Nuclear output cut by a fifth thanks to nature’s abundance

Falling demand and bumper March for wind and hydro-power lead network operator to take unprecedented step

In an unprecedented move, Spain is cutting back nuclear power generation by 20 percent because of an excess electricity supply. The abundant rains and generous winds of March have teamed up with a drop in demand for electricity over the Easter break.

As usual in these cases, Red Eléctrica de España (REE) stopped its wind turbines. But in an unprecedented move, it also ordered a 20-percent across-the-board reduction in nuclear plants' output. Industry sources said it is the first time that all plants have been affected.

Until now, nuclear power had been considered stable and unaffected by peaks or drops in demand. Renewable energy producers had been asking for years to have nuclear plants modulate their output based on demand, the way France does at night, when demand goes down.

The reduction comes in the middle of exceptional circumstances. March was the wettest month on record since 1943, with an average rainfall of 150 liters per square meter. As a result, hydraulic power output was 3.35 times higher than in the same month last year. Meanwhile, wind power was 53 percent higher than in March 2012, and demand for electricity continues in a freefall.

It sends out the message that even nuclear power is not free from cuts

Industry sources said the nuclear sector was concerned about the decision, because it sets a precedent and sends out the message that even nuclear power is not free from cuts.

A spokeswoman for REE explained that the decision to slash nuclear power production “is only taken in exceptional cases,” although she could not recollect the last time something similar had happened.

On Monday, the government announced a 6.6-percent reduction in electricity bills for most homes.

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