French Energy Law Leaves EDF to Plan Nuclear Retreat

A proposed French energy law seeks to “find a balance” between the needs of the world’s biggest atomic generator and the country’s ambition to cut nuclear dependence.

While the legislation unveiled today reiterates President Francois Hollande’s goal of shrinking the share of electricity the country gets from atomic power to 50 percent in 2025 from three-quarters now, it leaves it up to Electricite de France SA to work out how to achieve it.

The company won’t be compelled to shut reactors, although total capacity will be capped at the current level, according to an outline of the law released today.

“Nothing in the law guarantees that Hollande’s promise to lower the proportion of nuclear to 50 percent in 2025 will be kept,” Greenpeace France said in a statement on its website. “Politicians haven’t provided any means to shake off the shackles of nuclear.”

The long-delayed law, billed as a major initiative of Hollande’s five-year mandate, seeks to increase the share of energy France gets from renewable sources such as wind and solar in the world’s most nuclear-dependent economy. It sets a target to get 32 percent of energy from clean sources by 2030 compared with about 14 percent in 2012.

No Confrontation

“I don’t want to oppose one energy against another,” Energy Minister Segolene Royal said at a press conference. “This isn’t a time for confrontation,” she said, noting that France’s atomic industry employs 200,000 people. The law will seek to “find a balance” between EDF’s needs and the government’s goal to diversify energy supplies.

“France won’t get out of nuclear,” she said.

EDF’s oldest atomic plant at Fessenheim in eastern France will be shut as planned, Royal said today. The halt will be a requirement under the law if EDF wants to start up its new-generation EPR reactor at Flamanville in Normandy.

The law will expand the way renewables are financed including through an overhaul of the system known as CSPE, which is a tax on household power bills that funds wind and solar output, according to the outline, which didn’t specify what impact this would have on consumers. The law will also modify the country’s system for regulated power rates starting in 2015.

Incentives for raising energy efficiency to cut use by half by 2050 will also be in the law, partly by encouraging insulation of buildings and roofs when major renovations are undertaken.

Electric Cars

France will also encourage the use of electric cars by granting bonuses for their purchase in exchange for cars running on diesel. The law will also set a goal of 7 million recharging stations by 2030 compared with about 10,000 now.

In the lead-up to the law’s publication, advocates of atomic power like EDF have relied on models forecasting a significant rise in electricity demand and economic growth to justify keeping reactors running. Royal has said she wants to see power demand fall as efficiency increases.

EDF will be required to publish a series of strategies that will outline how to reach Hollande’s goal of shrinking nuclear, taking into account forecasts for demand, the outline shows. The plans will have to be approved by the state and explained annually to parliament.

“Who has decided France’s energy policy?” Greenpeace said in the statement. “It was EDF.”

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