Public policy debate starts

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The French government has launched an open public debate about the future of the country's energy policy. In particular, the balance between nuclear and renewables has to be thrashed out.

According to industry minister Nicole Fontaine, 70% of people consider themselves poorly informed about energy issues. The government wants to establish a "permanent dialogue" with them over the evolution of energy demand in the next 30 years. Two special committees will be formed: one including a socialist and philosopher, whose job it is to make sure that the debate is balanced. The other is a consultative committee made up of elected representatives and people drawn from society at large.

The debate will revolve around six main events: an opening session in Paris in March; four regional conferences and a closing session in Paris in May. The public will be kept informed, partly through a dedicated web site with youth appeal.

In her message to citizens, Fontaine underlines that future energy policy will have to take into account environmental challenges and a progressive liberalisation of the energy market as well as security of energy sources in a world of geopolitical instability and the need to foster sustainable development. The results of the debate will be funnelled into an energy policy bill to be put before parliament later in the year.

Much of the debate will be in search of a middle ground between the two extremes that have grown up in France. Part of the establishment is entrenched behind nuclear as the only serious option for meeting France's Kyoto commitments as it does not produce emissions. This camp drew cheer from a recent announcement by the government's Climate Change Commission that France could not give a "guarantee" that it would meet its Kyoto targets. The Commission made the remark in connection with the thorny matter of whether or not to replace the country's ageing nuclear reactors. A group called Rac-F say "less than 10%" of the emission cuts target can be achieved.

The other extreme is pro-renewables. Wind is the fastest expanding energy source in France. It has found favour with politicians but its success at selling itself to the general public will now be tested by the national energy debate. The anti-wind movement will also be fighting its corner arguing that wind has attracted more government resources than it deserves and is blighting the French countryside.

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