PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis wants a decision by the end of 2018 on financing majority state-owned utility CEZ’s multi-billion dollar nuclear power expansion.
CEZ has refused to invest in new plants without some form of state support and has instead proposed spinning off its renewables and energy services businesses to investors, leaving traditional sources like coal and nuclear in state hands.
The 70 percent state-owned utility operates two nuclear power plants in Dukovany and Temelin which together covered 38 percent of Czech energy needs last year.
Dukovany’s reactors start to expire around 2035 and Babis told Reuters in an interview that this meant work on replacement blocks needed to speed up regardless of the debates over whether to split up central Europe’s largest listed utility to pay for the work.
“We have to start moving fast as of September. Let’s hope a decision will be made by Christmas,” Babis, a billionaire turned politician who came to power in an election last October, said.
Babis says CEZ is big enough to build the new nuclear units without being split up and reiterated that a CEZ subsidiary should be the main vehicle to build the new reactors, which will also be located in Dukovany.
“I am convinced that it is up to CEZ to build it. That means to evaluate the Dukovany assets, put them into a subsidiary, run a tender for a technology provider, financing, maybe even a joint-venture and CEZ should guarantee it,” he said.
The state could step in as a guarantor if there were problems, while a committee has also assessed the option of the state buying a small CEZ unit to build the plants.
CEZ Chief Executive Daniel Benes has said that a state-owned part of CEZ would be best placed to build the new nuclear blocks.
The company scrapped a tender for Temelin’s expansion in 2014 after the previous government, which included Babis as finance minister, refused to guarantee the price of electricity produced in the new blocks.
A government decision was postponed in May to give more time to assess budget impacts and gauge European Union views.
Reporting by Robert Muller and Jason Hovet; Editing by Alexander Smith