Uniper explores sale of Russian power plants - sources

FRANKFURT, May 26 (Reuters) - Uniper (UN01.DE) is weighing the sale of its Russian power plants and has held talks with Russia's InterRAO (IRAO.MM) on the subject, three people familiar with the matter said, as the German energy group looks for ways to cut emissions.

The talks laid bare differing views about prices, two of the people said, adding Uniper was hoping for higher valuations following the recent restart of its lignite-fired power plant Berezovskaya 3.

The 800 megawatt plant went back online recently after years of repair work following a fire in 2016, but Berezovskaya's carbon footprint no longer fits with the long-term strategy of Uniper and Finnish parent Fortum (FORTUM.HE), the sources said.

Uniper has also held talks with other potential buyers, the people said.

"The question is not whether a deal will happen, but when," one of the people said, not specifying which assets might be sold should a transaction materialise.

Unipro (UPRO.MM), Uniper's Russian unit, operates 11.2 gigawatts of lignite, hard coal and gas-fired power plants in Russia, meeting about 4% of the country's total energy demand.

Based on current share prices, Uniper's 83.7% stake in Unipro is worth 151 billion roubles.

Uniper, Fortum and InterRAO all declined to comment on specific talks.

"We are considering various options, both in the power sector and related industries," said a spokesman for InterRAO, which plans to spend 1 trillion roubles ($13.6 billion) on growth, including mergers and acquisitions, by 2030.

"The key factors for us are: achieving strategic goals, increasing of the value of InterRAO Group and energy efficiency, as well as synergy with the current assets," he added.

With utilities and energy companies under pressure by governments and investors to cut emissions, Uniper wants to close most of its German hard coal-fired power plants by 2025 while Fortum targets carbon neutrality on a group level by 2050.

"Of course that means the fossil footprint in Russia has to over time decrease," Ingela Ulfves, Fortum's vice president for investor relations, said.

Uniper CEO Klaus-Dieter Maubach, a former member of Fortum's board of directors, earlier this month said all of the group's segments had to contribute to the decarbonisation strategy, including Russia.

This chimes with statements from Fortum boss and Uniper Chairman Markus Rauramo, who said in December that the group aims to shift to renewables from thermal over time in Russia.

($1 = 73.4375 roubles)

Reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova, Christoph Steitz, Tom Kaeckenhoff; Additional reporting by Arno Schuetze and Essi Lehto, editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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