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‘A gentle calm’: France’s streets once again echo to sound of working horses

Dispar, a Breton draft horse, pulls refuse collectors in Hennebont, Brittany.
Dispar, a Breton draft horse, pulls refuse collectors in Hennebont, Brittany. Photograph: Thomas Louapre/The Guardian

Towns say they are not driven by nostalgia as they opt for horsepowered bin collections and school runs

The clip-clop of hooves marked the start of the morning rubbish collection in the Brittany town of Hennebont, as Dispar, a Breton draft horse, pulled a small cart towards the waste bins on a central street.

“This job is so much nicer with an animal,” said Julien, 38, who usually worked emptying bins on to a motorised rubbish-truck in another town but was training in horse-drawn techniques. “People see you differently, they say hello instead of beeping. This is the future, it saves on pollution, petrol and noise. And it makes people smile. Normally, I’d be constantly breathing in exhaust fumes behind my lorry, so this feels much healthier.”

Faced with climate breakdown, the energy crisis, and modern stress levels, there is a growing movement in French towns to bring back the horse and cart as an alternative to fossil fuels and a way to slow down urban life.

Florence, an estate agent in Hennebont, always stepped out of her office to watch the horse-drawn bin cart pass. “When I hear the sound of the hooves it’s just total happiness to me,” she said. “It brings a kind of gentle calm in these frantic times. It brings a bit of poetry into daily life, a reminder that things can be more simple. If I could live in a world without cars, I would.”

Since the first trials to reintroduce draft horses for municipal tasks in the mid-1990s, the number of French towns and urban areas using them has multiplied by almost 20 and continues to rise

…click on the above link to read the rest…

The French Energy Sobriety Plan

The French Energy Sobriety Plan

Preface.  Below is the announcement of the French Energy Sobriety Plan by Prime Minister Borne. The energy crisis is coming to all nations, and we should all be implementing their action plan (and family planning, birth control, abortion, limited immigration).

It’s hard for me to imagine a U.S. politician delivering this speech, though it will have to happen when fracked oil declines at 80% a year within 5-10 years. Though if fascist republicans are in power, they are more likely to “ration” by price, blame the Middle east, and start a war. Or blame Democrats and start a civil war.  If that sounds extreme, please read some of the books here.  Democrats are more likely to give a similar speech, very reluctantly, since Jimmy Carter wasn’t re-elected partly due to a similar one, known as his “malaise” speech (here).

After the speech I summarize the 50 pages of the French energy sobriety plan. What a great title. A good one for Richard Heinberg if he writes a sequel to “The Party’s Over”.


French energy sobriety announcement by Mrs Élisabeth Borne, French Prime Minister, on the goal of reducing energy consumption by 10% in two years on October 6, 2022. 

Seven months ago, by brutally attacking Ukraine, Russia changed the world order. The strategic upheavals are superimposed by an energy crisis. Russia has chosen to blackmail its gas, provoking, in Europe, the risk of a shortage for this winter and a surge in energy prices. Faced with this, some are proposing to submit to Russia, accept its terms and abandon Ukraine. To listen to them would be to turn your back on a member of the European family and deny our values. It’s not an option. We will continue to support Ukraine. Continue to pressure Russia. Take action and give us the means to get through this winter in the best conditions.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

French Gas Rationing Begins As Refinery Strikes Worsen After Government Calls Back Essential Workers

French Gas Rationing Begins As Refinery Strikes Worsen After Government Calls Back Essential Workers

France said on Tuesday that it would “requisition” (i.e. force) essential workers to staff Exxon’s French oil depot, and threatened to do the same for Total’s French refineries if talks failed to progress. But workers at Total’s Donges refinery decided on Tuesday to strike beginning on Wednesday, the militant French union CGT said according to Reuters.

As OilPrice notes, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said on Tuesday that the government would start the callback process for ExxonMobil’s staff at its oil depots in the country after talks between the oil company and two unions, CGT and FO, stalled. The CFDT union, however, managed on Monday to reach an agreement with Exxon.

“Today some unions, despite the deal, wants to continue the strike action and blockades, we cannot accept that,” Borne told the lower house , according to Reuters, adding that she wants “this situation to change fast,”  adding the government was prepared to take further action if needed.

“I have therefore asked the prefects, as permitted by law, to requisition the personnel needed for the functioning of the company’s depots,” she said, referring to Esso France.

“The orders are ready”, a source at the energy ministry said, adding that requisitions would only take place if the situation at the depots does not improve.

Those comments followed weekend comments by the country’s energy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher that the government was “doing its utmost to restore the situation to normal as soon as possible.”

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With A Third Of French Gas Stations Experiencing “Supply Shortages”, Energy Giant Seeks Urgent Wage Talks

With A Third Of French Gas Stations Experiencing “Supply Shortages”, Energy Giant Seeks Urgent Wage Talks

Just days after we reported that France had tapped its strategic fuel reserves to resupply a growing number of gas stations that had run dry due to a nearly two-week long strike of refinery workers, with Government spokesman Olivier Veran urging consumers not to panic-buy only to achieve the opposite results, on Sunday the French Energy ministry announced that almost a third of French petrol (that’s gasoline for US readers) stations were experiencing “supply difficulties” with at least one fuel product (up from 21% on Saturday), as French energy giant TotalEnergies offered to bring forward wage talks, in response to union demands, as it sought to end the strike that has pushed French to the bring of a historic energy crisis.

“Provided the blockades will end and all labor representatives agree, the company proposes to advance to October the start of mandatory annual wage talks,” it said in a statement. The talks were initially scheduled to start in mid-November.

In response, Union representatives earlier told Reuters the strikes staged by the CGT, historically one of France’s more militant unions, would continue even as unions said they are willing to begin negotiations next week.

They have disrupted operations at two ExxonMobil sites as well as at two TotalEnergies sites, sending French gasoline inventories sliding. Over roughly two weeks of industrial action, France’s domestic fuel output has fallen by more than 60%, straining nerves across the country, as waiting lines grow and supplies have run dry.

Car drivers queue to fill their fuel tanks at gasoline pumps at Auchan gas station in Petite-Foret, France, October 6, 2022

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“Please Don’t Panic Buy”: France Taps Strategic Reserve After Gas Stations Run Out Of Fuel

“Please Don’t Panic Buy”: France Taps Strategic Reserve After Gas Stations Run Out Of Fuel

There are “emergency” reasons to drain one’s petroleum reserve – like, for example, approaching midterm elections that give you absolutely no right to drain a country’s strategic reserve but you do it anyway in hope of picking up some votes from idiots who don’t realize that gas will soar to record highs right after the elections – and then there are emergency reasons.

The Biden administration, of course, is dealing with a the quote-unquote emergency…

… while France is about to get hit with a bad case of the real deal.

Several days after we learned that gas stations in France have run out of gasoline due to long-running oil refinery strikes, today the French government said that France has tapped its strategic fuel reserves to resupply petrol stations that have run dry, amid ongoing strikes by workers that have stunted refining production and blocked gasoline deliveries.

Government spokesman Olivier Veran acknowledged “tensions” but said there was no shortage of fuel stocks on a national level. He urged consumers not to panic-buy, which of course is the surest way to encourage panic buying, long lines, rationing and all the ugly scenes from those black and white photos of the 1970s.

In the hardest-hit Hauts-de-France region, authorities didn’t even bother with rationing and banned outright the sale of petrol and diesel in jerry cans and other portable containers.

“We are obviously monitoring very, very closely the situation together with the operators and, here and there, when it was necessary, we have used our strategic stocks to enable the stations to be supplied,” Veran told reporters.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“Nothing Left In Pipes”: French Towns Rely on Water Truck Deliveries For Survival

“Nothing Left In Pipes”: French Towns Rely on Water Truck Deliveries For Survival

Severe drought conditions affect about 60% of the EU, and in France, dozens of municipalities have run out of water and relied on a fleet of trucks hauling fresh water for survival.

At least 100 towns and villages have run out of fresh water. The French government has stepped in to support these drought-stricken areas.

French environment minister Christophe Bechu said in dozens of municipalities, “there is nothing left in the pipes,” referring to freshwater systems that have run completely dry. He said the ‘historic’ crisis has resulted in the deployment of a fleet of trucks delivering water to areas in need.

Besides France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands are all facing water shortages and falling water levels on inland waterways (the situation on the River Rhine is one to follow). Drought conditions across 60% of the EU could have severe economic consequences, affecting energy production, agriculture, and river transportation.

Record heat across Europe has fueled “increased fire danger due to the lack of rain and the resulting dry vegetation, combined with high temperatures,” the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service noted.

In southwest France, a massive wildfire has scorched 14,000 hectares in just a few weeks, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.

We’ve pointed out that French utility Electricite de France SA had to “reduce or halt nuclear output” because record-breaking heat on the Rhone and Garonne rivers made the water too hot to circulate through condensers and discharge back into waterways.

Meanwhile, French power prices are at a new record of over 600 euros per megawatt hour amid grid strains thanks to the lack of nuclear power generation amid heightened demand during heatwave.

The bad news is the persistent heat wave is forecasted to continue in parts of western and central Europe through the second half of August.

France Sees Nuclear Energy Output Plummet At The Worst Possible Moment

France Sees Nuclear Energy Output Plummet At The Worst Possible Moment

  • France, the European Union’s leader in nuclear energy, is seeing a massive decline in output.
  • Though it has been relatively unfazed by the bloc’s ongoing energy crisis, declining nuclear production could pose a significant problem in the coming months.
  • The collapse of French nuclear power generation and Putin’s retaliatory cutback on energy exports to Europe could be disastrous for the continent.

France has long been one of the world’s greatest champions of nuclear energy. France leads the European Union in nuclear production, with the most productive reactors in the bloc, and relies on nuclear power for a larger share of its energy mix than any other country in the world. It makes sense that France should lead the charge for nuclear energy development as they have long been the global poster child for safe and reliable nuclear energy – until now.

A recent flurry of unexpected issues at the Électricité de France (EDF), the state nuclear power operator representing the largest nuclear fleet in Europe, has caused French nuclear energy output to tumble to its lowest levels in 30 years. Around half of the EDF’s massive nuclear fleet has been taken offline, delivering a massive blow to the EU’s energy independence and security in the midst of a worldwide energy crisis.

France has become increasingly reliant on nuclear power in recent years. French President Emmanuel Macron has given nuclear energy an even bigger boost in his time in office. Indeed, in February, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he announced a  €52 billion plan to revitalize the country’s “nuclear adventure.” He has also fought for the inclusion of the emissions-free power source as a “green investment” in the nomenclature of the European Union as the continent moves toward establishing its green energy budget for the coming years.

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Nord Stream: The Geo-politics of Keeping Germany ‘Down’, Russia ‘Out’, and Instability in Ukraine

It seems reasonable to expect we will have this crisis with us – in its various forms – for at least the next two years, Alastair Crooke writes.

Macron in a remarkably frank interview with a French Journal put his finger on the main structural problems facing the EU: He lambasted the fact that the EU Council (and other EU states) had vetoed the earlier French-German proposal for a Russia-EU summit. The consequences to this omission, he said starkly, was that: ‘Others’ were talking to the Russians on the behalf of the EU. It’s not hard to surmise that he is implying that U.S. ‘interests’ (whether directly or via NATO ventriloquism) were the ones doing the talking. And that ‘Europe’ had lost its voice.

This is not simply a case of wounded amour propre by the French Jupiterian leader. It is rather, that some West European leaders (ie. the Carolingian Axis), belatedly have awoken to the realisation that the whole fake artifice of the ‘imminent Russian invasion’ of Ukraine is about corralling European states back into bloc (NATO) discipline. Macron – to give him his due – showed by his remarks at the Moscow press conference that he understood that silence at this crucial moment could define Europe for the next decades – leaving it bereft of the autonomy (let alone any modicum of sovereignty) that Macron so much wants for Europe.

The account of Macron’s press conference after his long tête-à-tête with Putin represents the contortionism of a French President unable to explicitly diss the dominant Anglo-American narrative on Ukraine, whilst saying – in barely coded language – that he was at one with Russia on all its complaints about the failed European security architecture, and the real risks of its toxicity for Russia that could lead to war in Europe.

Macron explicitly said that new security arrangements in Europe are absolutely needed. (In spite of his care not to poke the U.S. in the eye, he was clearly signalling a non-NATO ‘new’ arrangement). He also flatly contradicted the Washington narrative, saying that he did not believe Russia had an intent to invade Ukraine. Adding that in respect to NATO expansion, mistakes had been made.

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France to build up to 14 new nuclear reactors by 2050, says Macron

French president says ‘renaissance’ of atomic energy industry will help end country’s reliance on fossil fuels

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron made his announcement during an visit to the eastern industrial town of Belfort. Photograph: Jean-François Badias/AFP/Getty Images
Emmanuel Macron has announced a “renaissance” for the French nuclear industry with a vast programme to build as many as 14 new reactors, arguing that it would help end the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and make France carbon neutral by 2050.

“What our country needs … is the rebirth of France’s nuclear industry,” Macron said in a speech in the eastern industrial town of Belfort, in which he lauded the country’s technological prowess.

The centrist French president, who is expected to announce his campaign for re-election this month, is conscious of a growing debate about energy ahead of this spring’s presidential vote as costs to consumers rise. Environmental issues are also a growing concern among French voters.

Atomic energy provides about 70% of French electricity, and low-cost nuclear power has been a mainstay of the French economy since the 1970s, but recent attempts to build new-generation reactors to replace older models have become mired in cost overruns and delays.

Presidential candidates on the right have supported more nuclear power plants saying France should have “sovereignty” over its electricity, while detractors on the left have warned of the cost and complexity of building new reactors. Environmentalists have raised safety concerns over radioactive waste that remains deadly for tens of thousands of years.

Macron said French nuclear regulators were “unequalled” in their rigour and professionalism and that the decision to build new nuclear power plants was a “choice of progress, a choice of confidence in science and technology”.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Biden Presses Reluctant German Chancellor On Halting Nord Stream 2, Imposing Russia Sanctions

Biden Presses Reluctant German Chancellor On Halting Nord Stream 2, Imposing Russia Sanctions

Macron was in Moscow in talks with Putin, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in Washington meeting with Biden on Monday. Despite Germany lately coming under heavy criticism from the more hawkish corners of the NATO alliance for its less than muscular response to the Ukraine crisis, Biden told reporters while welcoming Scholz that they are “in lockstep” on “confronting Russian aggression” at Ukraine’s border.

Going into the meeting, admin officials said the two leaders would spend time talking about a “robust sanctions package” aimed at Moscow in the event of a military offensive. However, Scholz has not indicated willingness to go along with any level of punitive economic measures, given also Germany’s close trade and energy ties with Russia, not the least of which still looms large in the background is Nord Stream 2.

On this matter, the White House indicated Biden is pressing the German Chancellor on putting in place plans to halt cooperation with Russia on Nord Stream 2 if Ukraine is invaded. But given the pipeline is now complete, and ready to start pumping gas while merely awaiting final German regulatory approval, it’s hard to see how amenable Berlin will in the end be to this option.

CNN described, “Looming over the meeting, however, is the question of Scholz’s resolve to confront Putin. Among the United States’ major European allies, Germany has appeared the most reluctant to commit to lethal aid, sending thousands of helmets instead of weapons and refusing to allow another NATO ally, Estonia, to send German-made howitzers to Ukraine.”

Germany remains among leading European countries which has refused to bolster its forces along NATO’s ‘eastern flank’ – and has gone so far as to ban its weapons from being shipped Ukrainian forces.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Dwindling French Gas Stockpiles Stoke Fears Of Winter Blackouts

Dwindling French Gas Stockpiles Stoke Fears Of Winter Blackouts

The Brits aren’t the only European nation to find itself on the verge of a full-blown energy crisis.

On Thursday, French natural gas pipeline operator GRTgaz warned that French gas stockpiles are much lower at this point in the year than they have been during years past – and as a result, they run the risk of potentially being depleted before the winter is up, a disaster that could make last year’s deep freeze in Texas look tame if a sudden cold snap sends demand soaring.

According to data from Gas Infrastructure Europe, France’s stockpiles were about 34% full as of Feb. 1, which is well below the five-year average of 42%. Inventories are now at the lowest seasonal level since 2018, when a brutal winter cold snap nicknamed “the Beast from the East” left French reserves standing at just 3% when the heating season was over.

“We’ll probably be close to zero toward the end of March, and we remain vigilant on that topic,” GRTgaz chief Thierry Trouve said in a presentation in Paris Thursday.

It’s the most precarious for French gas inventories since they arrived at their lowest seasonal level since 2018. Inventories are now at the lowest seasonal level since 2018, when the country ended the heating season with storage at a record-low of just 3%.

And gas prices are much higher today than they were back then.

Fortunately, mild weather is expected to continue across much of Europe this month. But further down the road, limited Russian shipments to Europe and surging demand as economies reopen following the omicron wave could create problems, especially if a late-season cold snap should arise.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

France Faces Power Blackouts In Next Cold Snap, Grid Operator Warns

France Faces Power Blackouts In Next Cold Snap, Grid Operator Warns

France’s electricity grid is coming under strain, and the next cold snap could be devastating for the country as energy-intensive manufacturers would experience reduced power, according to a new report published by French power grid operator Reseau de Transport d’Electricite (RTE).

RTE said due to the lack of wind and nuclear power generation. The next cold snap would force it to cut electricity to energy-intensive companies to stabilize the grid. There’s even the possibility widespread rolling blackouts could be implemented for two hours to mitigate grid collapse during peak energy demand.

The good news is that weather forecasting models provided by Bloomberg don’t show an imminent cold blast for the first half of January.

“Based on the latest forecast for January, such meteorological events — including a severe cold snap — seem very unlikely for the start of the month, and less likely for the rest of the month,” RTE said. “Hence, the risk of power cuts is essentially ruled out at least for the start of January.”

Mild temperatures and a flotilla of liquefied natural gas tankers have been a temporary relief for Europe, sending Dutch TTF natural gas and power prices lower in the last week.

France’s grid remains under pressure but not as bad as last week when day-ahead power prices rose to the highest level since 2009 and have since halved. Prices remain at extremely high levels.

Energy inflation is a politically sensitive issue for President Emmanuel Macron ahead of April’s presidential elections. If renewable power generation lags, nuclear reactors remain halted for maintenance, and natural gas prices remain elevated, then higher power bills into January and February could create more unpopularity for Macron.

From Bad To Worse: Another French Nuclear Reactor Cuts Output Due To Strike

From Bad To Worse: Another French Nuclear Reactor Cuts Output Due To Strike

France’s energy crisis worsened overnight when another nuclear power plant had to reduce electricity output. Power prices jumped as the government requested one of the largest utility companies to restart more nuclear reactors amid cold weather.

Following last week’s shuttering of two nuclear power plants by Électricité de France S.A., commonly known as EDF, a French electric utility company primarily owned by the state, after safety inspections found cracks in at least one nuclear reactor, another one was closed Monday due to a worker strike.

EDF said an unplanned outage at the Bugey Nuclear Power Plant in eastern France was due to a strike. Output at reactor four was cut from 800 megawatts to 180 megawatts.

France’s grid remains under pressure due to the recent nuclear power plant loss. The day-ahead power price rose to the highest level since 2009 on Sunday and was priced even higher on Monday.

European natural gas climbed above 143 euros.

At least 25% of the EDF’s 56 atomic reactors are offline for maintenance. For some context, this is highly unusual for this time of year, considering the Northern Hemisphere winter is about to begin. A cold spell has sent much of the country into a deep freeze as power demand soars.

Like everywhere else in Europe, the power crisis in France has worsened Monday as power prices from France to Germany are at elevated levels.

German power prices hit a record on Monday.

France’s Ecology Minister Barbara Pompili has called on EDF to restart some nuclear power plants to avoid blackouts.

“I asked that EDF employees work to reopen them earlier in order face any possible shortages,” Pompili said.

Temperatures are forecasted to hover around zero degrees Celsius in several European countries this week as the power crisis across Europe worsens.

France’s EDF Shutters Two Nuclear Power Plants After Cracks Found

France’s EDF Shutters Two Nuclear Power Plants After Cracks Found

Électricité de France S.A., commonly known as EDF, a French electric utility company primarily owned by the state, shuttered two nuclear power plants after routine safety inspections found cracks at one power plant.

EDF wrote in a press release, “preventive maintenance checks on the primary circuit of reactor number 1 of the Civaux Nuclear Power Plant” found cracks due to corrosion on the pipes.

“Checks initiated on the same equipment of reactor number 2 of the Civaux Nuclear Power Plant revealed similar defects,” the French power giant said.

France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) was informed about cracks detected close to the welds on the reactor’s pipes.

EDF temporarily closed Civaux to “replace the affected parts on the two Civaux reactors, the work being governed by a technical instruction prepared in cooperation with the ASN, which leads to extend the shutdown of the two reactors,” it said.

EDF has also chosen to close two reactors at another nuclear plant at Chooz in the northeastern Ardennes department for inspections. Both power plants use the same reactor technology.

The temporarily closing of Civaux’s reactors and Chooz’s reactors will reduce one terawatt-hour of output and couldn’t come at the worst time as cooler weather sent French power contracts to a record high earlier this week.

A power reduction could suggest strain on the power grid amid cooler weather and higher power prices.

Fire At UK-France Subsea Power Cable Could Trigger Winter Blackouts

Fire At UK-France Subsea Power Cable Could Trigger Winter Blackouts

A fire in a subsea cable has dramatically reduced power imports from France until March, U.K.’s National Grid Plc said, deepening the energy crisis that threatens winter blackouts for millions.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Before the fire, the U.K. was already experiencing a five-year low in spare winter capacity. Compound this with gas shortages and the lack of renewable energy sources, sending power prices on a record-breaking run. The country may experience grid chaos in the coming months.

“If we don’t start to remedy the situation, we are going to be facing blackouts this winter,” Catherine Newman, chief executive officer of Limejump Ltd., a unit of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, told Bloomberg on Thursday. “If things don’t start to reverse soon, we will see the industry getting turned off across the board.”

“If anything goes wrong, we might not have anything left in the back pocket,” said Tom Edwards, a consultant at Cornwall Insight Ltd., an adviser to the government and utilities. “If a nuke trips offline or something else big, that could cause issues because we might not have anything to replace it.”

Britain receives power via six subsea cables, and two of them are connected to France’s power grids of more than 56 nuclear power plants.

The cable’s total capacity will be shut off until March 2022. The shortage is expected to exacerbate power price volatility when peak demand is seen in the winter months.

“The outage is going to lift the potential for price volatility as long as its offline,” said Glenn Rickson, head of power analysis at S&P Global Platts. 

The compounding energy crunch is fueling concerns about inflation when the economy is still recovering from the pandemic.

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