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Rhine levels at 15-year low this week affect transport, power plants

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Rhine levels at 15-year low this week affect transport, power plants

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Forecasts see drop to 36 cm this week

London — Rhine river levels are at a 15-year low and could go as low as 36 centimeters later this week at the key chokepoint of Kaub in Germany, severely affecting coal deliveries to power plants along the transport artery.

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Utilities RWE and EnBW have been warning since August that the low water levels were hitting supply to some of their hard coal-fired plants, but EnBW reissued warnings Tuesday because of steeper falls this week.

"Due to even lower Rhine river levels, coal supply to the [1.8-GW] Karlsruhe power plant is severely affected from October 16 until further notice," EnBW said in a notice. It said on its transparency web site that the 1.4 GW unit 2 at the Philippsburg nuclear power plant's output had been reduced by 100 MW due to cooling problems EnBW added that there might be further reductions at Philippsburg and that output at the 790-MW coal-fired Heilbronn combined heat and power plant might be reduced due to the coal supply issue. The Heilbronn CHP plant is offline from October 25 to November 4 due to maintenance, according to EnBW's transparency website. Output from the 912-MW Block 8 at Karlsruhe was reduced by 842 MW on Tuesday between 4:30 am (0230 GMT) and 9:00 pm CEST.

According to German waterways authority WSV, water levels at Kaub are currently pegged at 42 cm which is the lowest since September 2003, historical data provided from The German Federal Institute of Hydrology (BfG) showed. However, they are set to fall to 36 cm Thursday.

A heat wave and low rainfall over the last few months have reduced water levels, slowed transportation, cut barge loadings and meant high premium payments for deliveries.

This comes against the background of already very high German spot prices with the day-ahead base at Eur70.91/MWh (base) and Eur78.85/MWh (peak).

At the moment wind supplies are very low at under 6 GW on average for the rest of the week, but a big increase in wind production is expected for next week which might level the impact, a trader said.

THERMAL COAL STOCKS NEAR 4-YEAR HIGH

Not only are power plants feeling the impact of low water levels, several weeks of slow transportation have caused coal to pile up.

Thermal coal stocks at terminals EMO Rotterdam, OBA Amsterdam and OVET Vlissingen rose to 6.1 million mt on Monday, up 465,000 mt on the week and 1.445 million mt on the year, data from the terminal operators showed.

This was the highest since November, 2014, and stockpiles were expected to remain high in the near term because of low barge availability and limited spare capacity for railings downstream, market sources said.

--Inga Freund, inga.freund@spglobal.com

--Joseph Clarke, joseph.clarke@spglobal.com

--Edited by Jonathan Dart, jonathan.dart@spglobal.com