where most of the country's renewable energy projects are located.
(Reporting by Maja Zuvela; editing by Agnieszka Barteczko and Jason Neely)
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