November 13, 2007 / 11:15 AM / 11 years ago

French energy strikers aim to cut power exports

PARIS (Reuters) - The target of a 24-hour French energy strike on November 14 is to cut enough power output capacity to curb exports of French utility giant EDF, but not to hurt consumers, an energy union official said on Tuesday.

Employees of EDF and gas company GDF, along with rail workers, are due to walk off the job in large numbers on Wednesday in protest over planned changes to their pensions.

“Our target is to slow down exports,” a spokesman from France’s main union of energy workers CGT told Reuters. “Our aim is not to create imbalances in the system that could hurt consumers,” he added.

French electricity prices have soared in recent days in a tight wholesale market as EDF’s nuclear output has appeared to struggle to meet rising demand for heating due to cold weather.

Energy workers carried out a first strike on October 18 that cut some 10,000 megawatts, or almost 16 percent, of the country’s nuclear energy capacity.

“The problem is that we have no way of knowing whether the electricity goes towards exports or (French) consumers, but this time we will be more demanding in terms of trying to ascertain the true state of power networks,” the spokesman said.

The union had asked for access to France’s power dispatching centre as they had during the strikes of 2004, he said.

In any case, energy strikers are limited in the actions they may take as EDF can legally order strikers to stop cutting nuclear power capacity in plants or to increase that capacity with a system of so-called “messages.”

“If strikers do not respect the orders on those messages, they would face disciplinary sanctions equal to those of terrorists,” the unionist added. This is because energy is considered a vital service in the country.

The 24-hour strike would be followed by some additional protest activities on Thursday and Friday, he added.

Reporting by Muriel Boselli; editing by James Jukwey

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