* To launch tender for nuclear technology in Q2
* Mulls keeping telecoms unit Exatel
* Q1 net profit at $456 mln versus $417 mln expected
By Maciej Onoszko
KATOWICE, Poland, May 15 (Reuters) - Poland’s biggest utility, PGE, plans to launch a tender for the technology that will be used in the country’s first nuclear power plant by the end of next month, its deputy head said on Tuesday.
In a bid to reduce its reliance on highly-polluting coal and provide energy for its expanding economy, Poland is planning a 3 gigawatt nuclear plant and hopes to double its capacity by 2030.
State-controlled PGE, which also reported better-than-expected first-quarter earnings, is managing the project.
The process of choosing the nuclear technology has so far attracted the interest of American-Japanese group GE Hitachi , France’s Areva and Westinghouse, a U.S unit of Japan’s Toshiba.
But it has been hampered by bureaucratic delays. PGE said in March the tender would be launched within two months, but had provided no further information on the matter since then.
“Our schedule assumes the tender for the nuclear plant’s contractor will be launched in the second quarter,” Boguslawa Matuszewska told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of an economic congress taking place in Katowice, the capital of Poland’s coal region in the southwest.
PGE is looking at running the project with a partner or on its own, and with or without state guarantees, Matuszewska said.
Like other Polish utilities, PGE relies almost exclusively on coal.
Thanks to the launch of the country’s largest power unit at its lignite-fired plant in Belchatow, PGE reported a better-than-expected 27-percent jump in earnings for the first three months of the year to 1.53 billion zlotys ($456 million).
By 1320 GMT, PGE shares were down 0.1 percent as Warsaw’s main index slipped 1.2 percent.
PGE launched the 858-megawatt unit in September, helping it to increase power generation in the first three months of this year by a tenth to 15.4 terawatt-hours.
“We have giant volumes on lignite-fired blocks, they were all working at full capacity,” said Pawel Puchalski, an analyst at Bank Zachodni WBK brokerage.
Matuszewska also said the utility may decide to keep its telecoms arm Exatel, which it was expected to try to sell again after an earlier failed attempt.
“We should make a decision on Exatel in a relatively very short period of time. We are seriously considering a scenario assuming retaining Exatel within the group,” he said.
Exatel provides telecom services to a number of public institutions, including those responsible for state security, and might therefore need to remain under state control.