Why rural areas in France are expected to be worst hit by power cuts

The president of the rural mayors’ association has said that the notice given is not long enough. We also answer common questions about how the power cuts may work

A photo of someone holding a candle up to an old-fashioned electricity meter
Power cuts need to be communicated earlier and will affect rural areas most, a rural mayor has said, as France prepares for possible cuts
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Rural areas in France will be hit hardest if the country goes ahead with its plans to have power cuts to save electricity this winter, and the planned notice is not long enough, a prominent rural mayor has said.

Michel Fournier, president of the Association des maires ruraux de France told FranceInfo: “We know very well that rural areas will be most affected. Priority sites are always found in towns. I don’t think there will be any power cuts in Paris.”

The government this week released more details about possible power cuts this winter.

Possible plans include:

  • Limiting them to be in January if possible
  • Limiting power cuts to two hours
  • Staggering cuts across the country
  • No household to be affected twice in a row
  • Giving at least one day’s notice
  • Not cutting off an entire department at the same time
  • Keeping cuts to within the hours of 08:00 and 13:00 and 18:00 and 20:00

No department will be cut off in its entirety, it added. The cuts will look like a ‘leopard print’ rather than a blanket blackout, the government said.

The government said that around 40% of the population and buildings will not be affected as they are considered to be a priority. This includes hospitals, gendarmerie or police stations, or people who rely on electricity for medical equipment.

Read more: France sets out its strategy for winter power cuts to homes

But Mr Fournier said that the system of communicating a power cut would not be effective in rural areas.

Should power cuts be needed, a red EcoWatt signal will be issued three days in advance, allowing departments to know if they will be affected as early as possible. This will trigger updates online, which the public can consult.

Specific notice of power cuts at individual addresses will be searchable on the websites of electricity network managers Enedis and RTE by 17:00 the night before. Enedis has already launched its tool, which can be found at coupures-temporaires.enedis.fr/

“The idea is that no-one should be surprised,” a government source told the AFP.

But Mr Fournier said: “You have to consider the risk of a cut and look at things locally. The problem is not the outage itself…the real problem is communication.”

He said that leaving any alerts until 17:00 the night before was too “late”. He said: “Not everyone is connected to the internet [in rural areas]...how will this news get to people in small villages? The mayor or the local councillors will have to get involved.

“We would prefer to be notified three or four days in advance.”

‘Do not panic’

It comes after President Emmanuel Macron urged people in France “to not panic” faced with the risks of power cuts, which electricity companies have said are most likely to occur in January if they do go ahead.

In an interview with TF1 over the weekend, Mr Macron said: "Do not panic, it's pointless and it's over nothing. It is normal for the government to prepare for an extreme scenario." He added that currently the prospect of power cuts was "fictitious" but that it was necessary to get ready for them regardless.

The timetable for possible power cuts has been set to avoid schools from opening without lights, heating, or fire alarms. Yet, some schools are set to install generators and test them over the month of December.

Some trains and metro lines could be cancelled or stopped if a power cut is planned to prevent passengers from getting stuck during a journey.

If electricity consumption drops by 10%, however, the power cuts may be avoided.

Power cut questions

FranceInfoanswered some common questions about the possible power cuts. Details include:

  • Will we have repeated cuts? No. The government has said that the same areas should not be affected more than once consecutively, if at all.
  • How will people without computer internet access check? You can sign up to Ecowatt’s mobile app or receive texts by signing up for the service (or having someone else do it for you). Several media outlets including Radio France and France Télévisions will also share the information.
  • What will happen to patients at home with critical medical equipment? None of the approximately 3,800 high-risk patients dependent on mains-connected medical equipment at home will experience a power cut. Those at very high risk will be hospitalised ahead of a cut.
  • What about school transport in rural areas in case of a cut? The government has said that any schools affected in the morning will not receive children until lunchtime. School transport is set to adapt. More details on how this will work, especially for parents with front-line jobs, are to come.
  • How long can food in the freezer survive power outages? A well-filled freezer in good condition can keep food frozen for up to 48 hours, as long as it remains closed. A fridge will stay cold for four to six hours if the door remains closed. Power cuts are not set to last more than two hours.
  • What will happen with lifts and trains? The government is set to work out plans to "make sure no one gets stuck in a lift or metro during the cuts. Some trains or metro trains may be cancelled during power cuts to avoid people getting stuck. Anyone who is very worried should not take the lift or use public transport during an at-risk time.
  • Will Radio France work in the event of a power cut? Yes, but only if you have a battery-powered FM radio.
  • Are power cuts also expected in neighbouring countries? Yes. Similar measures are being planned for Germany, Italy, and Spain, including ‘energy curfews’.

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