July 22, 2015 / 6:55 PM / 5 years ago

French energy law dodges decisions on nuclear cuts

* Bill seeks to cut nuclear to 50 pct of power mix

* Postpones detailed plan on reactor closures

* Sets carbon tax goal of 56 euros/tonne by 2020

By Michel Rose

PARIS, July 22 (Reuters) - French lawmakers passed a long-delayed energy bill on Wednesday, ushering into law President Francois Hollande’s pledge to cut nuclear power to half of France’s electricity mix in 2025 from 75 percent today, the highest share in the world.

But the text approved on Wednesday puts off hard decisions including the likely closure of some existing nuclear plants.

The energy transition bill, prepared under four successive energy ministers culminating with incumbent Segolene Royal, retains most of the targets adopted in a first reading last October.

Those include a cap on French nuclear power production at its current 63.2 gigawatt level - which would force utility EDF to close down some existing nuclear capacity to accommodate its new EPR reactor under construction in Normandy.

Accompanying the reduced nuclear contribution, renewable energy production will need to increase to meet 40 percent of France’s overall electricity requirements under the new law.

How the targets are to be met is now less clear than in the original draft bill, which would have required the government to produce a detailed three-year plan by the end of 2015.

Instead, the final text merely calls on the government to open discussions by year end on a “multi-year” implementation strategy - effectively postponing the tough and costly decisions on reactor closures.

Environmental groups such as Greenpeace fear that the backtrack endangers the ambitious goals themselves in he face of fierce lobbying by state-controlled EDF, the world’s biggest operator of nuclear reactors.

“This law sets goals, which is interesting, but it doesn’t explain how to reach them,” Greenpeace energy campaigner Yannick Rousselet said. Postponement of the detailed implementation plans “is not a good sign”, he said.

According to the campaign group, meeting the overall targets would require the closure of EDF’s Fessenheim nuclear plant and five others.

Decommissioning Fessenheim, France’s oldest reactor situated on the German border, was one of President Hollande’s campaign pledges but the plan has met stiff local resistance from EDF unions and politicians over likely job cuts.

Beyond the nuclear sector, the new law sets a long term targets for France’s carbon tax, rising from 22 euros ($24) next year to 56 euros in 2020 and 100 euros a decade later. ($1 = 0.9168 euros) (Additional reporting by Emile Picy; Editing by Laurence Frost)

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