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Le Pen puts fuel tax cuts, wind suppression at the heart of its energy plan

As Europe suffers its worst energy crisis in a generation, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is proposing to subsidize consumption while cutting supply further.

The 53-year-old nationalist is narrowly trailing President Emmanuel Macron in the polls ahead of the April 24 ballot. She has campaigned for months on the promise of boosting the purchasing power of voters by cutting taxes on gasoline, heating oil, nature Air and electricity. This help to consumers coincides with a crackdown on wind turbines, a wind tax on some of the country’s biggest energy companies and an exit from Europe’s electricity market.

While energy costs began to rise last year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed them to the top of the political agenda as prices broke records. Those increases represent more than half of Europe’s inflation, costing households across the continent 230 billion euros ($251 billion) this year.

Le Pen has established herself as an defender of the poor, and her policies may prove effective in alleviating the pain of rising prices for households and motorists. Their concerns have become a powerful force in French politics, especially the “Yellow Vests” movement that disrupted the early years of Macron’s presidency.

According to Marc-Antoine Eyl-Mazzega, head of the Center for Energy & Climate at the Institut Francais des Relations Internationales, her plan will leave the country increasingly short of energy over time.

“It might please people who don’t like to see wind turbines,” says Eyl-Mazzega. “The power supply situation will deteriorate, and investors will stay away from France.”

At the core of Le Pen’s offering to voters is a 12 billion euro reduction in value-added tax on energy. She also promised to return 9 billion euros in taxes to diesel oil and gasoline when she took office if the price of oil was above $100 a barrel. Those gifts will top out the 25 billion euros in aid to cover energy bills already taken by Macron in stages.

Le Pen said the tax cuts would be partially funded by ending subsidies for wind and solar power. Regardless of the regulatory issues, she also promised to stop the onshore and offshore wind farms being built, taking on risky projects currently being developed by companies including Electricite de France SA. , Engie SA, Iberdrola SA, Neoen SA and Voltalia SA. According to her manifesto, wind turbines will gradually be destroyed as they reach “end of life”.

Wind and solar combined accounted for 10% of France’s electricity generation last year, and this share is likely to increase further this year as EDF’s nuclear output is set to fall to its lowest level since 1990 due to maintenance and technical problems at the aging nuclear reactor fleet. . However, wind turbines are unpopular in some parts of France, where homeowners find them unsightly and devalue their properties.

Macron has already taken some steps to address opposition to wind energy, pushing back his goal of doubling capacity on land by 20 years to 2050. But the idea completely blocks the development of wind power. Domestic renewable energy sources, which have become increasingly price competitive as the cost of importing fossil fuels and other power sources has skyrocketed, has been fiercely criticized.

“Economic and energy policy proposals do not match reality,” said Michel Gioria, delegate of France Energie Eolienne, the country’s wind power federation. “She will put France in a difficult situation in terms of energy supplies, which will keep prices high.”

Le Pen plans to solve the supply side of the energy equation by kicking off the construction of 20 large nuclear power plants, which will gradually be brought online from 2031. She will also seek to reopen two reactors. the Fessenheim reaction that Macron closed two years ago, extending the life of EDF’s 56 operating nuclear plants to 60 years and building a number of small modular nuclear generators.

It is a challenging timetable given the recent record of the French nuclear industry. EDF is yet to operate the only new reactor under construction in the country, at Flamanville, after 15 years of operation. The project ran into technical problems and quadrupled its initial budget to 12.7 billion euros.

Macron’s nuclear plan is to build 14 new large nuclear reactors, with the first pair coming into operation from 2035. Given the constraints of supply chains and modern safety standards, even the That more modest output also brings significant challenges, the French grid operator said. five.

Reliance on fossils

The president also wants France to build 50 offshore wind farms by 2050 and has called for a 10-fold increase in solar power and a doubling of onshore wind. Both candidates favor widespread use in the coming decades hydrogena fuel that has yet to be proven commercially viable.

Le Pen called Macron’s plan “the greatest waste of public money” that would leave France relying on gas-fired power plants when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. Her goal of reducing France’s energy consumption by 40% by mid-century was “unattainable”, she said.

President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine highlights the geopolitical hole left by Europe’s overwhelming reliance on imported fossil fuels from Russia. Nicolas Goldberg, an energy consultant at the progressive think-tank Terra Nova, said Le Pen’s policies would take the place.

“If we can’t meet our electricity needs because of the ban on renewables or wild theories about nuclear power, we’ll have to keep using fossil fuels,” Goldberg said. “Not only the climate will be affected but also purchasing power, because this fossil energy crisis will only get worse in her quest.”

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