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EDF Must Raise Nuclear Output Quickly Amid Cold, Minister Says

Electricite de France SA, the state-controlled utility, came under government pressure today to raise atomic output amid the season’s first cold snap.

Peak power demand may break records and western and southeastern regions could be at risk of load-shedding, the utility’s wholly owned grid warned this week. EDF said yesterday it has 51 reactors working out of 58 as freezing temperatures and snow engulf the country.

“Fifty-one out of 58, we could hope for two or three more,” French Industry Minister Eric Besson said today during a visit to power grid installations north of Paris.

EDF Chief Executive Officer Henri Proglio has pledged to raise output after strikes and repairs pushed generation to a 10-year low in 2009. The Paris-based utility said earlier this month that output improvements in 2010 would be at the lower end of a target range because of unplanned outages in October.

“We are near the technical limits of our system, which makes us more vulnerable,” Dominique Maillard, head of the grid operator, Reseau de Transport d’Electricite, said during the visit.

RTE forecasts peak demand later today of 91,000 megawatts. That’s less than a record 93,080 megawatts on Feb. 11, which RTE earlier this week said would be surpassed yesterday and today.

Demand was lower because temperatures weren’t as cold as expected and heavy snow curbed economic activity, according to RTE’s head of national dispatching Clotilde Levillain. Imports will hover around 5,000 megawatts, lower than France’s 8,000-megawatt limit.

‘High Alert’

RTE has placed Brittany on the highest alert for possible power cuts. Maillard said he is “worried” about power supply during the cold spell, although load-shedding, or rationing, won’t be necessary.

Looking ahead, Besson said no additional investment is needed in nuclear capacity other than that planned for developing two advanced EPR reactors at Flamanville in Normandy and Penly in northern France. EDF has said it will decide whether to proceed with Penly within about two years. Total SA has a stake in the project.

“We are taking it into account in our forecasts” of future power supply, Maillard said of Penly.

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