France’s energy plan for 2018-2028 is already outdated, and in contradiction with the carbon neutrality the government has pledged for 2050

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Published on 23/12/2019

The PPE, France’s long-term energy plan, on which the government just recently asked for public comment, is already obsolete, since it called for the closure of coal-fired power stations in 2022. With the recent announcement by Secretary of State Emmanuelle Wargon on the continued operation of the Cordemais coal plant until 2024 or 2026, France will close two nuclear power reactors in Fessenheim in 2020 that generated low-carbon electricity while abandoning its commitment to renounce coal. The most recent ten-year study by RTE, the national grid company, recognised that Cordemais should be kept on the grid in order to ensure security of electricity supply, particularly in the west of France, which is particularly lacking in nuclear power generation – and even then supply will be tight. Curiously, the RTE assessment stops in 2026 without mention of either the conditions for balancing supply and demand in 2026-2028 or any reduction in nuclear capacity, whereas the PPE foresees four early reactor closures between now and 2028. Is the Ministry of Ecological and Solidarity Transition aware of the serious risks of electrical deficit it is making the country take?

France has committed to carbon neutrality by 2050. To this end, the National Low Carbon Strategy (SNBC) proposed by the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Solidarity foresees a 25% increase in consumption of electricity, which would replace fossil fuels in transport and housing. At the same time, the President of the Republic, speaking in Pau, just expressed his doubts about whether the French people will be willing to accept an significant expansion of onshore wind energy – in total contradiction with the hypotheses of the PPE and the SNBC. How could it possible to generate 650TWh/year of low-carbon electricity in 2050 without a clear strategy for a non-carbon emitting and dispatchable energy source – that is, nuclear power? The PPE and SNBC projects are characterized by an obsession with justifying the early closure of 14 nuclear reactors, rather than the role of France in winning the fight for the climate. To justify this policy in the name of the war on global warming is a farce.

For sites housing nuclear power plant reactors that would be affected by early shutdowns (i.e. Blayais, Bugey, Chinon, Cruas, Dampierre, Gravelines and Tricastin – which has just obtained authorization from the ASN (Nuclear Safety Authority) to continue operating one of its reactors beyond 40 years after its major overhaul), it is argued that if they are allowed to be amortised over 50 years, the State would be exempted from any compensation due to early shutdown. This position ignores the constitutional right to undertake a business, whereas the Constitutional Council validated the LTE1 (the current energy law) on the express provision that the previous minister had negotiated with EDF a compensation protocol for the closure of Fessenheim. That protocol, which has now been signed, could cost the French taxpayer more than two billion euros per reactor until 2041.

One might have expected a convincing jobs plan for the foreseen plant closures. The precedent of Fessenheim, where the fate of 2200 jobs is at stake, shows that for the past 7 years, despite the various promises made by many officials on the site, the State been unable to negotiate any serious industrial projects, leaving the region to a severe industrial disaster.

France must choose: either pursue the German chimera and reduce its nuclear potential – admired the world over – or propose to our planet the efficient model of a developed country successfully reducing its carbon dioxide emissions.

This text is also a contribution of the Association Voices of Nuclear to the public consultation on the energy plan (PPE) consultation

Author: Jacques Peter

Mining Engineer, career in the transport industry, SNCF and subsidiaries. With concrete knowledge of the economic fabric of France, Jacques Peter is a member of Sauvons le Climat and member of the energy, transport and environment committees of the IESF, Engineers and Scientists of France.

1 Energy Transition for Green Growth Act of August 17, 2015