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UPDATE 1-Former CFO wanted EDF to delay Hinkley Point decision, warns on rating

(Adds comments about hybrid debt, rating)

PARIS, May 4 (Reuters) - EDF’s former chief financial officer urged to utility to delay a final investment decision on building Britain’s Hinkley Point nuclear plant by at least three years, he told France’s parliament on Wednesday.

“In January 2015, I proposed to chief executive Jean-Bernard Levy to negotiate a three-year delay with our client because we reasoned that the weight of the project on EDF’s balance sheet would be significant,” former CFO Thomas Piquemal said at a parliament committee hearing.

Piquemal resigned in March and had not spoken publicly about his reasons for leaving before.

Piquemal refused to comment on any risks related to Hinkley Point, for which EDF has not yet made a final investment decision.

He also defended his record as CFO after Levy said last month that hybrid debt issued by EDF on Piquemal’s watch had created a strain on the state-controlled utility’s balance sheet and financing ability.

“Criticising hybrid debt is like criticising a medicine for its side effects rather than looking at its healing power,” Piquemal said.

Levy had referred to the hybrids as EDF’s Achilles heel.

Piquemal said that hybrid debt - of which EDF has issued about 10 billion euros - is indeed more expensive than normal debt, but a lot cheaper than a capital increase and that if the company had not issued the hybrids it would have had to proceed to a capital increase.

But he warned that EDF must do all it can to avoid a major credit rating downgrade by debt agencies.

Piquemal said that if EDF’s credit rating is strongly downgraded, the hybrid debt will be downgraded to junk bond status, which would pose the problem of its future refinancing from 2020 onwards.

“The company cannot afford a significant credit downgrade,” he said. (Reporting by Bate Felix and Geert De Clercq; editing by Jason Neely)

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