Will the release of coal, planned for 2022, be postponed?

The movement is duller than that of the yellow vests, but the discomfort is very present. For several weeks, strikes have disrupted the four coal plants still active in France. The claim of the employees? A moratorium to postpone their closure, scheduled for 2022, in the name of the Climate Plan.

One of them has just been heard: that of Cordemais (Loire-Atlantique), the largest in France, operated by EDF as that of Le Havre (Seine-Maritime). The Minister of Ecological Transition announced in a letter to the unions unveiled Friday that it will be able to operate beyond 2022 to guarantee electricity supply for Brittany, if its biomass conversion project succeeds. A decision that casts doubt on the promise of Emmanuel Macron according to associations for the defense of nature.

In his letter, François de Rugy mentions the possibility of continuing the activity of the plant with a reduced share of coal, beyond the goal of 2022. But closes the door to any retreat. In Cordemais, EDF tests a biomass-based eco-fueling device (which consists of burning green waste, Ed.), Called "Ecocombust", to ensure its reconversion. A project that, if it raises the concern of ecological associations, who fear a looting of forests, would avoid the total closure of the plant and the departure of its employees according to the unions.

Reconversion projects still pending

"There are no climateosceptics here. We want to make this transition but we need a delay. This is a strong sign that the government is sending a principle of reality, "says Gwenaël Plagne, delegate CGT EDF. According to him, the plant will be able to reach a ratio of 80% of biomass and 20% of coal "by the winter of 2022/2023", before reaching the "100% biomass by 2025/2027".

So, did the lock really "jump" with this decision, as some unions claim? The situation is more complicated than that. In an official statement released this Friday at the end of the day, the ministry tempers and recalls that this conversion project will be able to emerge "only in the case where the security of supply of Brittany in electricity would not be guaranteed without the site of Cordemais ".

A government-commissioned study on "Western demand-supply balance" is expected to extend the current "thinking", according to the ministry, which "confirms its commitment to halt coal-fired electricity generation. French soil, by closing or reconverting the last French coal-fired power plants by 2022 ".

Meanwhile, "the preservation of security of supply is […] a prerequisite for closure, "says the ministry. On strike with his colleagues for several days, Gwenaël Plagne had to return to work to avoid any "black-out". Brittany is often called an "electric peninsula". It has few means of production, and produces just little: only 10% of its consumption.

"We're just being told about closing"

The deadline of 2022 is likely to meet the conditions set by the electricity transmission network (TER) to get out of coal. Including the commissioning of the Flamanville EPR, whose delay continues to accumulate, and the construction of a gas station Landivisau (Finistère), extremely criticized.

And on the side of the other plants? In Gardanne, in the Bouches-du-Rhône, where the employees of the plant have been on strike for more than a month and a half, the announcement does not raise much hope. "It's good news but it does not change much for us. The minister did not even come to see us. We are working on a reconversion project at the moment, we should present it at the end of January. But even with that, the moratorium is not even considered. We are just talking about closing, "regrets a CGT unionist with the Parisian.

"We need a clarification. We have been asking for it since January 2017. The conditions to close the plants are not met. (...) We will be vigilant so that the different operators are treated in the same way. We need a fair and just framework, "pleads Luc Poyer, president of Uniper, contacted by Le Parisien.

In addition to the calendar, there remains an unknown, the inclinations of the future owner of these two power plants, operated by Uniper: the Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky. According to Le Monde-journal that the businessman recently bought - it does not exclude to postpone the closure of the plant. "These two units play a significant role in the French electricity system, and could operate competitively after 2022. We will discuss this with the French authorities," said Jan Springl, one of the leaders of EPH, the Kretinsky quoted last December by the newspaper. "Let him come, he is welcome. But we will not question a presidential promise for the good eyes of Mr. Kretinsky ", it is ironic to the ministry.