French Set for Power Gap in Three Years on Nuclear Shutdowns

France is heading for a shortage of generating capacity within three years because of the planned closing of outdated fossil-fuel plants and two nuclear reactors, grid operator Reseau de Transport d’Electricite said.

Power supply will be assured until 2015, when as much as 7.6 gigawatts of coal and heating fuel-fired power plants may be phased out, RTE said today in a report. The gap will reach 1.2 gigawatts in 2016 and 2.1 gigawatts in 2017 as two generators at the Fessenheim atomic plant are shut by President Francois Hollande, who has pledged to cut reliance on nuclear power.

“We aren’t being alarmist,” Dominique Maillard, president of RTE, told reporters. The French grid is warning that new high-voltage lines and more capacity to carry power across borders with neighboring countries are needed, he said.

France, which gets more than three-quarters of its power from nuclear, has imported increasing amounts of electricity since 2001 as demand outpaces supply at peak periods. Lawmakers say a German decision to shut atomic plants adds to the strain.

Hollande, elected in May, vowed to close the Fessenheim reactors by about the end of his term in May 2017.

“The French power system is singularly sensitive to changes in temperature and isn’t shielded from shortages in the case of an extreme weather event,” RTE said in the report.

Demand rose to a record 102.1 gigawatts during a cold snap in February, met partly through imports. These reached a record 9 gigawatts, a level that “strained the physical limits” of interconnection capacity with neighboring countries, RTE said.


Some French power projects have been delayed and others abandoned for being unprofitable, it said, as economies slow. Demand is expected to reach 497 terawatt hours in 2017, even accounting for weaker consumption as the economy has slowed.

Looking ahead, 15 French coal-fired plants with capacity of 3.9 gigawatts will close from 2012 to 2016, while another 3.8 gigawatts of heating-oil plants will shut in 2016, RTE said.

Four natural gas-fired plants are supposed to start up by 2017, while Electricite de France SA’s new EPR nuclear reactor at Flamanville is due to begin commercial production in 2016.

The shutdowns of the Fessenheim reactors near the German border “need to be anticipated,” with studies on the effects for the power system and French and German demand, RTE said.

Reducing nuclear in the energy mix by 2030 will need a doubling of interconnection capacity in 20 years, costing about 350 million euros ($440 million) a year, it said. The borders with Spain, Italy and the U.K. are the focus, Maillard said.

The biggest challenge for the grid is to get people to accept high-voltage cables and pylons, he said. It has struggled to develop infrastructure needed to carry power from Electricite de France SA’s Flamanville EPR because of local opposition.

Hollande’s decision to close Fessenheim, EDF’s oldest plant, stems from concerns about the safety of the reactors after last year’s nuclear meltdown at Fukushima in Japan. The “challenge” after that will be to supply electricity to areas around the plant in France and Germany, Maillard said.

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