February 21. 2024. 6:48

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French energy sector may bring government to heel amid pension strikes

French energy and oil sector employees may be pivotal in pressuring the government to give up on its hotly-contested pensions reform plan, as they are pledge a “black week for energy” in protest of the plans.

French nuclear production dropped over the weekend as sector-wide strikes across the country started on Friday (3 March). More than 5,000 megawatts (MW) were taken off the electricity grid between Friday and Sunday afternoon (3-5 March).

Currently, energy and gas industries benefit from a special scheme for retirement which allows for a more generous pension calculation in comparison to the private sector, and criteria that allow for early retirement. The government’s pension reform plans to to abolish this special regime for the new employees of the energy sector.

In protest, sector workers will strike until Friday (10 March), a leaflet distributed by the CGT union’s mining and energy branch, FNME-CGT, states.

The hope is to create a “black week for energy”, they say.

Indeed, more than 17,000 MW of nuclear, hydro and thermal power are “in the hands of the strikers”, the same leaflet states.

From Monday evening to Tuesday afternoon, more than 20,600 MW of installed capacity were in the hands of the strikers, another figure from the CGT union that was seen by EURACTIV states. This includes almost 8,000 MW for hydro and thermal respectively and just under 5,000 MW for the nuclear sector.

Contacted by EURACTIV, the energy giant EDF said the “load drop at 3.30 pm [on Tuesday (7 March)] was 14,900 MW: 3,400 MW on the nuclear fleet, 7,000 MW on the hydro fleet, 4,500 MW on the fossil-fired fleet”.

Varying figures can be explained by strikers taking into account the production capacity of a machine or installation, while EDF or the electricity network operator RTE base their calculations on the production programme planned for a given day.

While 20GW may seem small compared to France’s total installed capacity of around 143 GW, this could still have a significant impact on power generation and the grid, as it is the controllable capacity that is currently offline.

Blocked fuel shipments

By comparison, fuel shipments rather than production have been blocked.

This is expected to last until at least midday on Wednesday (8 March), according to the Force Ouvrière (FO) union.

At the local level, strikes could continue beyond Wednesday, as some TotalEnergies’ sites had already voted for a 72-hour strike starting from Tuesday. At the end of the day, TotalEnergies’ striking employees opted to renew the action, the CGT confirmed.

The block on fuel shipments concerns “all French refineries”, the union said, as was confirmed by TotalEnergies to AFP.

Striker rates vary between 40% and 100% depending on the site – though consumers should not be worried by stocks running out at petrol stations, at least for the moment, TotalEnergies said.

The strike also affects all French gas storage sites.

In addition, three of the four LNG terminals that allow the import of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in France has been shut down for “seven days”, the CGT said Monday evening. At Storengy, a subsidiary of Engie, the average strike rate was 80%, the CGT said.

These strikes should not impact customers for now.

French pension reform set to test government stability

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne presented the details of a long-awaited pension reform on Tuesday, revealing an increase in the legal retirement age despite trade union pushback that will test government stability over the coming weeks.

Pension reform has been the source …