With Summer Over, French Government Warns of Looming Winter Energy Shortages

Fayçal Benhassain | August 30, 2022 | 7:05pm EDT
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High voltage power lines and a water tower in Normandy, northwestern France. (Photo by Joel Saget / AFP via Getty Images)
High voltage power lines and a water tower in Normandy, northwestern France. (Photo by Joel Saget / AFP via Getty Images)

Paris (CNSNews.com) – As summer officially draws to a close, the French government is warning businesses and citizens that that coming winter could bring energy shortages and possibly rationing, a consequence of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Europe’s response.

On Tuesday, the French multinational utility company Engie said it had been informed by the Russian gas giant Gazprom that gas deliveries would be reduced with immediate effect, “due to a disagreement between the parties on the application of contracts.”

Engie said it has already put in place measures to supply customers, even in the event of an interruption of Gazprom flows, having “already secured the volumes necessary to ensure to supply its customers and for its own needs.”

In response to the move, President Emmanuel Macron will convene his Defense and National Security Council for a special meeting on Friday.

“The supply of gas and electricity being a vital interest for the country, the National Defense and Security Council will evaluate the situation as well as the scenarios that it will discuss to prepare for all cases,” the Elysée palace said in a statement.

“The council must figure out what are the options the government has to avoid power blackouts and lack of gas for people and companies this fall and winter.”

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire told the Movement of the French Enterprises, the largest business association of France, on Tuesday that everyone must “restrain their energy consumption, at home, in transportation, in the administrations, and in businesses this coming winter.”

He said business enterprises must take strict measures to avoid power and gas cuts, especially for those that require a lot of energy for their activities.

One day earlier, addressing the same audience, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne urged companies to restrain their energy consumption this winter, otherwise they would be the “first affected” by “rationing” measures in the coming months.

Because of the war in Ukraine, Russia has already reduced gas supplies to France and most European countries. At the same time the E.U. is working towards reducing its dependence on Russian energy.

“If Russia were to completely cut off its gas exports to Europe, the consequences would be massive,” Borne said. She urged everyone to play their part, “by lowering energy consumption all together.”

Power prices in France have already soared and companies and households are worried about their bills this winter. Last week, France reported a skyrocketing electricity price hike for contracts for 2023, from $85 per megawatt hour to more than $1,000.

Nuclear power accounts for 72 percent of France’s domestic electricity production. There are 56 nuclear plants in France although only 24 are in operation, with the remainder facing technical problems including in some cases stress corrosion.

Valérie Faudon, general delegate of the French Nuclear Energy Society told reporters that “the situation is indeed serious as a lot of sectors of the economy require gas and power to work.”

“What is planned is to ask companies to reduce the use of electricity during the day, especially in unused premises and at off-peak hours,” she said. “As for households, they should also be asked to limit their energy consumption, in particular electricity, but also gas when they are home after work.”

The potential energy crisis is thought to be one of the reasons behind a visit by Macron to Algeria, a oil and gas producer, last week.

Macron denied that his three day-trip was to urge President Abdelmajid Tebboune to increase gas supplies to France. He said the visit focused on other important issues, including the difficult past shared by France and its former colony.

Still, French TV BFM confirmed that exchanges took place between Algerian officials and Engie’s managing director, who was part of Macron's delegation. It said negotiations were underway on boosting deliveries of liquefied natural gas from Algeria.

France currently buys around 3.5 billion cubic meters of gas from Algeria each year.

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