from the abandonment of coal to the possible reopening of the Saint-Avold power plant, a look back at a promise made by Emmanuel Macron

A closure not so definitive. The power plant Emile-Huchet de Saint-Avold (Moselle), which runs on coal and gas, could be put back into service next winter, confirmed at franceinfo the Ministry of Energy Transition, Sunday June 26. This recovery “temporary” must allow France to avoid electricity shortages, while the country is trying to do without Russian energy and that nearly half of the country’s nuclear reactors are still shut down for various reasons. Franceinfo retraces the debates which sealed, then unblocked, the fate of this well-known power station in the Moselle region.

1In 2017, the candidate Macron promises the abandonment of coal-fired power plants

This is a much-awaited commitment, especially by ecologists. “During the five years [à venir]we must close all coal-fired power plants”, repeats, in February 2017, Emmanuel Macron, then candidate for the presidency of the Republic. A promise that translates after his election into several announcements and an official visit. In October 2018, François de Rugy, then Minister for the Ecological Transition, indeed went to this town bordering Germany to meet, as reported the Lorraine Republicanwith the central unions.

After several years of doubt, marked by environmental awareness and a decline in the profitability of this type of energy, the employees of the site, inaugurated in 1948, are informed that their activity will stop by 2022. A situation grotesque according to some, because to face the peaks of winter electricity consumption, the east of France will then have to turn to Germany, which produces partly with coal, with lignite in particulara low-quality product that pollutes more than other types of fossil coal.

2In November 2019, the “zero coal” objective was voted on by parliamentarians

Despite the resignation of François de Rugy, the Energy and Climate Bill made its way to the National Assembly, then to the Senate, and was adopted in the fall of 2019. The text, which aims carbon neutrality by 2050 as well as a 40% reduction in fossil fuel consumption by 2030, mentions the closure of the last coal-fired power stations before the end of Emmanuel Macron’s first five-year term, i.e. spring 2022. This law echoes the pmulti-year energy program (PPE) at the time, and sees itself supplemented in July 2021 by the Climate and Resilience Law, which provides support for employees affected by the closures of sites deemed too polluting.

3On March 31, 2022, the plant closes… for the time being

As promised, the Emile-Huchet plant effectively ceased its activity on March 31. The thick white smoke that had hovered over the site for more than 70 years is also disappearing.

But all is not set in stone. Two days earlier, the Ministry of Ecological Transition thus announced that the plant could resume service the following winter, given the difficulties encountered by EDF’s nuclear fleet and the consequences of the conflict in Ukraine. The ministry ensures that this return to service “would not call into question France’s overall coal exit trajectory”.

Questioned by AFP, employees of the plant say they are ready to resume service if necessary, even if it is necessary to provide for “maintenance work needed” for “repair” some equipment.

4On June 26, 2022, the government confirms that reopening is a serious option

According to information first revealed by RTL, then confirmed by official sources, the government wants to include the restarting of the Moselle power station in its future purchasing power bill. “We keep the possibility of being able to operate the Saint-Avold power plant for a few more hours if we need it next winter”, Explain the Ministry of Energy Transition, in a press release sent on June 26. According to Agnès Pannier-Runacher, at the head of this ministry, coal will continue to represent less than 1% of the electricity produced in France.

The employees of the Emile-Huchet plant, some of whom have recently retired, are now waiting for the month of July and the examination of this bill to find out whether their site will be able to benefit from an exemption. If it is restarted, the Lorraine complex will support the last coal-fired power station still in operation in France, that of Cordemais (Loire-Atlantique), which benefits from a reprieve until 2026 at the latest..

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