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France begins 'energy transition' debate

Nov. 28, 2012 at 12:03 AM   |   Comments

PARIS, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- Nuclear power-dependent France this week will launch a six-month national debate on the government's proposals for an "energy transition" toward renewables.

The debate -- to begin Thursday -- comes as French President Francois Hollande has renewed a pledge to cut nuclear energy from 75 percent to 50 percent of France's power mix by 2020 and establish a low-carbon road map that would put a new emphasis on wind and other renewable energy sources.

Socialist presidential candidate Hollande campaigned against continued reliance on nuclear power in the run-up to his May 6 defeat of center-right incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and recently repeated his pledge to cut nuclear power's share to 50 percent on the original timetable.

Hollande announced plans for the energy transition debate in September at a Paris environmental conference, during which a gathering of 14 government ministers, 300 elected officials and many others met to discuss a similar "ecological transition" for the country.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said then the group was to develop a "road map" for the implementation of the energy transition, which would include a sharp focus on renewable energy.

"The profound crisis that we are experiencing is not just financial and economic one, but an environmental one as well," he said, adding the government would launch a new tender for the construction of two offshore wind farms located off Le Treport and Noirmoutier by the end of December, France24 reported.

At the same conference, Hollande also announced he had closed the door on further exploration for shale natural gas, rejecting seven applications to develop France's shale deposits while citing environmental concerns over the hydraulic fracturing process.

The president vowed to push for the European Union to adopt a target of reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030 and 60 percent by 2040 while extending the current target of 20 percent by 2020, the Financial Times reported.

French Environment Minister Delphine Batho and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius this month laid out the government's priorities for a pan-European energy policy, in which they called for "taking up the challenge of developing renewable energy" in a world where global energy demand could double by 2050.

The three-phase energy debate will begin Thursday with a two-month "information phase."

That will be followed by a "public participation" phase from January-April, which will lead to recommendations being made in May for inclusion in a June energy policy bill.

The debate process will be led by seven "colleges" comprised of representatives of trade unions, employers, environmental non-governmental organizations, consumer associations, chambers of commerce, local elected officials, parliamentarians and government ministers.

A six-member steering committee chosen by Batho includes Anne Lauvergeon, former president of wind turbine manufacturer Areva; former Michelin Group Chief Executive Michel Rollier; and Bruno Rebelle, former head of Greenpeace France.

French energy industry leaders have blasted Hollande's move from nuclear power, citing current energy costs that are among the lowest in Europe as well as the country's low levels of carbon emissions.

EDF Chief Executive Henri Proglio told the French National Assembly in October France's domestic electricity prices are 35 percent lower than the European average thanks to its 58 nuclear reactors.

"The existing nuclear fleet, together with hydro, provides a base for competitive French electricity. This is valuable asset for the country," he said.

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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