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French electricity firms offer bonuses for cutting back this winter

Two leading French electricity providers will offer bonuses this winter to households that reduce consumption in the face of soaring prices and potential supply disruptions.

French electricity firms offer bonuses for cutting back this winter
The new TotalEnergies logo during its unveling ceremony, at a charging station in La Defense on the outskirts of Paris in 2021. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

Russia has slashed gas exports to Europe in response to Western sanctions over its war against Ukraine, while many of France’s nuclear reactors — providing around 70 percent of its electricity — are offline for safety checks or repairs.

TotalEnergies said Wednesday that bonuses of €30 to €120 would be paid to private clients who adopt the government’s calls for energy “sobriety” over winter months.

Usage is measured by smart meters that show real-time consumption, which have been installed for over three million clients, the company said.

Rival energy group Engie also announced a bonus programme starting mid-October for households that cut back on days when the grid is under particular strain.

For clients who reduce use by 10 to 20 percent those days, Engie will offer rebates of five to ten euros, said marketing director Marion Deridder-Blondel.

State-owned EDF — by far the largest electricity supplier to French households — is facing a €29-billion hit to profit from the nuclear reactor outages that will require it to buy electricity from other producers.

It has not announced a new plan to encourage energy savings, but already offers rebates to clients who cut back on so-called “red” days of peak usage in winter.

Worries about rising prices for a slew of everyday goods have moved the forefront across Europe as supply disruptions from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine persist, raising the risk of economic slowdowns or even recessions.

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ENERGY

Macron: ‘Don’t panic’ over risk of power cuts in France this winter

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday called growing fears of winter electricity outages overblown, even as authorities prepare for possible targeted power cuts if consumption is not reduced and cold snaps strain the grid.

Macron: 'Don't panic' over risk of power cuts in France this winter

France’s network is under pressure as state power company EDF races to restart dozens of nuclear reactors taken down for maintenance or safety work that has proved more challenging than originally thought.

Reduced gas exports from Russia as it cuts supplies in retaliation for Western sanctions over the Ukraine war have added to worries that gas-burning power plants might have to trim production.

“Stop it — we’re a major power, we have a great energy system, and we’re going to get through this winter despite the war,” Macron told reporters ahead of an EU/Balkans summit in Tirana, Albania.

“This debate is absurd, the role of the public authorities is not to breed fear,” he added.

OPINION France faces the real risk of power cuts this winter, and it cannot blame Putin

Macron had already urged people “not to panic” over the weekend, saying power cuts could be avoided if overall usage this winter was reduced by 10 percent.

But last week the government told local officials to begin preparing contingency plans in case targeted cuts were needed, possibly including closing schools until midday.

France is usually one of Europe’s largest electricity exporters thanks to its network of 56 nuclear reactors, which supply around 70 percent of its electricity needs.

But this winter it will be a major importer of power from Britain, Germany, Spain and other neighbouring countries, grid operator RTE said last week.

READ ALSO Schools, hospitals and trains – how France plans to deal with blackouts this winter

RTE’s chief Xavier Piechaczyk told Franceinfo radio that the risk of power cuts could not be excluded, “but it will essentially depend on the weather.”

Normally France’s 56 nuclear reactors can produce 61 gigawatts but with around half of the fleet offline, just 43 gigawatts are expected to be available by the end-January, he said.

And while France has the capacity to import up to 15 gigawatts, winter usage can surge to 90 gigawatts at peak hours, prompting the calls for energy “restraint” such as lowering thermostats and using washing machines and other appliances at night.

“Rule number one is that nothing is inevitable… Together we have the capacity to avoid any risk of cuts, no matter how the winter turns out,” government spokesman Olivier Veran told France 2 television on Tuesday.

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