* For other news from Reuters Central & Eastern Europe Investment Summit, click here
By Jason Hovet and Petra Vodstrcilova
PRAGUE, May 25 (Reuters) - Czech utility CEZ is close to acquiring a renewable power project in Germany as it pursues a strategy of investing in renewable plants and smaller energy technology firms, while remaining open to a big acquisition if the opportunity arose.
CEZ board member Tomas Pleskac also said in an interview at the Reuters Central & Eastern Europe Investment Summit that the region’s largest listed utility would decide on selling its assets in Bulgaria in the second half of the year.
The group, 70 percent in the hands of the Czech state, has been transforming itself in recent years like other European utilities hit by weak wholesale power prices. CEZ aims to cut its lignite fleet in the future, compensating that with more nuclear and renewable production.
“I would not say the time of big acquisitions for CEZ has ended. It is more that today there are not big acquisitions on the market and if there are, it is for unreasonable money,” he said. “I see today in the area of acquisitions... looking for small attractive firms, small projects.”
“For us it is important to concentrate on these smaller acquisitions.”
Pleskac declined to give details on the German renewable project it sought but said it was already in operation and the deal was in the final stages. CEZ already operates wind farms with 100 megawatt capacity in Germany.
CEZ might also sell out of Bulgaria where it owns an electricity distributor providing power to more than 2 million, the Varna coal-fired power plant and renewable energy plants.
Pleskac would not name the investors it has started talks with but said they were Bulgarian and international. A decision on whether to sell would come before year-end.
For renewable power expansion, CEZ is aiming to add 400 MW capacity to its existing 3,500 MW portfolio by 2020, focussed on Germany and France.
Pleskac also said CEZ’s Esco energy service provider company would look to expand abroad. Its Inven Capital venture fund, which holds a stake in German smart battery system maker Sonnen, would continue to look for two or three deals a year.
The focus on smaller steps to achieve growth comes as CEZ is set for an eighth straight year of profit decline.
One question the company faces is whether it might follow the example of other utilities and split into a unit responsible for enlarging nuclear power plants and another focusing on new sources of energy - an idea raised this year by CEZ Chief Executive Daniel Benes.
Pleskac said that no talks on splitting have yet been considered.
*Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits **For more summit stories, see (Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)