Renewable-energy industry breathes small sigh of relief after French election

8 May 2017. By Emily Waterfield.

Investors in nuclear power and shale gas lost out today, with news that Emmanuel Macron had been elected as the next president of France.

But believers in the EU carbon market and supporters of renewable energy will join those breathing a sigh of relief, knowing that the far-right National Front won't be running French affairs any time before 2022.

Macron beat FN candidate Marine Le Pen in yesterday's presidential election, in a result European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called a victory for "a strong and progressive Europe."

Le Pen had promised to hold a referendum on French membership of the euro, a move that, following signs of growing discontent with the EU and a British vote to leave the bloc, had fueled fears about the union's future.

But as well as concessions to Euroskeptic French voters, Le Pen had also pledged support during her presidential campaign for atomic and fossil-fuel energy. In contrast, Macron sees France's future in wind and solar power — with decreased dependence on nuclear reactors.

France gets more electricity from atomic energy than any other EU member state does, at around 75 percent of the total. Macron said during his campaign that he would cut this to 50 percent by the end of 2025.

A large part of the cut would be made by closing the country's oldest nuclear power plant, at Fessenheim in Alsace — though, as pledged by current President François Hollande, closure will depend on the opening of a new reactor at Flamanville, in Normandy.

A more profound change in the French energy mix would come from Macron's promised support for renewable energy. The centrist leader of En Marche says he would see France double its production of wind and solar energy by 2022, as well as "simplify" the rollout of new renewable-energy installations.

Le Pen had said she would introduce a moratorium on new wind turbines, overturn a French ban on the production of shale gas, and scrap plans to close Fessenheim.

EU carbon market

Green politicians and environmental activists can also find hope for Europe's struggling carbon market, in voters' decision to elect Macron.

The 39-year-old former investment banker from the northern city of Amiens has said that he wants to see carbon prices of 100 euros ($109) a ton for companies buying and selling on the Emissions Trading System by 2030. With prices hovering around 5 euros for the past five years, signs that France is pushing for such a major increase could encourage other economies to do the same — and reduce the attractiveness of investments in cheap fossil fuels.

But the EU Green Party has been quick to sound a word of caution.

Despite calling on the French to "vote Macron" last week, the group yesterday warned that "President Macron in his campaign did not give high priority to environmental and other green issues."

"Just like many citizens, Greens breathe a sigh of relief that a clear majority of French voters rejected the extreme right of Marine Le Pen," European Green Party co-chairs Reinhard Bütikofer and Monica Frassoni said in a statement. But "if he wants to lead France forward, toward a better economic and social future, [Macron] has to integrate green thinking and a green new deal as part of the necessary transformation of both France and the EU."

This means that, from a clean-energy point of view, the sigh of relief isn't yet a full exhale.