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Macron’s Energy Policies - Gökberk Bilgin

The second round of the French Presidential Election was held on Sunday, and the French President Emmanuel Macron won a decisive victory against the nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen. Before the elections, the candidates had major differences in handling the issues, yet they were mostly on the same side on continuing to produce energy from the nuclear plants. Both candidates proposed similar plans to expand French nuclear capacity by adding several nuclear plants and had different opinions on expanding renewable energy.

Macron’s Promises for 2017 Elections

Back in 2017, when Macron was elected president for the first time, his major promise was to build a policy framework that aimed to reduce nuclear energy's share of electricity generation from 75% to 50% by 2025. This did not mean stopping investments in nuclear power plants but increasing the share of renewable energy sources. Macron also promisedto double France’s wind and solar capacity at the end of his term in 2022. For the energy efficiency projects, a government funding of €4 billion for the poorest citizens had been designed to make their houses energy efficient.

For the oil and gas sector, the main aim of the French candidate was to stop all exploring activities in the French territories.

On the coal side, Macron promised to close all of the coal plants by 2021 to set France as an example in the fight against climate change. Despite this seemed like an ambitious policy for the many people since the share of coal in energy production was around 2% in France, it did not mean more than a symbolic gesture.

Macron’s First Term: 2017-2022

In 2020, Macron’s administration closed the two oldest nuclear power plants that had completed their life cycle. The administration later updated its nuclear energy share goal for 2035. Macron also stated that there would be no reactors closed in his term. At the end of 2020, the share of electricity generation from nuclear energy reduced to 67%.

For the oil and gas trade, France had established a balanced and well-diversified importing policy that helped them not rely on any major oil suppliers, and the amount of fossil fuel imports has a declining trend. On the oil and gas exploration, the government restricted granting of new licenses and issued a law to prevent renewing existing agreements beyond 2040 in the French territories. However, since the production amount of these commodities was very insignificant, it did not made a major difference. Many perceived the policy, again, as a symbolic and populist gesture. On the other hand, the French government continued to support Total, a major French oil company, in its drilling activities in the Arctic region aligned with the Russian Federation. Many environmental activists criticized Macron for not intervening in the operations of this policy. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Total was the only major oil company that claimed it had no intention to stop ongoing operations with the Russian Federation.

The oil and gas sector mostly remained important for transportation, industry, and heating purposes, and the French government focused on promoting electric vehicles to accelerate the energy transition. Like many other governments, France also plans to stop the sales of petrol engine cars by 2040.

On the coal side, the operations did not stop as promised, and coal plants continue to operate even today. However, they have been limited to operating only 700 hours per year. One of the reasons for that was the maintenance of the nuclear power plants, and the French government was afraid of facing energy shortages, so it continued to use coal plants. During the cold periods this winter, the permission limits of coal plants extended to 1000 hours.

The development of renewable energy was another problematic area for the French government for the goals they have agreed to reach in 2020. France became the only country in the European Union that missed its target by only producing 19.1% of its energy from renewables. The goal was 23%. In this area, hydropower remains the dominant energy source, and investments in wind and solar energy are not developing as quickly as desired. For wind energy, the main criticisms are the high costs and its negative impact on the environment. On the other hand, French people are skeptical of solar energy since the panels are manufactured in China, g high carbon emissions. When you add the bureaucratic procedures to these discussions, the investment environment remains inefficient in reaching renewable energy goals.

When Macron promised to double its wind and solar energy capacity, France had 13,76 GW wind and 7,4 GW solarenergy capacity. As of 2022, while the wind capacity increased to 19 GW, solar increased to 13 GW. Thus, his administration almost managed to reach its solar targets while lagging in wind capacity.

Finally, the French government extended the grants and included all income levels with the promises of subsidizing house innovations for the poor people. The project named MaPrimeRénov helped citizens who wanted to renovate their houses with eco-friendly materials for up to €20,000. In 2021, 800,000 households will benefit from the project, and extensions are planned for the future. According to the French government, 4,5 million houses require renovations, and with the current pace, France can reach this goal before the end of the decade.

Overall, I see from the picture that France had a long-term energy projection plan with its defects, and Macron adapted his policies to fulfill those goals. While setting the goals in 2017, Macron could not have predicted the Covid-19 and Russia-Ukraine crisis, so there were valid reasons even though it did not hit the exact targets. The major decision that created a setback for his presidency was increasing the fuel taxes, which eventually led to the Yellow Jacket movement.

Macron’s Promises for 2022 Elections

In 2022, Macron continued to rely on the energy mix led by nuclear energy. This time he stated that the investments in newly developed small modular nuclear reactors would continue to protect energy independence levels while focusing on reducing carbon emissions. According to the plan, 14 new nuclear reactors will be 2050 to generate an additional 25 GW of nuclear energy.

The focus of the renewable energy goals will also target 2050 by working on 40 GW of offshore wind power and raising solar generation capacity to 100 GW. For the energy transition projects, the allocated money will be €10 billion per year, which means €50 billion for the whole term that can be spent on the green energy transition of the French infrastructure. This also includes planting 140 million trees by 2030.

In his second term as the president of France, Macron will face serious challenges in the energy policies due to Russia-Ukraine War and the ongoing energy crisis. Implementation of the new nuclear plants will take time, and if the Russian aggression in the region continues, the instabilities in the energy markets will stay. Under these circumstances, achieving climate goals may become secondary, and we can see further postpones. We can also expect the coal sector to remain active in emergency cases for the same reasons.

The ongoing investments in nuclear energy technologies are a great step toward energy transition. While closing the older nuclear plants that have completed their life cycles, France aims to replace them with novel nuclear reactors that are safer. Even if the renewable energy projects do not succeed as planned, this will keep French carbon emissions lower compared to a country that relies on fossil fuels for the same amount of energy. If Germany insists on giving up nuclear entirely, it will be very interesting to watch how these two countries with diverse approaches have the same climate goals.