So far, so good? The French energy transition law in the starting blocks

After an unexpected and long battle about its energy transition law, the French Parliament finally adopted the bill on the transition énergétique on 22nd July, just months away from the decisive global climate conference COP21 in Paris. With this final decision in the third reading, the Assemblée Nationale (AN) brought the law proposal back to its origins from 2014 and eliminated some major roadblocks introduced by the conservative Senate. Kathrin Glastra summarizes the law’s goals and the next steps.

Starting Block

France’s ambitious energy transition could get starting soon, but some hurdles remain. (Photo by tableatny, CC BY 2.0)

A quick reminder: this framing law is based on the conclusions of the national stakeholder debate on the energy transition held between 2012 and 2013. Its aim is to build a comprehensive strategy for the energy transition, starting from the structural challenges France faces to make its energy system sustainable.

Presented by Energy Minister Ségolène Royal as the most ambitious law project for greening the French economy, the law proposal should have passed much earlier by accelerated procedure. However, the two French chambers – the Assemblée Nationale and the Sénat – fought a hard battle about the approximately 1000 amendments regarding the French energy transition law, with the AN as final decision-making body eventually winning the day.

Nevertheless, the Energy Minister called the 150 hours of tough discussion constructive and the result a “co-construction” between the two. Some might beg to differ, though.

Furthermore, she declared as a main success the objective to create 100.000 jobs in the green sector over the next three years (in the renewables as well as in the recycling sector).

According to President François Hollande the two main work sites ahead are the energetic renovation of buildings (representing almost 50% of energy consumption in France) and cleaner transport (responsible for over 25% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG)).

In a nutshell, the 66 articles of the law foresee the following:

  1. 40 % reduction of GHG by 2030;
  2. Reduction of final energy consumption of 20% in 2030 and 50% in 2050;
  3. 32% Renewables in final energy consumption by 2030;
  4. Reduction of fossil energy sources of 30% by 2030 (in comparison to 2012);
  5. By 2025, reduction of nuclear share in the electricity mix down to 50% (from 75% today);
  6. A number of supportive actions such as interest-free credits for private building renovation, subsidies for switching from old Diesel to new electric cars, etc., totalling 10 bn €.

The French initiative presents some interesting overlaps with the German Energiewende, but contains different approaches as well. A surprise element was the increase in the French carbon tax, currently at 14.50 €/t. The special commission in the Assemblée Nationale put back in a proposal from the Senate, which foresees to raise the carbon tax with a mid-term objective of 56 €/t in 2020 and 100 €/t in 2030. In the final round of discussions, the Minister gave up her resistance and supported the proposal, to be incorporated in the national low carbon strategy. For Vice-President of the Assemblée Nationale, Denis Baupin, this is “a major step forward”, as it gives a strong signal to industry to reduce their emissions. This stands in strong contrast to Germany’s failed effort to introduce a climate levy for its oldest and worst polluting power plants.

So far, so good: with the final adoption of 22nd July, the – partly heavily disputed – reduction of nuclear energy in France is now in the starting blocks. The Senate had tried to eliminate the date of 2025 and to increase the cap for nuclear. In the final law, nuclear is capped at 63.2 GW, which means in practice that no new reactors can be built without taking other, older ones off the grid. Specifically, it would mean that once the new EPR reactor in Flamanville is ready to be put in service, one of the oldest reactors would have to be taken off the grid: Fessenheim. This has been on the political agenda of President Hollande, but has been met with fierce opposition. On top of that, the third generation reactor at Flamanville was supposed to be ready by 2012 for a cost of 3.3 bn €. After being hampered by a number of problems and incidents, in particular with the pressure vessel, a key component of the reactor, neither time nor budget are kept in line. Current expectations talk of earliest 2018, for a cost of 9 bn € and counting, while the officially acknowledged security risks show repercussions beyond France.

And there is more water to be added to the wine: With the law adopted just before the summer, the official publication will follow most likely in September, possibly after a check by the Constitutional Court. The necessary decrees will have to be presented as early as September in order to take effect in 2016. Part of this is done by the PPE, the pluriannual environmental planning process. This is one of the most important planning tools for the French energy policy, as it determines the concrete steps for the different energy branches and represents a litmus test in particular for Renewables and Nuclear. However, this political tool has been blocked in the Senate for some time. Hence the criticism of environmental NGOs in France which say that – despite a first good orientation in the right direction -the final law is not a bold enough step forward and avoids the essential measures. Others criticize that it is still unclear which reactor will be taken off the grid and when this will happen.

All said, it remains to be seen if the new law is more than just a declaration of good will.

Kathrin Glastra is a program coordinator in the Brussels office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation. She is responsible for the foundation’s network Energytransition@EU which focuses on creating an inclusive European energy transition debate.

Please note that you can find the key findings and a full translation of our book “German Energy Transition” in French here.


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