EDF workers strike over French plans to keep electricity bills down

EDF workers have walked out in protest at French government plans for the company to sell a greater percentage of its nuclear-produced electricity at the regulated reduced price, claiming customers and tax payers will ultimately foot the bill.

Employees in masks at the nuclear power plant in Paluel, Normandy
Photo: Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP

The government, which has an 84 percent stake in the electricity supplier, has instructed the company to increase the volume of electricity sold by the company at the regulated Accès régulé à l’électricité nucléaire historique (Arenh) price by 20 terawatt hours (TWh), in a bid to keep consumer’s energy bill prices down.

It will contribute, with a cut in the electricity tax, to reducing the increase in the regulated sales price of electricity on February 1,  from more than 30 percent to 4 percent, including tax. 

But the plan will cost the company ‘between €7.7bn and €8.4bn, depending on market prices’ in 2022, according to Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire.

And it has come at a time when the group is already struggling with new delays for the new nuclear power plant at Flamanville in northern France and with a system problem at a number of reactors.

FNME-CGT spokesman Fabrice Coudour said four unions are “protesting against this scandalous decision to increase the Arenh ceiling, which will spoil EDF’s role and even organise the destruction of EDF”.

Meanwhile, the company’s CEO Jean-Bernard Lévy said he was “shocked” by the measure in an internal letter to managers. It has been reported that the plan will force the company to redraw its latest financial forecasts, and therefore its investments. 

Employees and pensioners are also demanding an immediate catch-up of “at least 10 percent of their salaries and pensions”, according to the CGT, which claims that pay and pensions have not kept pace with inflation over the past 10 years.

“There are employees on strike at Enedis sites, hydroelectric production sites, fossil-fired power stations …  there are reductions in production without any impact on users, because this is not our goal,” a CGT spokesman told AFP.

Demonstrations are planned at a number of electricity production sites, and striker deposited electricity meters in front of the building of the Commission for Energy Regulation (CRE), which unions have accused of “endorsing the plundering of the public service”.

RTE, which operates and maintains France’s electricity network said the strike could be linked to a drop in production on Monday night “of 750 MW” on high and medium voltage lines, although this is unlikely to affect domestic power supplies.

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Traffic warnings for France ahead of holiday weekend

This weekend represents the first chance to 'faire le pont' and have a long holiday weekend - and the French seem set to make the most of it with warnings of extremely heavy traffic from Wednesday.

Traffic warnings for France ahead of holiday weekend

Thursday, May 26th marks the Christian festival of Ascension and is a public holiday in France.

More importantly, it’s the first time this year that French workers have had the opportunity to faire le pont (do the bridge) and create a long weekend.

In France, most public holidays fall on different days each year and if they happen to fall on the weekend then there are no extra days off work.

This year that happened on New Year’s Day (a Saturday) and both of the early May public holidays (the workers’ holiday on May 1st and VE Day on May 8th, which both fell on a Sunday).

READ ALSO Why 2022 is a bad year for public holidays

But as Ascension is on a Thursday, workers have the option to take a day of annual leave on Friday and therefore create a nice four-day weekend.

And it appears that many are planning on doing just that, as the traffic forecaster Bison futé is predicting extremely heavy traffic from Wednesday evening, as people prepare to make their after-work getaway and head to the coast, the countryside or the mountains to fully profit from their holiday weekend.

According to Bison futé maps, the whole country is coloured red – very heavy traffic – on both Wednesday and Thursday as people take to the roads to leave the cities.

Map: Bison futé

Meanwhile Sunday is coloured black – the highest level, meaning extremely heavy traffic and difficult driving conditions – across the whole country. 

Map: Bison futé

If you were hoping to take the train instead you might be out of luck, SNCF reports that most TGV services are sold out for over the holiday weekend.