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ENVIRONMENT

French energy firms urge ‘immediate’ cut in consumption to avoid shortages this winter

France's top three energy providers are imploring the public to reduce their energy consumption this summer in order to save resources and avoid shortages this winter as cuts to Russian gas and oil begin to bite.

French energy firms urge 'immediate' cut in consumption to avoid shortages this winter
Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP

In a rare joint statement, the leaders of the three top French energy companies came together to urge the French public to reduce their energy consumption.

The heads of TotalEnergies, EDF and Engie published an open letter in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday calling on the French to “immediately” reduce their consumption of petrol/gasoline, diesel, oil, electricity and gas in order to help stave off the shortages and soaring prices that could threaten “social cohesion” in France this winter.

The letter begs people to begin “acting this summer,” on cutting energy and fuel usage, adding that this “will allow us to be better prepared to face next winter and in particular to preserve our gas reserves.”

Why is there a risk of shortage this winter?

In light of the war in Ukraine, deliveries of Russian gas to France and other European nations via pipeline have been significantly decreased. Thus France, like the rest of Europe, is attempting to fill its gas reserves in preparation for this upcoming winter. The goal is to have French gas reserves at 100 percent by this fall

As Americans prepare for ‘driving season’ (when many families use their cars to go on vacation) and China begins to relax some of its lockdown measures, the world oil market is looking at high demand that may not be in line with current production capabilities. 

France is a relatively small consumer of Russian gas, but does depend heavily on domestic nuclear plants for energy – production of nuclear energy is however threatened by two things; droughts that mean shortages of water for cooling purposes at plants and maintenance issues that have lead to several plants being temporarily shut down for safety

Concern for adequate energy resources has been on the minds of energy providers for several years, according to the manager of France’s Electricity Transmission Network (RTE).

France has been anticipating that the winters of 2018 to 2024 would be “delicate” as this is a pivotal period for energy transition after several coal-powered plants were closed. France’s oldest nuclear plant, Fessenheim, was also shut down and disconnected from the French grid in 2020.

As of late May, almost half of France’s nuclear reactors were offline due to planned closures, as well as issues related to corrosion.  

What is the real risk of shortage this winter?

“There is no risk of shortage in the short term,” assured France’s Ministry of Environment in May, as there are up to “90 days worth of strategic stocks, as well as commercial stocks, which can both be distributed throughout the country as needed.” 

Experts like Professor Jan Horst Keppler, from Paris-Dauphine University, also do not anticipate a widespread shortage, though, “potential spot shortages are possible.”

Horst Keppler clarified that it is not possible in many cases to substitute one quality of oil for another, which could mean that some refineries may experience “spot shortages.” Therefore, he urged that consumers and providers will have to pay close attention to “the availability of gasoline, diesel and heating oil” even more so “than the availability of crude oil.”

Other European countries, however, are sounding the alarm. Germany, for example, will return to coal-powered energy in order to meet demands this winter. 

What are the energy companies doing to combat risk of shortage?

According to their statement, the heads of France’s top energy providers accept their “responsibility to act on the supply side” by implementing short term plans such as “diversifying gas supplies, proactively filling storage facilities, speeding up liquified natural gas (LNG) imports, and reactivating ‘mothballed’ facilities.”

Additionally, the leaders hope to launch a “major energy efficiency program” and a “national hunt for waste.”

In addition to ensuring adequate energy stocks for the winter, the three leaders also urge the French public to consider reducing consumption as a means for increasing household purchasing power in the fight against rising cost of living, as well as an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They also said that reducing energy “immediately” will show solidarity with other European nations at greater risk, particularly those in Eastern and Central Europe. 

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CULTURE

French foie gras shortage forces farmers to take radical step: Using lady geese

Foie gras pate, the consummate delicacy of French holiday tables, might be harder to find this year and certainly pricier due to a bird flu outbreak that ravaged farms across the west and south last winter.

French foie gras shortage forces farmers to take radical step: Using lady geese

After millions of ducks and geese were culled to halt the epidemic, some farmers say they are having to take an unprecedented step — using females to produce the luxury treat.

The taste is the same, but female livers are much smaller and harder to work with, and the impact on a producer’s bottom line is inescapable.

“It was double or nothing, but either we just sat and waited — which is not in our nature — or we try to offer a product that respects our consumers,” said Benjamin Constant in Samatan, southwest France.

President of the foie gras marketing board for the Gers department, Constant warned that it was only a stop-gap measure, especially for higher-quality fresh foie gras.

Most livers have veins that must be removed, but those of female livers are much bigger and require more effort to extract, which puts off clients seeking the smooth texture of fresh foie gras that is either seared in a pan, or used to make pate.

“A significant amount cannot be sold fresh, which penalises the producers who sell at public markets,” Constant said.

Jacques Candelon, who has been raising ducks in the rolling plains of nearby Sarrant since 1998, said this is the first year the majority of his 26,000 birds are females, which are usually reserved to produce meat for export.

“80 percent are females — it was either that or nothing,” the 52-year-old told AFP at his farm, dressed head to toe in protective gear to prevent any contamination of his animals.

Bigger stretch

Animal rights activists have long denounced the force-feeding of ducks and geese to make foie gras, calling it an unnecessary cruelty despite producers’ claims of introducing measures to make the process more humane.

France remains the world’s largest producer and consumer, usually raising some 30 million ducks alone each year, even though some French cities have banned it from official functions.

But two brutal bird flu outbreaks in recent years decimated flocks as authorities imposed culls, with just 21 million ducks raised in 2021, a number expected to plunge to 15 million for 2022, according to the CIFOG producers’ association.

More problematic was the impact on breeding farms, which found themselves with only scant numbers of male chicks to offer producers this year.

Labeyrie, the brand that dominates sales among mass retailers, expects a shortage of 30 to 40 percent this holiday season, by far the most important time of the year for the sector.

Spiralling energy and feed prices, fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, will also make foie gras more of a stretch for family budgets.

“There will be enough for the holidays but in limited quantities,” CIFOG director Marie-Pierre Pe told AFP in September. “We’re hoping that people are going to be reasonable and will share what little there is.” 

‘Big effort’

Old habits die hard, however, and at the bustling weekly duck market at Samatan, a foie gras bastion near Toulouse in the heart of Gers, much of the crowd wanted only the pale, plump male livers.

“Females are much, much smaller and after force-feeding, the livers are smaller and less attractive visually,” said Didier Villate, a veterinarian who has overseen the Samatan market for over 40 years.

Next to a tray of glistening male livers, many of the female livers had red blotches with thick dark veins, “which is unfortunately something we find quite often” even though it doesn’t change the taste or texture, Villate said.

“Clients are surprised, so we have to make a big effort to explain to consumers that there is no danger — It’s purely visual, you can buy and eat them just the same,” he said.

But male or female, prices have spiked to between €55 and €60 a kilogramme, or “€15 to €20 more than normal,” said Constant, calling 2022 “catastrophic for the sector.”

For Gilberte Bru, who like dozens of others rushed in at the market’s opening whistle to stock up for the holidays, the decision was easy — she picked the male livers.

“Yes, because they are bigger,” she said.

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