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Energy crisis: France closes 30 swimming pools amid soaring heating bills

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By Chris Harris  & AFP, AP
A swimming pool in Lyon, France, unaffected by Vert Marine's decision.
A swimming pool in Lyon, France, unaffected by Vert Marine's decision.   -   Copyright  Credit: AFP

Dozens of swimming pools have closed in France because of an explosion in energy costs.

Often heated by gas, pools are very energy-intensive and bear the full brunt of rising prices, worsened as a result of Russia's war in Ukraine. 

Vert Marine, which is closing 29 swimming pools across the country, said its energy bills had increased from €15 million to €100m.

One of the cities affected is Limoges, situated in southwest-central France.

Fabien Doucet, vice president of Limoges city council, slammed a "brutal, unilateral decision" and said he was considering legal action.

“The equipment [swimming pools] which cost €50 million is used by the inhabitants of around twenty municipalities who, overnight, are taken hostage. We find ourselves faced with a fait accompli. It is inadmissible.”

The temporary closure of these swimming pools will see around 600 of Vert Marine's 2,000 staff put into partial unemployment. 

Thierry Chaix, president of Vert Marine, said: “We ended up with rising energy prices and it is no longer tenable. It has been multiplied by 10."

The company is asking for the government or local authorities to step in and help.

Last week, France's sports and energy transition ministries said discussions were ongoing to reduce energy consumption at the country's swimming pools and ice rinks "in order to preserve sporting and economic activity".

France Urbaine, an association that represents local authorities across the country, said 10% of their 108 members, surveyed a few weeks ago, are considering closing swimming pools this winter.

It comes as French president Emmanuel Macron has called for a 10% cut in the country’s energy use to avoid the risk of rationing and cuts this winter.

France is among many European countries tightening their belts as energy costs soar. Russia’s main pipeline carrying natural gas to Germany remains shut down, and the European Commission president says the EU's electricity market “is no longer operating” amid knock-on effects of the Ukraine war.

Speaking after a videoconference Monday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Macron announced a plan to boost gas supplies to Germany from France to make up for a drop in Russian gas supplies from the east. In exchange, Macron said Germany will continue supplying electricity to France to compensate for shortages caused by maintenance underway on many French nuclear reactors.

The leaders spoke before an emergency European Union energy ministers meeting Friday about how the continent can coordinate to keep warm this winter if Russia cuts off gas supplies.