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France Prioritizes Spain, Germany Over U.K. for New Power Links

France set to favor new electricity links with Spain, Germany, Belgium, pushing any future U.K. connections beyond 2025.

(Bloomberg) -- France is set to favor new electricity links with Spain, Germany, and Belgium over further power lines to Britain, pushing any future U.K. connections beyond 2025, the French grid operator said.

Deciding which links will get built is key to Europe’s energy market as France plans multibillion-euro investments to renovate its grid and accommodate an expected increase in intermittent renewables. The upgrade will require more network digitalization and a doubling of interconnections with neighboring countries to ensure safety of supply.

France is already working on two links with Britain, but once those are completed, power lines with other countries should take priority until the impact of Brexit and the economic rationale for further U.K. links becomes clear, according to Reseau de Transport d’Electricite’s (RTE) chairman.

"There are three or four projects that are on standby, and risk remaining on standby, Brexit or not," Chairman Francois Brottes said at a briefing near Paris recently. "If you multiply links, you may end up with too many of them."

The vulnerability of grids in Europe was tested as recently as last month, when the failure of two power plants in the United Kingdom saw more than one million homes lose power. In January, RTE had to ask French industrial customers to reduce consumption when a "mismeasurement" on power lines between Germany and Austria threatened to knock out electricity in parts of Europe.

RTE is proposing to invest 33 billion euros (US$36.4 billion) by 2035 to renovate the French network and add more international power lines. It plans to boost the capacity of its interconnectors to about 30 GW in the next 15 years, starting with the completion of 3 GW of new links under construction with the United Kingdom and Italy, RTE said in a presentation.

The so-called IFA2 link between France and Britain should be commissioned in 2021, while the ElecLink via the Channel Tunnel may still need regulatory approval on safety, RTE’s head of strategy Thomas Veyrenc said.

Following those two projects, the grid operator can prioritize construction of 5 GW of interconnectors with Spain, Germany, and Belgium by 2025. Another 5 GW of new links  including two projects with the United Kingdom and one with Ireland need further economic studies or European subsidies, RTE said. It didn’t provid any timeframe for a third Franco-British project.

RTE’s investment in new interconnectors may amount to about 2 billion euros (US$2.2 billion) by 2035, Veyrenc said. Provided that the French regulator approves RTE’s proposal, the grid would spend 21 billion euros (US$23.2 billion) to adapt its network and renovate existing lines, 7 billion euros (US$ 7.7 billion) to connect more than 10 GW of planned offshore wind farms and 3 billion euros to digitalize equipment, Veyrenc said.

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