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UPDATE 3-France's EDF: Hercules plan green light would unleash renewables

(Releads with comments on green energy)

PARIS, Feb 10 (Reuters) - French power group EDF said on Wednesday it could double its growth target for renewable energy and become a European champion in the field provided a planned re-organisation, code-named Hercules, can get the go-ahead.

State-controlled EDF says the revamp, which will separate the debt-laden nuclear power business from the rest of the company’s assets, will unblock investment, including in green energy.

But the Hercules plan is bogged down in opposition from two quarters: trade unions in France and their political allies, who say it could lead to an eventual breakup of the group, and Brussels, which says the plan raises unresolved anti-trust and state aid questions.

Uncertainty over whether it will go ahead before 2022, when President Emmanuel Macron faces a tough re-election battle, has helped drive EDF’s share price down around 20% since early in January.

Speaking at a committee hearing on EDF in the upper house of the French parliament, EDF Chairman and Chief Executive Jean-Bernard Levy said getting the green light was tough.

With Hercules in place, he said the company could have 100 gigawatts (GW) of net renewable generating capacity by 2030.

The company’s target for renewables in 2030 is 50 GW of net capacity, versus the 32 GW it had as of the end of 2019.

“Our calculations show that, with the reform, we can aim to double this renewable capacity,” Levy said, referring to the 2030 target.

“We’re trying to get EDF back into the leading pack of European energy firms, and, today, we’re not there,” he said.

Spain’s Iberdrola and Italy’s Enel are EDF’s main European peers. Oil and gas companies such as Total are also entering the market as they try to reduce their reliance on carbon-emitting fuels.

BLUE, AZURE, GREEN

Under the Hercules plan, EDF would be split into three entities: a regulated EDF blue for the nuclear fleet, EDF azure for its hydropower business - which may be fully renationalised - and EDF green for its renewable energy, distribution and retail activities.

The idea is that, by ring-fencing the investment-heavy and debt-laden nuclear business, the more lucrative activities can flourish.

As part of the reform package, EDF also wants a review of the state-mandated price at which its sells on nuclear power to its smaller competitors, which EDF says is too low.

Without a reform, EDF would still survive. It has been able to appeal to the government for capital in the past.

But the status quo is dragging on earnings, when EDF is grappling with a large debt pile, hampering its ability to invest in new projects and stay ahead of rivals. (Writing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Christian Lowe; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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