Spanish nuclear sector under threat as one Garona owner wants out

20 April 2017 14:39 Source:ICIS

The future of Spain’s first nuclear power station – the 470MW Santa Maria de Garona facility – is hanging in the balance with at least one of its owners wanting to permanently close the plant.

This comes as Spain’s government has to decide whether or not to back the country’s aging nuclear fleet.

The 51-year-old Garona plant is owned by Nuclenor, a joint-venture of Spanish utilities Iberdola and Endesa. The government has until August to decide whether to extend the license since Spain’s nuclear regulator gave permission for a new license in February, on the condition it undergoes expensive upgrading work ( see EDEM 17 February 2017 ).

Ignacio Galan, chairman of Iberdola, has said Garona is not economically viable.

Nuclenor told ICIS the plant could be decommissioned assuming both its owners agreed to revoke the request to reopen the facility, which has been mothballed since 2012.

“Now both the Spanish government and Nuclenor will have to make a decision,” said a spokesman for Iberdrola.

A spokesman for Enel, owner of Endesa, said: “We are waiting for the government’s decision on the plant. Until this situation is sorted out we cannot take any decision.”

Iberdrola would also have the option to try to sell its share in the facility. However it may be difficult to find a buyer for such an aged plant which needs extensive investment.

There has also been pressure from environmentalists and within Portugal for a second plant, the 2.1GW Almaraz nuclear facility, to be closed. The 1GW Almaraz 1 plant has been offline since Monday and will remain so until at least Thursday, according to the transparency portal of grid operator body ENTSO-E, following an outage.

Almaraz in western Spain was commissioned in 1983, and is owned by Iberdrola, Endesa and Gas Natural.

Role for nuclear

There are no plans for new nuclear facilities so Spain will have to decide whether to maintain its existing stock which will require encouraging investment.

The Spanish government will come under pressure to relax the taxes and levy structure it imposed in 2013, which has been blamed for hitting profitability in the nuclear sector.

Spain wants to increase its renewable supply and has just announced an auction of 3GW of new capacity on 17 May ( see ICIS Power Perspective 12 April 2017 ).

“But renewables on their own will not be enough,” said a trader at an industrial company. “Spain will have to choose to keep coal or nuclear online and lessen its reliance on the other,” he said.

Spain has installed nuclear capacity of 7.6GW, which makes up 7.6% of total capacity, according to grid operator REE. However due to its relatively high load factor, in 2016 nuclear met 23% of total demand and was the largest single source of electricity supply.

“The system will be short without coal or nuclear, so the government needs to find a way out of this,” said the trader.

By Jon Stibbs