A decision by France’s energy regulator that seems to defy both logic and Europe’s green consciousness has set off a political storm here, shaking up entrenched interests in the electrical power sector
writes David Jolly
(some sentences are different between the NYT's online version and the IHT's print version — I have sometimes reestablished the original (?) wording).
At the center is a tiny company that seeks to save consumers money.
Two weeks ago, the French Energy Regulatory Commission, the C.R.E., decided that Voltalis, a company that installs electricity management devices in homes and businesses and then manages their use, would have to, in effect, pay power producers for the power that it saves — effectively destroying its business model.
…The ruling immediately led to charges of too much coziness among entrenched interests in the electrical power sector.
Challenges, a French business magazine, suggested that the country’s electricity producers, including Électricité de France, which is 85 percent owned by the government, wielded too much influence over regulators.
Voltalis’s chief executive, Pierre Bivas, took his case to the public last weekend, where the reaction has been scathing.
“At this rate, it will soon be obligatory in France to consume large quantities of electricity, or face taxes and fines, and maybe imprisonment, too,” the antinuclear group Sortir du Nucléaire said in criticizing the decision.
At peak periods, producers must bring more costly capacity on line or demand must be limited. Voltalis’s technology, which is also in use in the United States, has disrupted the existing model.
“From the consumer’s side, it’s exactly symmetrical,” Mr. Bivas said on Tuesday. “In both cases, the energy produced is used by consumers and paid for by consumers. They’re saying consumers should pay for the energy that was never produced and never used.”
…Cécile George, a technical expert for the regulator, said the decision hinged on how the company would be paid, because having the grid operator pay Voltalis "would be discriminatory against how other large suppliers are treated." “Voltalis can’t be a free rider,” she said.
Following the airing of the "discriminatory" view, with its attending "we, in the government bureaucracy, are valiantly fighting against injustice", we get to the government administration's reaction, complete with the necessary "we are all in this together, we fair knights of France, and we are fairly going to give a little to everyone" language.
Jean-Louis Borloo, the French energy and environment minister, backed the regulators in their decision. But on Monday, perhaps because of the rising political heat, he said he would appoint a working group to propose the legal and regulatory changes necessary “to favor energy-saving and respect the interest of all the parties involved.” The panel is to report back by year’s end.