‘Necessary evil’: France refires coal plant amid energy woes

Nov 30, 2022, 7:39 AM | Updated: 8:00 am
View of the coal-fired power station Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in Saint-Avold, eastern France. The pla...

View of the coal-fired power station Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in Saint-Avold, eastern France. The plant should have been closed permanently at the end of last winter, but the government resumed its operation due to the energy crisis. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

(AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

SAINT-AVOLD, France (AP) — The end of France’s coal era seemed so certain last year that the operator of one of the country’s last coal-burning plants posted an upbeat educational video on YouTube titled “Let’s visit a coal plant that’s going to be destroyed!”

The plant in the northeastern town of Saint-Avold indeed halted coal production as scheduled earlier this year — but not for long. This week, its workers were back at the controls, transporting coal from storage heaps and refiring furnaces, as part of emergency efforts to keep the heat and electricity on this winter.

The energy crisis across Europe unleashed by Russia’s war in Ukraine has paved the way for coal’s comeback in some regions, to the dismay of politicians and activists who warn this endangers climate goals, the climate itself and public health.

“Working here we know the negative impact of the coal plant, but nonetheless we see it as a necessary evil,” said shift supervisor Thomas About at the Emile-Huchet Power Plant in Saint-Avold.

“Given the current state of the electrical network, I nonetheless fear greatly that this production tool is necessary in the medium term,” he told The Associated Press.

Nearby, wheel loaders scooped mounds of coal and dumped it onto conveyor belts, and gray fumes rose from the plant’s smokestacks.

In France the return to coal is surprising because the country started phasing it out decades ago and relies heavily on nuclear power instead. But this year, on top of Russia largely cutting off natural gas to Europe, nearly half of France’s nuclear reactors shut down for maintenance or corrosion and other problems.

Facing a worst-case scenario of rolling power cuts to households, the government issued a decree in September to allow Saint-Avold to start again and continued activity at another coal plant in western France, citing the “exceptional” and “unforeseeable” context of energy supply challenges.

President Emmanuel Macron had initially vowed to close all coal-burning plants in the country by the end of this year due to climate-related concerns.

The impact of the backtrack will largely be felt locally, since coal plays only a minor role in France’s energy mix nationwide. The two coal plants produced a maximum of 3% of France’s electricity Tuesday, according to the national grid operator, compared to some 60% from nuclear plants.

The government has called on the French for a 10% reduction in energy use in the coming months, including by limiting heating, to avoid the risk of rationing and cuts this winter. Government spokesperson Olivier Veran said Wednesday that people reduced on average their electricity consumption by 5% in October.

The government insists the return to coal will be temporary.

The company that operates the Saint-Avold plant, GazelEnergie, is continuing its work to transition the site to the “post-coal” future, with projects for biomass and hydrogen-based energy.

Workers like About hope that future comes soon.

“This page will be turned one day,” he said. “Let’s hope it will be turned quickly, so that this unit produces as little as possible.”

___

Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

___

Follow AP’s climate and environment coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              A tractor transporting coal is pictured at the coal-fired power station Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in Saint-Avold, eastern France. The plant should have been closed permanently at the end of last winter, but the government resumed its operation due to the energy crisis. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
            
              A worker sits in the control room of the coal-fired power station Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in Saint-Avold, eastern France. The plant should have been closed permanently at the end of last winter, but the government resumed its operation due to the energy crisis. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
            
              A tractor holding coal is pictured at the coal-fired power station Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in Saint-Avold, eastern France. The plant should have been closed permanently at the end of last winter, but the government resumed its operation due to the energy crisis. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
            
              View of the coal-fired power station Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 in Saint-Avold, eastern France. The plant should have been closed permanently at the end of last winter, but the government resumed its operation due to the energy crisis. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

AP

Joe Garner, a truck driver and shop steward for the local 315 of the International Brotherhood of T...
Associated Press

Self-driving semis focus of California rules, legislation

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — As California regulators explore new rules to put self-driving semitrucks on the road, labor unions are rushing to the state Legislature to ask for a new law they say will protect their jobs — the start of a debate that could shape the future of the nation’s nearly $900 billion trucking […]
19 hours ago
FILE - Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra speaks during a news conference at the HH...
Associated Press

Feds expect to collect $4.7B in insurance fraud penalties

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration estimated Monday that it could collect as much as $4.7 billion from insurance companies with newer and tougher penalties for submitting improper charges on the taxpayers’ tab for Medicare Advantage care. Federal watchdogs have been sounding the alarm for years about questionable charges on the government’s private version of […]
19 hours ago
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)...
Associated Press

President Biden to end COVID-19 emergencies on May 11

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden informed Congress on Monday that he will end the twin national emergencies for addressing COVID-19 on May 11, as most of the world has returned closer to normalcy nearly three years after they were first declared. The move to end the national emergency and public health emergency declarations would […]
19 hours ago
This photo provided by Just Born shows Ira "Bob" Born. Born, a candy company executive known as the...
Associated Press

‘Father of Peeps’ marshmallow candies Bob Born dies at 98

Ira “Bob” Born, a candy company executive known as the “Father of Peeps” for mechanizing the process to make marshmallow chicks, has died. He was 98. Just Born Quality Confections, the 100-year-old family-owned company Born led for much of his life, said Monday that he had died peacefully on Sunday. Born began his life in […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Russian millionaire on trial in hack, insider trade scheme

BOSTON (AP) — A wealthy Russian businessman and associates made tens of millions of dollars by cheating the stock market in an elaborate scheme that involved hacking into U.S. computer networks to steal insider information about companies such as Microsoft and Tesla, a prosecutor told jurors on Monday. Vladislav Klyushin, the owner a Moscow-based information […]
19 hours ago
FILE - The reflection of a 2021 Ford Mustang Mach E is seen in the window as it charges at a Ford d...
Associated Press

Court upholds Minnesota ‘Clean Car Rule’ tied to California

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday upheld the state’s “Clean Car Rule,” which ties the state’s vehicle emission standards to California regulations, as judges accepted assurances that California’s planned phaseout of gasoline-powered cars won’t automatically apply in Minnesota. A three-judge panel rejected the arguments of Minnesota’s auto dealers, who […]
19 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Pexels Photo)...

Sports gambling can be fun for adults, but it’s a dangerous game for children

While adults may find that sports gambling is a way to enhance the experience with more than just fandom on the line, it can be a dangerous proposition if children get involved in the activity.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
‘Necessary evil’: France refires coal plant amid energy woes