Four questions around the project that could save the coal plant

CORDEMAIS, the 16/09/2010 Power plant and thermal - © Fabrice ELSNER
  • Threatened with closure, the plant could finally continue to operate after 2022.

  • A project called Ecocombus is being led by EDF to gradually replace coal with wood pellets.

Threatened with closure, the coal power plant Cordemais (Loire-Atlantique) could get a reprieve by burning wood. It is in any case the project defended by EDF and employees, described as interesting by the Minister of ecological transition, François de Rugy. If conversion to a biomass plant is successful, the plant could operate
beyond 2022, date of cessation of coal in France.

What is this project?

Called "Ecocombust", the EDF project aims to gradually replace coal with pellets made from wood waste (hedge trimmings, wood for furniture, panels, packaging, etc.). In the medium term, the plant would burn 80% or even 100% of biomass for 500 to 1,000 hours per year (against 4,500 today). "The plant will run less but during peak periods. The big advantage is that we do not need to change everything, "says Joel Geffroy, mayor (various right) of Cordemais.

Is there a consensus around Ecocombust?

No, given the skepticism of environmental associations. Cécile Marchand, Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, stresses that pellets made from waste can damage the plant because of their impurities. "No operator in the world has managed to move to the industrial stage," she says.

"The big risk is that EDF finds itself burning wood taken from the forest. It would be an ecological disaster, a disaster for biodiversity, "she warns. A scenario at the Gardanne, this former coal plant in Bouches-du-Rhone which burns cutting wood and is accused by ecologists of threatening local forests. "In no case, the forest wood will be used", abounds Gwénaël Plagne, of the CGT of EDF.

Are there other reviews?

Yes, as the poor performance of the plant. "It wastes two-thirds of its fuel because it does not value the heat lost," says the association Virage Energy Climate. It denounces an "incredible waste of energy" compared to modern cogeneration plants, which produce electricity and heat for district heating networks.

Fears that there are still dismissals, Gwénaël Plagne ensures that "EDF saves almost all jobs" with Ecocombust. But again, the band did not make a public commitment. With 1,500 indirect jobs and 27 million euros paid to communities, the plant plays a vital role in the local economy.

What about the safety of the electricity grid?

It is this question that will also weigh in the balance, while Brittany produces only 15% of its electricity. Coal or not, shutting down the Cordemais plant could prove impossible if other plants were not commissioned by 2022 (EPR, gas, wind turbines).