France to Look to Import Energy from Britain and Others as Winter Power Cuts Loom

Employees of French national electricity grid company Enedis work to repair high voltage lines on March 7, 2017, near Amplepuis, central France, after the storm Zeus hit the Atlantic coast and swept across the centre and southeast of the country. - Winds gusting up to hurricane force battered west and …
JEFF PACHOUD/AFP via Getty Images

It is a very real possibility that France will see rolling power cuts this winter and will seek to import energy from Britain and other European neighbours to try and cope, the head of the nation’s public electricity company said on Thursday.

Amid continuing failures with the French nuclear reactor fleet, which is currently running at around half of capacity, the chairman of Réseau de Transport d’Électricité (RTE) Xavier Piechaczyk said that currently there will be at least a few days during the winter in which the red alert signalling potential cuts will be in effect.

Earlier this year, RTE alongside the Energy Management Agency (Ademe) introduced an SMS energy warning system for the public, with a colour-coded ‘Ecowatt’ system, with green indicating that all is fine, amber signalling growing issues, and red warning that there are power cuts coming.

In order to avoid the worst, the RTE chief said that France will begin looking to import energy from its neighbours, such as Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, and even the United Kingdom, many of which are realistically facing blackouts of their own.

Though France is typically a net energy exporter and is not as reliant on gas from Russia to the same extent as other major European economies like Germany, the nation’s nuclear power industry has been severely hampered by issues with corrosion forcing 20 of the 56 reactors to be shut down. This issue has been compounded by a series of labour strikes that have only served to delay the repairs further.

Currently, energy usage in France is only down six per cent compared to last year. However, RTE said that most of this has come as a result of industrial slowdown and not individuals curbing their usage.

Government spokesman Olivier Véran attempted to downplay the threat of blackouts, saying: “We are not in the process of announcing to the French that there will be cuts,” but added that “if we were to have a particularly cold month of January and no adaptation of certain behaviour, then we do not rule out the use of measures, including load shedding.”

French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne also urged the public to curtail their habits: “If we all do even more to reduce our consumption, we will not have a cut.”

“We have part of the answer, all of us, in our hands,” she said. “If we all lower our energy consumption, it’s good for everyone’s purchasing power, the competitiveness of companies, and at the same time it will avoid having a time when we would have insufficient electricity production compared to demand, for example, if we have a cold wave.”

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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