Another step towards carbon neutrality for France

France has decided to extend the operation of its last two coal-fired power plants until the end of 2024, as it anticipates increased demand during the winter months. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and Energy Transition Minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher signed a decree to this effect. While the country expects lower demand compared to the previous winter, they are taking precautions to ensure a reliable supply of French electricity.

During the previous winter, the French government reopened the Saint-Avold coal unit to reduce reliance on Russian energy and compensate for electricity shortages caused by damage to its nuclear reactor fleet. This was due to factors such as stress corrosion, which impacted the output of state-owned nuclear giant EDF, leaving just 30 of its 56 reactors operational.

Ongoing concerns about energy security have led to the extension of the operational life of the two remaining coal plants in Cordemais and Saint-Avold, beyond their initial closure dates. In 2017, President Emmanuel Macron pledged to close all of France’s coal-fired plants before 2022.

Agnès Pannier-Runacher has stated that the two coal units that will remain in operation contribute only 0.6% of the country’s total electricity consumption. The French government, however, remains committed to completely phasing out coal power by 2030 at the latest, a target that puts them ahead of some other European Union countries like Germany. Germany has indicated that a complete coal phase-out by 2030 is a best-case scenario, with 2038 being the worst-case scenario. Germany has also reactivated some coal-fired plants since 2021, which contradicts their previous commitment to phasing out coal by 2030.

Additionally, in March, the UK relied on reserve coal power to cope with increased demand at the end of a colder-than-expected winter, which is in conflict with their government’s target to phase out coal entirely by 2024.

A study by the NGO Global Energy Monitor published in April found that the retirement of operational coal power plants needs to accelerate significantly to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. It also stressed that OECD countries should completely phase out coal by 2030 to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis.

However, transitioning coal-fired power plants to biomass can significantly improve base-load energy and heat from renewable energy sources. Drax, a vertically integrated energy producer, is a good example for the energy transition.