* Peak demand seen as stable
* Supply could tighten 2022-2023
* Coal power plant may have to be converted (Adds details on medium term outlook, background)
By Bate Felix
PARIS, Nov 20 (Reuters) - French power supply for the coming winter is in better shape than a year earlier thanks to higher capacity for nuclear and hydropower generation, electricity network operator RTE said in an outlook on Wednesday.
The network operator said however that France could face a tight supply situation during peak demand periods between 2022 and 2023 with the planned shutdown of France’s remaining coal-fired power plants and its two oldest nuclear reactors.
“In the event of a cold snap, given the current forecast availability of the French generation fleet, the risk of pressure on the electricity system is lower overall than last winter, especially for January and February 2020,” RTE said.
The power system operator said peak electricity demand for winter 2019-2020 was seen stable at around 85 gigawatts (GW) if temperatures remained at seasonal levels.
Jean-Paul Roubin, RTE’s director of operations, told a news conference that French reservoir levels were at their highest in 10 years following increased rainfall since September, which would provide stronger hydro generation.
He added that the availability of France’s 58 nuclear reactors, which provide around 75% of the country’s electricity needs, would be higher particularly for January and February.
“As of now, although 14 reactors are offline, nearly all of them will be operational by January,” Roubin said.
He said France could also count on around 8.6 GW of power capacity through inter-connectors with neighbouring countries from which France can import electricity.
RTE said the planned closure of the remaining coal generators by 2022, and two reactors at Fessenheim by summer next year would reduce French generation capacity by 5 GW.
RTE said it has had to revise its outlook over the past couple of years for several reasons, particularly because of the delay in the construction of the Flamanville 3 EPR reactor, now expected to come on stream in 2023.
Also adding to the uncertain supply picture in the 2022 - 2023 period is the planned closure of generation capacity in several European countries, and the increased rate of prolonged maintenance outages of French nuclear reactors operated by state-controlled utility EDF, RTE said.
Over the past decade, nuclear reactor maintenance outages have been prolonged by an average of around two months from the initial restart date, it said.
France may have to take measures including keeping or converting the Cordemais coal power plant during the 2022-2023 period to secure power supply particularly in the western region.
In a research note on Tuesday, ratings agency Moody’s estimated that French wholesale power prices will range between 45 euros ($49.76) a megawatt hour (MWh) and 55 euros/MWh in the period to 2022 for several reasons including the longer-than-usual outages.
The French wholesale baseload power price for delivery in 2020 was trading at 47.55 euros/MWh, down 0.7 % by 1200 GMT.
$1 = 0.9043 euros Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Dale Hudson and James Drummond