* Looking at applications to shut down 7 GW of capacity
* About 2 GW could be deemed "systemically relevant"
* 500 MW in reserve capacity still needed for winter
FRANKFURT, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Germany's energy regulator has received applications to shut down 28 power plant units with the capacity of about seven nuclear plants, its president said in a newspaper interview published on Thursday.
Utilities are suffering from low wholesale power prices and competition for grid access from renewable energy sources.
"Currently, we are looking at applications to shut down 28 power plant units with a capacity of about 7,000 megawatt (MW), about 2,000 MW of which in southern Germany," Jochen Homann, president of the Bundesnetzagentur, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
Applications to shut down plants need to be submitted a year in advance.
Germany's four biggest utilities are E.ON, RWE , EnBW and Vattenfall.
Homann said seven of the applications related to potentially systemically relevant plants in southern Germany.
"If these power units are deemed systemically relevant by the transmission system operators (TSO), the Bundesnetzagentur can and will, where necessary, decide to keep these units connected to the grid. In that case, the operators will receive compensation payments."
E.ON in April reached a deal with Bundesnetzagentur to keep open its modern but unprofitable Irsching gas-fired power station in Bavaria, agreeing to provide reserve power to stabilise the grid in return for a double-digit million euro amount per block per year.
Homann said some 500 MW of reserve capacity was still needed for the coming winter but that there were enough offers to fill the gap.
In September, Homann said about 2,000 MW of reserve capacity had been contracted.
The regulator took 2,500 MW in capacity reserve under contract last winter to ensure steady power supply, a task made more difficult after Germany in the summer of 2011 shut 40 percent of its nuclear plants. (Reporting by Christoph Steitz; editing by Jason Neely)