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Enel expects 'suitable deal' on Spanish nuclear plants

London — Italian energy group Enel said it was confident it will reach a "suitable deal" with Spain's other nuclear operators on a shutdown plan after signing a road map which could see all reactors closed by 2035.

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Enel signed the deal on March 12, CEO Francesco Starace said Thursday, following its signing by other parties last week.

As a result, the capacity holders of each plant will need to meet and apply the terms on a plant by plant basis, Starace told analysts on a conference call.

An overall agreement has become a pressing matter, with a wave of license renewals coming due in the next two years -- the most pressing being for the two Almaraz units in which Enel subsidiary Endesa holds a 36% stake, with Spain's largest power and gas group Iberdrola holding 53%.

The companies effectively face a deadline of March 30 to reach an agreement on the two reactors.

Spain's Ecological Transition Ministry and nuclear waste agency Enresa have been involved in the process to try and provide a compromise solution.

According to Starace, one player (which he did not name) wanted to add "additional flavor" to the agreement, which came as a "surprise move", but he expected that Endesa would manage the situation.

Reports in Spain have highlighted a rift between the two main capacity holders, with Iberdrola said to be keen for closures when reactors hit 40 years, while Endesa has been holding out for 50 years.

Closure of nuclear and fossil fired fleets would continue to be offset by renewable capacity additions in Spain and Italy, Starace said.

In both cases, the company's already existing large customer bases would give it a captive portfolio of outlets for the generation, he said.

However, the company's short-term renewable additions would largely take place outside those two markets -- both of which are yet to provide regulation to cover new renewable awards to take them through to 2030 European targets.

Indeed, only 13% of the company's 19.8 GW 2021 renewable pipeline is in Europe, while from 5.9 GW presently in execution only 51 MW is in Italy and 907 MW in Spain (awarded in 2017 auctions -- 561 MW wind and 339 MW PV). A further 244 MW was being developed in the rest of Europe, and all the rest in North America and South America.

Italian regulation covering a new round of renewable auctions is being held up in an EC approval process, having missed a couple of deadlines, while Spain has a general election in April, with regulation for new renewable awards on hold.

Meanwhile Enel data Thursday showed that in Italy, the utility had forward sold 90% of its expected 2019 production at an average price of Eur53/MWh. That was an increase from a hedged price of Eur46/MWh in 2018. For 2020, the company had forward sold 58.7% of production at Eur58.70/MWh.

In the Iberian market, the company had hedged 85% of 2019 production at a retail price of Eur73.40/MWh, an increase from its hedged price of Eur67.50/MWh in 2018. For 2020, Enel had forward sold 40% of its expected production and Eur78.10/MWh retail price.

After a strong hydro year in 2018 which helped the company's unitary power margin increase 8% year on year to Eur14.10/MWh, the first quarter of 2019 has been much drier, Starace said, although the situation was not yet as serious as 2017, which in Spain was the second driest year on record and in Italy the driest in 200 years.

"It is still within normal expected ranges," he said.

Hydro generation in 2018 jumped 31% in Italy and 68% in Spain compared with 2017. But for the first quarter to date, national production was down 17% in Spain, according to data from grid operator Red Electrica.

Italian hydro production edged up 1% year on year in January and February, with no data available from Italian TSO Terna for March.

--Henry Edwardes-Evans,

--Edited by Dan Lalor