May 22, 2022

the fed up of the employees in the face of the “looting of the company”

« We are fed up with working like slaves for private companies to make money. » This is how Philippe Page Le Mérour, Chairman (CGT) of the social and economic committee (CSE) central d’EDF, summarized to Reporterre the state of mind of employees. Wednesday, January 26, at the call of the four main unions in the sector — CGT, CFDT, FO and CFECGC, more than a third of the employees ofEDF (37,2 %) were on strike, according to management. Gatherings are planned, in particular in front of certain nuclear power plants of the group, such as Golfech (Tarn-et-Garonne) and Gravelines (North). Reductions in electricity production are possible, in the opinion of all the union sources questioned by theAFP, but they should not penalize households and businesses. This means that if the government’s decision to increase from 100 to 120 terawatt hours (TWh) the volume of electricity thatEDF is obliged to sell at low cost to its competitors does not pass.

This temporary raising of the Arenh ceiling — for « regulated access to historical nuclear electricity » — had been announced by Barbara Pompili and Bruno Le Maire on January 13 in addition to the reduction in electricity tax. Objective, contain at 4 % the surge in the price of the regulated electricity tariff, which could have reached 44.5 % 1is February according to the Energy Regulation Commission (CRE). In compensation, the European Commission granted EDF that it raises its fixed selling price for Arenh from 42 to 46 euros per megawatt hour (€/MWh). An amount to be compared to the approximately 222 euros that a megawatt hour was worth on the wholesale electricity market in December 2021. EDF had estimated that this government obligation was going to make him lose between 7.7 and 8.4 billion euros. « We are outraged that the state is organizing the looting of the company », reacted the salaried directors of the group. The measure fell to the worst, whileEDF is already going through an area of ​​turbulence: fuel problem on theEPR of Taishan in China, further postponement of the commissioning of theEPR de Flamanville (Manche), extended shutdown of five reactors after the discovery of corrosion.

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The staff representatives ofEDF triggered a right of economic alert, they announced on January 19. A meeting between the CSE and the direction is scheduled for February 4. « A loss of 8 billion euros means that there will be renunciations. We need to know which ones: will they affect recruitment ? Maintenance of the nuclear fleet ? Investments in renewable energies ? We will ask all these questions to the management », explains Mr. Page Le Mérour. If they are not convinced by the answers provided by the head of the group, the staff representatives may demand a detailed accounting expertise of the company’s situation.

But for employees, raising the ceiling of the Arenh is only the tree that hides the jungle of the opening to competition of the electricity sector in Europe. « We must renationalize EDF, get out of the electricity market and abolish this competitive system which has shown its inconsistency and inefficiency for users and employees alike », proclaims the president of the CSE center of the group. « We denounce the electricity market », adds Anne Debregeas, research engineer in economics and operation of the electrical system and elected Sud Énergie in EDF.

The relevant European market ?

What are they talking about ? In France, after 1946, the entire electricity production and distribution chain was a public service provided by EDF, a state-owned company with a quasi-monopoly. In 1996, the European Union initiated the opening up of the electricity sector to competition with the first directive of the « energy package ». Three pillars of this text: free choice of supplier for consumers, freedom of establishment for producers and the right of access to the network for all users. In France, the transposition of this process took place in stages: in 1999 for the largest manufacturers, in 2004 for all professionals and local authorities, in 2007 for individuals. Multiple Providers « alternative » of electricity emerged: major electricians like Total or Engie, but also start-ups or groups like E.Leclerc. They are around 40 today and were supplying electricity to 28.1 % of individuals at the end of September 2021 on the residential market, according to CRE [1]. Even if since the beginning of the price crisis, several of them have gone out of business.

According to Mme Debregeas, the electricity system, which requires very long-term planned investments and requires the finest coordination of the means of production to balance supply and demand at all times, does not lend itself to competition between players. This process of creating a market artificially would therefore have given birth to a monster: « To sustain competition that did not exist — many suppliers do not produce electricity and only have a commercial service and a trading —, completely esoteric devices have been invented », laments the researcher. Among these measures, the Arenh, put in place in 2010 by the Nome law to force EDF to share its nuclear rent — EDF indeed benefiting from a vast nuclear park built thanks to public money and amortized, which makes it unsurpassable by its competitors.

Another aberration for Mme Debregeas, wholesale prices on the European market are subject to so-called au « marginal cost » [2], that is, they « correspond to the price of the megawatt-hour produced by the most expensive power plant at a given moment, generally a gas-fired power plant ». Clearly, the price of electricity is indexed to the price of gas, which is very volatile, and to the price per ton of CO2. In the situation of a collapse in market prices, this can lead some electricians to sell below their production costs, thus weakening their financial situation and, by extension, their capacity to maintain the fleet and their capacity for investment. . Conversely, in the current situation where the price of fossil gas and a tonne of CO2 start to soar, it is the price of electricity in Europe that is set ablaze — « including in a country like France where the electricity mix is ​​at 93 % of carbon », regret M.me Debregeas. Thus, the creation of the European market has made the price of electricity extremely fluctuating… to the chagrin of consumers andEDF.

Infernal mechanics

The 2015 reform of the regulated electricity tariff [3] – the famous « blue tariff » of the majority of individuals registered with EDF —, by integrating the market price into its method of calculation, further aggravated this volatility.

The electricity market is a failure, insist the trade unionists. He broke his promise to lower bills. « On the contrary, we took 50 % increase in the price of electricity excluding inflation since 2007, not counting the explosion this year. Businesses are starting to close because they can no longer afford electricity », denounces Mme Debregeas. According to The world, 150 metallurgical companies would have sunk had it not been for the government’s price restraint measures.

Nor does it make it possible to meet either the monumental needs for maintenance and upgrading of the nuclear fleet or the requirements of the energy transition. « RTE, in its scenarios, estimates the need for investments for decarbonization at 20 to 25 billion euros per year. Today, EDF is at 12-13 billion, illustrates the elected Sud Énergie. A few years ago, staff at the research center were reduced on the grounds that electricity prices were low and the group’s results were therefore poor. Curious way of anticipating research needs for the transition ! »

By their strike, employees and unions ofEDF hope to stop this infernal mechanism. But Mr. Page Le Mérour said he was worried: « Now that the box is in the red, the government will surely bring us out of the freezer the Hercule project to dismantleEDF, explaining to us that this is the solution to deal with his financial difficulties. » This project, which consisted of splitting EDF into three entities – a public company for nuclear power plants, another listed on the stock market for electricity distribution and renewable energies and a third for hydroelectric dams – had been postponed indefinitely by the government in July 2021.

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