By Nora Buli
OSLO (Reuters) - It is "very unlikely" that Norway will need to ration power this winter despite record-low reservoir filling levels in the hydropower-dependent region, the head of energy regulator NVE told Reuters.
"Rationing is not a main scenario and is very unlikely to happen," Kjetil Lund said in an interview but added it was important to avoid being "nonchalant" about the matter.
Hydropower accounts for more than 90% of Norwegian electricity production, but the driest 12-month period in 26 years in southern Norway has depleted reservoir levels to record lows.
European gas and power prices have soared to unprecedented highs this year, after Russia curbed gas supply and nuclear and hydropower generation disappointed in several markets.
"The uncertainty around us suggests that it will be a good strategy for Norway to avoid heading into this winter with too low reservoir filling levels," Lund said.
NVE has asked producers to save water for power generation this winter and the centre-left Norwegian government is planning to legislate for tighter regulation, which would ultimately limit power exports.
In the unlikely event of any rationing, this would not come on a cold, dark day in January, but before the snow melt can replenish water stocks in April or May, Lund said.
Still, Norway has to strengthen its power balance for future years with little precipitation, by adding more hydro, wind and solar power generation capacity and through energy efficiency measures, the regulator said.
"A stronger balance will contribute to lower prices - not low, but lower - because we are so connected to the rest of Europe," Lund added.
Southern Norway links to Demark, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands via subsea grid connections for imports and exports.
As long as prices in other European countries remain high, southern Norway prices will remain at elevated levels too, NVE has forecast.
(Reporting by Nora Buli; editing by Jason Neely)