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Strong Spanish CSS, uncompetitive coal draw LNG gains, French imports

London — Spain's dominant gas-fired generation margins have brought about a collapse in coal-fired generation this GY-18, leading the country to draw on robust LNG flows and steady supply of French natural gas.

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Gas-fired generation is on track to be the leading power generation source for a fourth consecutive month in September. This has occurred due to very profitable gas-fired margins and uncompetitive coal after the Ecological Transition Ministry last October removed indefinitely the so-called "green cent" tax on gas used by combined-cycle gas turbines and cogeneration units and thus reduced the operating cost of the relatively new CCGT fleet by about Eur5/MWh.

Clean spark spreads, or the profitability of gas-fired generation with a 50% efficiency after the emissions cost is added, for Q3 day-ahead delivery has averaged Eur12.09/MWh up to September 24, more than 31% higher than the Q3 2018 CSS of Eur9.20/MWh. The Q4 CSS remained strong at Eur11.328/MWh Tuesday compared with the Q4 day-ahead average of Eur4.615/MWh in 2018, Platts pricing data shows.

Spanish coal-fired generation is likely to have its lowest share of the generating mix ever in 2019, having covered just 6% of it up until the end of August. Coal-fired generation in the first nine months of 2019 are around 10.5 TWh, down almost 60% year on year. Much of the capacity from the remaining operational coal plants are set to close by mid-2020 under the EU's industrial emissions directive, while the rest should be gone by 2025.

Improving coal to gas switching was further supported by weak European gas prices. Market sentiment reflected full storage and continued strength in LNG imports, indicating a comfortable outlook for winter. European-wide storage stock levels were 96% full Wednesday at 97 BCM (1,048 TWh) compared with only 80% full at the same time last year, data from Gas Infrastructure Europe showed.

LNG, IMPORTS

Spain is continuing to import large volume of LNG on tankers, while the rest of continental Europe has drastically cut its regasification rates and LNG imports over the past week, with no room to spare in Europe's natural gas storage facilities.

Spanish send-out rates are currently running at 73 million cu m/d, marking an increase of 9% from the August average and more than double its September 2018 average of 30 million cu m/d, data from S&P Global Platts Analytics showed.

This compares with a sharp fall at other northwest Europe LNG terminals. Belgium and Dutch send-outs have both fallen to near zero.

The surge in LNG flows was further boosted by a fierce ramp up in LNG volumes from Qatar and the US, while demand remains feeble in Asia.

As such, Spanish LNG stocks have already increased sharply to 1.7 Bcm from 1.285 Bcm at the start of September, and 1.05 Bcm in GY-17 and 900 million cu m in GY-16, according to Platts Analytics data.

Additional supply came from France, with net volumes staying healthily above GY-17 flows. Spain is currently importing 13.5 million cu m/d of French natural gas, from around 8 million cu m/d at the same time in GY-17.

Increasing competition from LNG caused pipeline imports from Algeria, which has historically supplied around 45% of Spain's gas needs through the two undersea links, to fall drastically. Supplies have dropped 53% year on year to 4.9 Bcm.

DEMAND ACCELERATION

Spanish domestic gas demand has been driven by an increase in gas-fired generation this year, amid weak hydro levels and increasing coal to gas switching this year.

Spanish power station demand in GY-18 to date stands at 9.1 Bcm, from 6.05 Bcm in GY-17, Platts Analytics data showed.

Lower hydroelectric output has also aided higher gas-fired power generation, as hydro stocks remain more than 2 TWh below the 10-year average and hydro output has been almost 30% lower for the first nine months of the year, according to Spanish grid operator REE.

This is despite stronger renewables seen this year in Spain, on the back on new build solar and wind capacity, as hydroelectric output competes with gas-fired generation as both have flexible capacity.

-- Antoine Simon, antoine.simon@spglobal.com

-- Mario Perez, mario.perez@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Jonathan Fox, jonathan.fox@spglobal.com