French government sticks to targets for closing coal power plants

PARIS (Reuters) - The French government is sticking to its previously announced target of shutting down France’s remaining coal power plants by 2022 as a report by grid operator RTE on Wednesday confirmed it could do without the coal generators under certain conditions.

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The government asked the power systems operator in January to carry out additional analysis of France’s supply security situation without the power plants.

The French government plans to halt the remaining coal power plants with a total capacity of around 3,000 megawatts, operated by state-controlled utility EDF and Germany’s Uniper, as part of its efforts to curb carbon emissions.

“We can confirm the 2022 deadline given the recent elements related to the security of supply that RTE has provided,” Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy told a news conference.

However, he added that it would not be a straight road and there could be some constraints along the way.

RTE said in the report that taking into account a base case scenario, it was possible for France to shut down all coal power plants by 2022, particularly if the supply situation remained stable in 2022 compared with the current level.

It said plant closures could start in 2022 and should be gradual. It added that all the generators could cease production in 2022 if French power demand were to remain stable, and if EDF’s new EPR nuclear reactor in Flamanville; a new gas-fired power plant; and a high-voltage power interconnector between Britain and France, were operational by then.

RTE warned that, if there were extended delays in bringing the EPR, the gas-fired plant online, and developing more renewable capacity, then security of supply could not be guaranteed in 2022.

It said in that case, the operation of the coal power plants could be extended, but their output would be limited to just about a dozen hours per year and mostly during winter.

RTE said even if France authorized the conversion of EDF’s 1,200 MW Cordemais coal power plant to burn biomass, output would be very limited to about 20 hours per year and during prolonged cold snaps and in the worse case, it would need the plant for around 250 hours.

This could spell the end for EDF’s Ecocombust project at Cordemais which the firm hopes the government would approve in summer.

EDF, which has to convince the government on the financial viability of the project, was aiming to run the plant for at least 800 hours every year during peak demand period winter when power prices are higher.

Reporting by Bate Felix, Simon Carraud and Benjamin Mallet; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and David Evans