SAINT-NAZAIRE – French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday called for a “massive acceleration” of renewable energy development in his country, including offshore wind farms and solar power, via a new plan that seeks to bring lagging France closer to the energy policies of its European neighbors.
The move comes amid a major energy crisis in Europe aggravated by Russia's war in Ukraine. Macron wants France to gain more independence in terms of electricity production.
“The war changed everything... it disrupted the European model, because many countries were depending on Russian gas for (energy) production. And clearly, for the first time, energy has become a weapon of war, ” Macron stressed in his speech in Saint-Nazaire, a port in western France.
Macron went on a boat Thursday morning to visit France’s first offshore wind farm off its Atlantic coast.
He then detailed a range of measures to accelerate renewable energy projects. A bill will be presented next week at a Cabinet meeting.
“We need a massive acceleration," Macron said. “I want us to go at least twice as fast for renewable energy projects. ... “our neighbors often managed to do more, better and, above all, faster."
Macron’s new strategy comes as a long-term response to the energy crisis, but it won’t help in dealing with shorter-term challenges. France and other European countries fear electricity shortages this winter as Russia has choked off the supplies of cheap natural gas that the continent depended on for years to run factories, generate electricity and heat homes.
France’s energy strategy has long relied on developing nuclear power — based on imported uranium— which provides about 67% of French electricity, more than any other country.
Macron announced at the beginning of the year plans to build six new nuclear reactors and to extend the life of its existing nuclear plants as part of the country’s strategy to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming.
But relieving France’s dependence on global gas and oil also involves boosting renewable energy, he said.
France had previously set a goal to increase its renewable energy sources to 23% by 2020 — but only managed to reach 19%. That leaves the country in 17th position in the European Union, below the average of 22% in the bloc of 27 countries, according to latest statistics.
Despite France's thousands of kilometers (miles) of coastline, only the Saint-Nazaire offshore wind farm, with its 80 turbines, has emerged so far. Macron set the goal to build about 50 similar wind farms by 2050 in France.
He also hopes to multiply by 10 the amount of solar energy that is produced, and to double the power from land-based wind farms in the same period.
New measures will aim at reducing the delays in building and launching offshore wind farms from 10-12 years now to about six years, and big solar farms from 6 years to 3 years, Macron said.
The new bill will also aim at providing connections to the grid as soon as a new facility is ready — instead of a delay of up to three years now.
Other planned measures include building solar farms on vacant land along highways, railways and in car parks.
Solar parks will also be encouraged on agricultural lands under certain conditions — including keeping them small to preserve fields for the food industry.
The bill will need to guarantee money for local communities to see local benefits from the energy shift, Macron said.
Macron added he hopes to take the “same approach" for nuclear energy, accelerating and simplifying procedures to build new reactors more quickly.
At the moment, about half of France’s 56 nuclear reactors, all operated by EDF, are shut down for usual maintenance and, in some cases, to repair corrosion problems. The government said this month that EDF committed to restart all of them by this winter.
The French government has warned that a worst-case scenario could lead to rolling power cuts in French homes, and officials have presented an “energy sobriety” plan targeting a 10% reduction in energy use by 2024.
Sylvie Corbet reported from Paris.
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