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.
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.
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.
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 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.