By America Hernandez and Forrest Crellin
PARIS -Protests against French government plans to raise the retirement age had a muted impact on the energy sector on Thursday, the first day of 48-hour strikes, lowering hydropower output and curbing some refinery deliveries.
In electricity, supply from the Belleville 1 nuclear reactor was lowered 1 gigawatt (GW) due to the strike, data from operator EDF showed. Hydropower supply was unaffected after dropping by 1.7 GW earlier, the data showed.
That’s compared to a steep fall in power production during a nationwide day of strikes on Jan. 19, when output was down some 6.6 GW, roughly 10% of the country’s total, forcing France to import power from neighbours.
Spot electricity prices for Friday rose slightly, as an expected drop in demand and rise in wind supply offset some uncertainty linked to the two-day walk-out call by trade unions.
At oil refineries, strike participation also waned, although deliveries were partially disrupted.
An Elabe poll for BFM showed 72% of the French are against the pension reform. It is too soon to say who will win the showdown between unions and the government.
More than a million people marched through French cities on Jan. 19 in a boon for unions. A second nationwide day of strikes, across all sectors, is planned for Jan. 31.
In the energy sector, unions had previously said they expect industrial action to intensify on Feb. 6, when a 72-hour strike is scheduled to start and possibly be renewed.
Meanwhile, the government, which lacks an absolute majority in parliament, is still not sure it will get all the votes it needs to push through the pension reform from the conservative Les Republicains.
Amid a cost-of-living crisis fuelled by inflation, another question is how long and how often workers can afford to strike.
“Oil workers are against this (pension) reform but they don’t want to be on the front line,” said a CGT union representative for Exxonmobil.
“The goal is to keep pressure on the government and to encourage workers from other sectors to mobilize … (but there is) nothing spectacular planned at our sites, no well-organized pickets or blockages,” the union representative added.
A spokesperson for Esso, whose two French refinery sites are run by ExxonMobil, said only truck loading operations were suspended at Fos, with everything else operating normally.
A union representative added that production at the Port Jerome site was slightly impacted.
TotalEnergies also said fuel shipments were disrupted at its La Mede, Donges, and Normandy sites, but added it continued to make sure petrol stations were supplied. It added its refinery site at Feyzin was not affected.
The strike ended at the Dunkirk site, however, and shipments are expected to resume.
A CGT union representative for TotalEnergies estimated that around 60% of union members were on strike on Thursday across all sites, down from at least 70% last week.
So far, the industrial action has not had a significant impact on wholesale European refined product prices, as the market awaits whether refinery output will be curtailed.
Any disruption to diesel production in Europe would boost prices, especially ahead of a Feb. 5 EU ban on oil products imports from Russia, a major supplier to the continent.