Economy & Jobs
Energy & Environment
By Paul Messad | EURACTIV.fr | translated by Arthur Riffaud
29-07-2022 (updated: 29-07-2022 )
French MPs adopted the rectifying finance bill, in which it was agreed the country’s public energy supplier EDF should be nationalised. At a minimum, it was agreed that the state will make a public offer to buy the remaining 16% of the company that it does not already own, a sum amounting to €9.7 billion. [CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON / EPA-EFE]
Left-wing MPs and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire came to heated debate in the French National Assembly over a reduction in nuclear power production during the vote on the rectifying finance bill.
On Tuesday night (26-27 July), French MPs adopted the rectifying finance bill, in which it was agreed the country’s public energy supplier EDF should be nationalised. At a minimum, it was agreed that the state will make a public offer to buy the remaining 16% of the company that it does not already own, a sum amounting to €9.7 billion.
However, the outcome was not easy to swallow, particularly for those on the left.
In reality, nuclear production is at half mast. France is significantly importing electricity: up to 10 GW on a single day, as the country’s transmission system operator RTE figures show, a noteworthy figure considering that the country is usually a net exporter.
The nationalisation of French energy giant EDF was “inevitable” because of the “huge amount of regulatory and economic constraints” put on the company as well as France’s new ambitious nuclear programme, according to Professor Jean-Michel Gauthier.
Currently, about thirty reactors are shut down, more than half of France’s fleet. Some are closed for maintenance, and 12 for problems with corrosion. Others have been impacted by the weather, with extreme temperatures endangering the cooling capacities of the plants.
EDF announced that it has lost €5.3 billion euros in the first half of the year, mainly associated with the forced closure of many of the nuclear plants.
The French Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) extended a temporary derogation to the shutdown rules for such situations on Friday (22 July) to “ensure the safety of the electricity network” during this critical period. The power plants of Golfech, Saint-Alban, Blayais and Bugey will thus be permitted to operate until 7 August 2022.
Regardless of the effects of maintenance and other forced shutdowns, however, the nuclear power plants still provided more than half of the country’s electricity production this month, according to RTE.
Normally, reactors provide between 60 and 70% of the country’s electricity needs.
Alongside the rest of the EU, France is facing serious uncertainties about the security of its energy supply for this winter. Despite government assurances that gas stocks will be replenished in time, many are becoming increasingly concerned about coming shortages and potential electricity blackouts.
During the debate on the draft rectifying finance law in the National Assembly, Green MPs and others from the left-wing party La France Insoumise (LFI) condemned the government’s irresponsibility in its approach to nuclear energy.
Julien Bayou, Europe Écologie Les Verts (EELV) MP for Paris and party executive, repeatedly said: to “all those who confuse reality with their fantasies […] nuclear power does not work”.
In response, French economy minister Bruno Le Maire told Bayou that “ideology sometimes blinds you”, because “if nuclear power wasn’t functioning, we would be having debates at night by candlelight.”
LFI MP Antoine Léaument said that the cost of the ‘Grand Carénage’ programme, aimed at extending the life of power plants, would represent the same budget as the construction of 33 to 76 offshore wind farms, which would produce more installed power than that of nuclear.
Jean-Philippe Tanguy, MP from the far-right party Rassemblement National (RN), said in response that “onshore wind turbines and solar panels will never be profitable compared to nuclear power”.
“The European electricity market had to reach historic levels for wind turbines to become profitable”, he added.
The themes of the discussion are not new. In June, LFI’s party leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon revived debate over nuclear’s votality, saying that while this is not a “fact”, the current situation of climate breakdown is such that “what was not intermittent yesterday will become more and more so.”
He added that “France is now the country lagging furthest behind in its renewable energy objectives” within the European Union.
On 18 July, the French Energy Regulation Commission (CRE) unveiled its assessment of the public service costs of energy to be compensated by the state for 2023.
The report concludes that renewables will generate revenue for the State in 2023, due to the current very high price of megawatt hours (MWh). When prices are set higher than the feed-in tariff set by the state, operators pay the difference to public authorities.
This has prompted some observers to insist on the profitability of renewable energies, in particular wind power.
“France is reactivating its coal power plants while at the same time there are currently 4.7 GW of wind projects and 3 GW of solar projects being put on hold”, said Anne-Catherine Tourtier, president of the France Energie Eolienne association.
The government has already announced a bill to speed up the development of renewable energies for the autumn.
The European Parliament’s industry committee voted Wednesday (13 July) in favour of an EU-wide objective to more than double the bloc’s production of renewable energy – from around 22% currently to 45% by 2030 – in reaction to the Ukraine war.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]