France kicks off grand national debate on energy

PARIS Thu Nov 29, 2012 5:49pm GMT

A general view shows France's oldest Electricite de France (EDF) nuclear power station, outside the eastern French village of Fessenheim, near Colmar, September 5, 2012. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

A general view shows France's oldest Electricite de France (EDF) nuclear power station, outside the eastern French village of Fessenheim, near Colmar, September 5, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Vincent Kessler

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PARIS (Reuters) - France launches on Thursday a six-month debate on energy policy in the world's most nuclear-dependent nation, in a bid to reshape the way energy is produced and consumed as the country battles a loss in competitiveness.

The public debate on energy, which for the first time will allow French society to discuss the issue of nuclear power, will help shape a framework, so-called energy transition law in 2013.

Working to fulfil key electoral pledges, French President Francois Hollande aims to cut by 2025 the share of nuclear power in the electricity mix to 50 percent, from 75 percent, reduce the country's appetite for oil, boost renewable energy sources and lift energy savings.

With France currently shunning shale gas for ecological reasons, energy-hungry industrial firms will argue that they can simply cannot do without cheap nuclear power.

France's energy is one of Europe's cheapest, thanks to its 58, mostly-amortised, nuclear power reactors.

Europe's No.2 economy suffers from a loss of competitiveness and low growth and the share of its industry in its economy has halved in the past decade.

Manufacturers also see as another blow France's decision to shun shale gas for ecological reasons.

Luc Oursel, Chief Executive of French nuclear giant Areva, speaking at an energy conference, warned against abrupt, disruptive policy changes.

"And if there is one sector where we can't allow instability, it's this one (energy)," he said, adding he hoped the debate would re-establish the concept of long-term "central planning".

After World War Two, determining how nuclear energy was used for civilian and military purposes, became an example of French "dirigisme" - the policy under which the state seeks to direct the economy.

But many observers say France's centralised system is exactly what is preventing the development of renewable energy sources because the country lacks the clout at local government level. This contrasts with the regional and grass-roots power that helped push through the rise of renewables in Germany.

Across the Rhine, the installed capacity for wind and solar electricity production is already equivalent to France's 58 nuclear reactors, even though the output is highly variable

France is slowly embracing heavily-subsidised renewable energies, such as wind and sun power, but they only make up 13 percent of the energy mix, far behind Germany and Spain and well below the 23-percent target set by former President Nicolas Sarkozy for 2020.

(Reporting by Michel Rose and Marion Douet; writing by Muriel Boselli; editing by Keiron Henderson)

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