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France's RTE says January power supply risk has risen

FILE PHOTO: New RTE (Electrecity Transport Network) high voltage power line near Douai

By Forrest Crellin and Benjamin Mallet

PARIS (Reuters) -A reduced forecast for nuclear power output in France means there is a higher risk than previously thought to electricity supply in January, grid operator RTE said on Friday.

Nuclear power availability is expected at around 40 gigawatts (GW) by the beginning of 2023, RTE said in a report, 3-to-4 GW less than in the previous forecast issued in September.

For the rest of this year, it said there was a low risk to French power supply in November and a moderate risk at the beginning of December, as reduced demand and a forecast for lower nuclear production largely offset each other.

Nuclear production over the coming weeks is expected to be reduced following a strike by EDF workers that ended in October, and delays or technical hazards during maintenance at several sites, RTE said.

Work on reactors affected by stress corrosion is going to plan and has not contributed to the delays, it said, adding that several repaired reactors are scheduled to restart in the second half of November and beginning of December.

Reaching higher output of 45 GW by January would depend on good progress on the corrosion-affected reactors and the end of maintenance on the N4 series reactors - the Civaux and Chooz plants - that will have been shut for more than a year, the report said.

Even with the uncertainty about output, it said electricity prices on the futures market for the start of 2023 include a disproportionate risk premium compared to the supply-demand balance.

Demand has fallen 5% to 7% in the country since the beginning of October compared to the pre-pandemic five-year average, the report said, as industrial demand has dropped, mainly because of high energy prices.

Residential demand has also decreased over this period, the report added, but said vigilance would be needed as temperatures fall over the coming weeks.

Hydraulic stocks have also returned to close to historical norms after falling during the drought over the summer, the report said.

Additionally, gas stocks have increased following mild weather that has reduced demand and removed any immediate risk of gas-fired power plants being halted.

(Reporting by Forrest Crellin, Benjamin Mallet;Editing by Ingrid Melander and Barbara Lewis)