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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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EDF, an alternating current giant

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For a long time, pronouncing these three letters in the highest spheres of the State was enough to provoke in return self-satisfied tirades on a supposed French know-how – not to say French genius – that the whole world envied us: to ensure the supply of electricity to the greatest number, at the best price and with fairly low CO emissions2. From now on, talking about EDF elicits, at best, an embarrassed smile and the promise that everything will be done to try to save the most strategic of all French companies, becalmed in immense industrial problems with an aging and defective fleet, weighed down by a colossal debt (around 60 billion euros) and faced with huge investment needs to extend existing reactors and build others.

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Unimaginable eighteen months ago, France had to prepare this winter, for the first time since 1978, for possible large-scale power cuts. And if this threat is now behind us for this season – thanks to the many French people who have followed the calls for energy sobriety, warmer temperatures than expected or the American workers who came to repair some of our nuclear reactors in disaster – the problem does not no less likely to rest very quickly. All this at a time when the war in Ukraine is turning the world energy market upside down, causing electricity prices to soar, and reminding us of the importance of moving towards energy independence. All this, too, at a time when the climate crisis imposes on us, to achieve carbon neutrality, the electrification of everything that can be electrified to get rid of fossil fuels (coal, gas, oil).

The long investigation that “Obs” is bringing to its front page this week tells the inside story of this huge mess. How, by sufficiency, by ideology, also by cowardice, everything came to a standstill. The shortcomings of the State shareholder, overtaken by its about-face on the composition of the French energy mix, too happy to dip into the coffers of EDF and unable to project itself in the long term, in this world of energy where the decisions taken (and those which are not taken) may not take effect until fifteen or twenty years later.

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The blindness of the former management teams of EDF, too sure of their superiority and allergic to self-criticism, as illustrated by the fiasco of the Flamanville EPR reactor site, which will only come into operation after twelve years delay. The blinkers of Brussels, which, in the name of the idea of ​​free and undistorted competition, created from scratch a European electricity market so corrupted that it exploded under the effect of the Ukrainian crisis, and which forced EDF to sell off a substantial part of its cheap nuclear electricity to its own competitors…

After these series of insults, we can only be pleased to see energy issues – and by corollary the fate of EDF – return to the top of the political agenda. The company’s exit from the Stock Exchange, which will eventually be 100% controlled by the State again as before 2005, should free it from its obsession with the short term and give it the means to turn to the future without worrying too much about immediate profitability. Time to allow it to complete the upgrade of its nuclear fleet, to establish the discourse on the necessary energy sobriety and to succeed in the construction of new power plants.

It remains to be hoped that all the actors – State, management of the company, regulators, sector – will play the game. That everyone will be able to accept the transparency necessary to establish a climate of trust. That it is not a question of nationalizing EDF in order to be able to privatize a piece of it afterwards. To finally all pull in the same direction. This would be a radical break with recent history.

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Source : Nouvelobs

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