UPDATE 1-CEZ may sign Temelin expansion contract in 2015 - report
PRAGUE Jan 2 (Reuters) - Czech utility CEZ could sign a contract with the winner of a multi-billion dollar tender to expand the Temelin nuclear power plant in the second quarter of 2015, Chief Executive Daniel Benes was quoted as saying.
CEZ has delayed picking a supplier, pushing the decision from the end of 2013 to either 2014 or 2015 as it waits for the government to finalise a national energy strategy and negotiates a guaranteed price for power produced by the new plant.
In an interview with weekly magazine Ekonom, Benes said talks with the two bidders - Westinghouse, the U.S. unit of Japan's Toshiba and a consortium including Russia's Atomstroyexport - would continue.
"They could end with the signing of a contract with the winning bidder some time in the second quarter of 2015," he was quoted as saying.
CEZ has been in talks with the state over a guaranteed price for the power, something which the company, analysts and some shareholders see as vital for proceeding with a project estimated to cost around $10 billion.
"I cannot imagine that we would sign a fully valid contract for the construction of Temelin before we will have a guaranteed contract for difference or some other business scheme," he said.
"That is a risk into which no company can go."
A plan discussed with the industry ministry under a centre-right government which collapsed in June proposed that CEZ would receive compensation if power prices dropped below a certain level but would have to reimburse the state if prices rose above it.
CEZ and Czech officials will also need to watch a European Union investigation into proposed British support for a 16 billion pound nuclear power plant to be built by EDF, which regulators launched this month.
Britain has offered EDF a price guarantee lasting 35 years on power from a plant which the French utility plans to build at Hinkley Point in southwest England.
"This project is the first of its kind and is an inspiration for us, certainly," Benes said.
He said that talks on energy policy between EU member states in February or March could help decide whether the so-called contract for difference model is a workable scheme.
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