PARIS, Feb 24 (Reuters) - France was a net electricity importer for a second straight month in January as a prolonged cold spell pushed peak demand to its highest in five years against a backdrop of low nuclear and hydropower supply, grid operator RTE said on Friday.
France imported a record 0.95 terrawatt-hour of electricity last month on a net basis, RTE said, adding that the country had been increasingly dependent on Britain to cover its shortfall since November 2016, when several nuclear reactors were offline.
RTE said France, usually a net power exporter thanks to its 58 nuclear reactors, was a net importer in its exchange with Spain for the first time since April 2016.
Peak electricity demand in France hit 94.2 gigawatts on Jan. 20 during a cold snap, its highest level since February 2012, RTE said in its monthly report.
Fossil fuel power generation, which has been rising steadily since May, reached its highest since February 2012 at 8.3 terrawatt-hours as France cranked up gas- and coal-fired plants to compensate for the fall in nuclear and hydropower.
France, which depends on nuclear power for over 75 percent of its electricity needs, had to seek other means to guarantee power supply after nuclear safety regulator ASN demanded the temporary shutdown of a dozen reactors for safety checks.
Nuclear power production fell 2.6 percent year-on-year in January.
French hydro reservoirs were at their lowest level in at least 10 years, causing hydropower output to fall 8.1 percent in January compared with a year earlier.
Electricity production from wind turbines fell 29 percent year-on-year, while solar power output rose 38 percent.
The French spot power price hit its highest since February 2012 at 206 euros ($218) per megawatt-hour (MWh) on Jan. 25. The day-ahead contract was trading at 45.50 euros/MWh on Friday.
$1 = 0.9446 euros Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Dale Hudson