September 24, 2018 / 7:48 AM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 1-Utility Engie sees Belgian nuclear reactors' availability around 74 pct by next year

(Adds detail on capex, reactor availability)

PARIS, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Engie said its 2018 core earnings will be slightly below the utility’s target due to outages at its Belgian nuclear plants, but the Belgian nuclear availability rate should go back to at least 74 percent by next year.

On Friday, the French gas and power group warned that the Belgian outages would push its 2018 net recurring income to the low end of its 2.45 billion-2.65 billion euros ($2.9 billion-$3.1 billion) forecast range but did not mention core earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA).

“We expect Ebitda ... to be slightly below the indication that we had given at the beginning of the year,” Engie Chief Financial Officer Judith Hartmann said on a call with analysts.

In February, Engie had said it aimed for core earnings of 9.3 to 9.7 billion euros.

Hartmann said the impact of the Belgian outages on capital expenditure would be limited as the repair work on the reactor’s degraded concrete was not excessively costly.

“The capex impact for the outages is quite limited ... in the dozens of millions, but not anything very significant at the scale of the company,” she said.

“Those are big works but they are not very sophisticated technically,” she added.

Hartmann said the Belgian reactor’s availability, which will come in at just 52 percent this year, should go back to at least 74 percent next year.

Asked whether the Belgian fleet could go back to availability rates of 90 percent in coming years, she said the company would be working on that.

“It is 75-80 percent in a normal year and has been higher than that in most of the past years except 2015. In the past it was around 90 percent, so over time it should normalise,” she said.

Engie’s Belgian unit Electrabel operates seven nuclear reactors in Belgium, four at Doel and three at Tihange, which produce about half the country’s electricity when they are fully operational.

Only two Belgian reactors are in operation at the moment, namely the Doel 3 and Tihange 1 reactors.

Three have been halted for extended maintenance since the spring, while two have been out since August. They are expected to come back online between December 15 and the end of May 2019. (Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)

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