* Looking for acquisitions in charging sector
* Also looking for partnerships with automakers
* Seeking to protect Moorburg coal plant in exit debate (Adds detail, quotes, comment on Moorburg coal-fired power plant)
By Christoph Steitz, Vera Eckert and Tom Käckenhoff
BERLIN, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Swedish state-owned utility Vattenfall is looking for acquisitions in its efforts to become one of Europe’s biggest operators of electric vehicle charging stations, its chief executive said.
Vattenfall currently operates more than 10,000 charging spots across Europe, most of which are in its home market and in the Netherlands, joining a large number of utility rivals that all hope to benefit from an expected rise in electric car sales.
In Germany, where the group makes more than a third of its underlying profit and has more than 3.6 million customers, the number of charging points stands at just 110, far behind local rivals Innogy and EnBW.
“What we are looking for are strategic, reasonable acquisitions that can really push us into a growth platform or a technology that we need,” Magnus Hall told Reuters at the annual Handelsblatt energy conference. “We’re not talking about bolt-on acquisitions.”
“From a financial viewpoint we are quite solid,” he said, declining to say how much cash the company had to spend.
Vattenfall, which already cooperates with BMW and Geely-owned Volvo in the area of electric charging, is also looking for further partnerships with carmakers, Hall said.
Vattenfall in 2016 agreed to sell its lignite operations in Germany as part of a strategic shift that will fully wean the group off CO2 emissions within a generation. Still, the company operates a number of hard coal-fired power plants in the country, most notably its 1,654 megawatt Moorburg station.
Moorburg, which cost nearly 3 billion euros ($3.4 billion)and only started operations in 2015, will likely face early closure as part of a plan to phase out coal in Germany, details of which are expected later on Friday.
“We think our Moorburg plant should clearly qualify for the very last step of the phase out. It’s brand new and very efficient,” Hall said, adding Vattenfall was considering fuel-switch options for the plant, including biomass.
Experts believe that Germany, already in the process of shutting down all its nuclear power stations, will completely phase out of coal between 2035 and 2040. Vattenfall initially hoped to keep Moorburg running for about 40 years, Hall said. ($1 = 0.8809 euros) (Editing by Maria Sheahan and Elaine Hardcastle)