France mulls converting Cordemais coal power generators to biomass

The French government and utility EDF (EDF.PA) will study the possibility of converting the 1.2 gigawatts (GW) Cordemais coal power generators to burn biomass due to its importance in guaranteeing security of supply, the energy ministry said on Tuesday.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government plans to phase out electricity production from France’s remaining coal-fired power plants by 2022 as part of measures to curb carbon emissions and global warming. The government also plans to reduce France’s dependence on nuclear power which accounts for over 75 percent of French electricity needs, while boosting the development of greener energies. French power grid operator RTE, has warned that the plan to shut down some coal and nuclear generators, could leave France, a net exporter of electricity in Europe, largely dependent on neighbors during peak demand periods, particularly in winter.

Anxious to guarantee French electricity supply, the ministry and state-controlled utility EDF are studying a project to convert the power station to biomass, the energy ministry said in a statement.

It added that the Cordemais conversion project would only be considered under the strict condition that power production from the site would be necessary to guarantee French security of supply after 2022. The ministry said the study would look at the environmental impact and economic viability, while additional analysis would be carried out by grid operator RTE on the security of supply particularly in western France.

Trade unions are against the closure of the plant and have been carrying out protests and production stoppages at the units since last year. The current series of strikes forced RTE to call for the restart of the units when France faced a cold spell last week as power demand for heating rose sharply. Power output at the 580 megawatts (MW) each Cordemais 4 and 5 units was reduced by a nearly 400 MW due to another strike as of 2200 GMT on Tuesday, RTE data showed. As cold weather and snowfall hit France on Tuesday, the country was a net importer of electricity for most of the day, according to RTE data. It was importing around 6 GW of electricity from neighbors Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy and Belgium and exporting nothing at around midday.