Sleepwalking to the Gates of Hell: what anti-nukery and mortgage-derivative financial genius have in common

Henri Proglio, the head of Électricité de France (EDF), the world’s biggest nuclear electric utility, is, when it comes to the role of nuclear power in France’s electrical future, not on the same public page as François Hollande, the man at the top of the government that owns EDF. Hollande when he was running in 2012 to be France’s president pledged to reduce the share of nuclear power in France’s electricity mix. He has reaffirmed that pledge ever since, and his Socialist Party, which controls both houses of France’s parliament, just last week tabled in the lower house a bill that codifies the reduction in the share of nuclear. During the debate over that bill, Proglio told reporters in London that France’s next door neighbor Germany has created a disaster with similarly anti-nuclear policies. Proglio is right. But that’s the kind of talk that can get you fired. Apparently it HAS gotten Proglio fired.

Speculation in Reuters just yesterday indicated Proglio would rather easily win reinstatement to another term as head of EDF. I just didn’t believe it, and it looks like I may be right. Publicly disagree with your boss over an existential issue and your position is in jeopardy—Hollande’s Socialists lost Green Party support in municipal elections earlier this year, for, among other things, not trying hard enough to live up to his anti-nuclear election promise. You can be as correct as it is possible to be, and on the nuclear issue Proglio is nothing if not utterly correct. Germany’s energy transition is a disaster. If the “ratings agencies”—i.e., green lobby groups—on whom the mainstream media has come to rely for an “objective” assessment of the most effective climate change policies were doing even a small fraction of their self-appointed job, Germany would be in more people’s minds the proper laughing stock that it is. And jurisdictions like France, Ontario, Sweden, Switzerland, and Finland would be held up as the obvious right way to run electricity grids (see article).

But these “ratings agencies” are doing as good a job as Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s did in 2008 of vetting the financial viability of mortgage derivatives. S&P and Moody’s in 2008 let the world sleep-walk up to the metaphorical gates of hell. Today, the green lobby crows with adulation as Germany dumps millions of tons more carbon into our air than it used to; the greens want France to start doing that too. And as they do, the world sleepwalks, if you believe the climate science, to the real gates of hell.

You can know all this, as Proglio obviously does know it, and it does not matter. If a politician comes to believe that it’s you or him, and he has the power to make it you, then you are gone. It matters not today, in 2014, that Henri Proglio will go down in history as a guy who called it right, nor that François Hollande will spend his later years explaining how and why he fell for the green claptrap, especially when it was clear as day in 2014 that the German example was such an embarrassing failure.

What a shame.

Back when France built its fleet of nuclear power reactors and went within two decades from being oil- to nuclear powered and one of the cleanest major countries on the planet, it did so with the same get-it-done attitude as all of the other nuclear jurisdictions. I was at a Canadian nuclear industry gathering last week, and asked a long-time veteran how it was that Ontario transitioned so quickly from being a hydro-coal system to a nuclear one. He said simply “we had a supportive government.”

That was in the seventies and eighties. Did the Ontario government get bang for its buck? Of course. Look at Tables A1 and A2 up on the left. The nuclear fuel category gives the hour-by-hour performance numbers that are the result of the faith that the government showed the nuclear sector. And look at the “CO2, tons” column: all that nuclear electricity comes with none of the CO2 that is destabilizing the global climate.

But that was then and this is now. Today, it’s the green lobby that has the supportive governments. Germany is the biggest example: it has enthusiastically supported “green” energy sources—wind and solar—with strong legislation starting in 2000. But what has Germany accomplished in the 14 years it has had to wow the world with its energy transition?

Higher carbon emissions. Obscenely high electricity prices.

Meanwhile, next door in France, they have power that is five to six times cleaner than in Germany. It also costs half as much. Have a look again at the Electricity Carbon-Emission and Retail Price (ECERP) Matrix; here again is the link.

And now, led by green ideology, France is getting set to aim for parity with Germany: higher carbon emissions, and unnecessarily expensive electricity. Of all countries on earth, you’d think that France would be falling over itself to show the Germans how it’s properly done. But instead France has decided to follow the Germans down the biggest and dumbest rabbit hole in the history of electricity.

And Henri Proglio appears to have been fired for pointing that out.

It’s a crazy mixed up world.

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8 years ago

Great post Stephen. In an ideal world living and behaving responsibly would mean becoming fully knowledgeable about energy and what sources are best for the climate and the economy. It is painful to discover that people in leadership positions all too often lack the kind of judgement needed for sane decisions. They are deluded into thinking they are on the correct path. Could Hollande be deliberately leading France and the rest of the world to the gates of Hell. Maybe. These days, to actually learn the truth is not that hard. Study and consultation is not difficult. Just make the time. When so much is at stake remaining ignorant is tantamount to evil. We frequently witness people making reckless decisions that makes us wonder if there is any real thinking capacity left. It makes you want to shout: “Running a country is not a game. Wake up.”

Jeff Walther
8 years ago

It’s depressing and aggravating. How can our society, our societies, have so many catastrophic structural failures, that the true nature of Germany’s situation is not being reported in any major media outlet in all these countries?

Shouldn’t this be an amazing piece of investigative reporting? A piece that wouldn’t even take much investigation, as all the facts are publicly available? Sure, some of the back room motivations may be hidden, but the facts of the failure and the wealth transfers are obvious, yet unreported in mainstream media. How can this continue?

Jaro Franta
8 years ago

Pretty amazing too, that ppl from Hollande’s administration had the gall to show up at the Climate March in NY not long ago…..

8 years ago
Reply to  Jaro Franta

They can do that because nobody from the MSM or the Big Green organizations will call them on the hypocrisy.

8 years ago

I recognize that it is difficult for a person who lives from paycheck to paycheck to publicly fight his boss and survive.

I even get that it is hard for a mid-career person with a young and growing family to resist pressures from above.

What I will never understand is why more people that presumably have secure savings and a vested retirement plan feel the need to go along to get along. Why is it considered unusual to have the gumption to call it like you see it, accept whatever consequences come, and move on? There are many ways to make a good living, especially when you maintain your integrity.

Proglio is right and knows it. I hope he does not quietly allow an elected politician to maintain control of the public discussion. Sure, Hollande can fire him, but he has no power to make him stop talking and writing.

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights

8 years ago

I think Proglio loved the power and influence he had when leading EDF. I think he also had a real thrill at the thought that in Germany E.On and RWE were loosing more and more money, being on the verge of bankruptcy while he had managed to keep EDF profitable.
Nobody is talking about what’s happening to him now, he might just be retired (he wasn’t that far from the age limit as EDF’s CEO it would have left him 3 more years until 68). Of course Hollande didn’t organize anything for him to get another position.

And of course also he is smart enough to understand well that this remark at a delicate moment where Hollande was to decide shortly whether to replace him or extend his term for 3 more years would be extremely risky.

My personal opinion is that he already knew he’d be replaced, so he decided to tell frankly what his opinion was about what was happening in Germany.

Morgan Brown
8 years ago

I find it astonishing that Germany, in its mad rush to “energiewende”, is becoming more dependent upon lignite, sacrificing villages to strip mine the brown coal.

Is France to follow suit? They gave up coal mining in 2004, but perhaps will have to reopen their mines (as well as purchasing foreign coal).

8 years ago
Reply to  Morgan Brown

I find these fantasy stories in English press also astonishing. They don’t fit with the figures. May be journalists err because new flexible high efficient (44%) lignite plants were opened past few years, and they don’t realize more old inefficient (~33%) base load lignite plants are closed (base load cannot compete in a market with substantial wind + solar. In that market only high flexible plants can survive).

When you look at the figures you see that the Germans are on spot to reach the targets of their 50years plan made up in 2000:

1. Nuclear out; done in 2022. Now 10 of the19 plants closed.
Explanation: Germans have more inside knowledge about what happened to the people near Chernobyl because there are German speaking farmers there. Furthermore they experienced increased rates of birth defects, still a ban to eat mushrooms from German woods (to much radiation), etc.

2. More renewable; from ~6% in 2000, towards >80% in 2050 in steps of ~1.5%/a.. Now ~30%, so they are few years ahead.

3. Democratize electricity generation (was number one until Chernobyl and Climate)
About ~50% of renewable capacity is in the hands of citizens, farmers, small cooperations, etc.

4. Affordable costs. Hence the migration over a 50year period (Denmark is faster. They have now ~35% generated by wind and target 100% renewable in 2040).

5. Less GHG (CO2)

8 years ago

One point of optimism is the fact that Hollande is very unpopular, with a record low job approval rating.

I don’t know much about French politics, but it seems unlikely Hollande will be elected to a second term. The next administration might seriously examine the difficulties in shutting down several nuclear plants while still maintaining their electricity exports and low power prices. There is still time for more rational minds to prevail.

As has been said on this blog, if they are going to shut down a portion of baseload nuclear generation, they will need to replace it with some other form of baseload generation. Are the French building any new hydroelectric dams?

8 years ago
Reply to  Pete51

See wikipedia article below on the latest opinion poll results for the next French presidential election.,_2017

The next election isn’t until 2017, and a lot can change between now and then, but in the broad field poll, Hollande would come in third behind Marine Le Pen and Nicolas Sarkozy. In head-to-head polling, Hollande also loses to Le Pen and Sarkozy individually.

Le Pen is in the right wing of French politics, but has been critical of nuclear power in the past. Former President Sarkozy is more middle of the road, and has historically been very pro-nuclear power.

R. Budd
8 years ago

It appears to me that most people aren’t clear on what is driving R.E. over nuclear. R.E. represents a massive reshuffle of the energy deck. Nuclear gets no benefit from either Co2 reduction or public ownership. R.E. looks like a vast opportunity.
The private sector and govt’s see selling off nuclear generation as a financial opportunity. Yes you are killing a cash cow that benefits the public good, but soooo many then get a pound of flesh from it. Lets be honest, that is what is driving renewable contracts and the resultant nuclear capacity reduction in Ontario and Germany. Now likely France.
Enbridge, TransAlta, Suncor all see huge opportunity in Darlington and Pickering going down. As do Samsung, NextEra and flocks of smaller solar/wind opportunists. The whole time OCAA,Waterkeeper and the rest of the greens are chanting “kill nuclear”. The Liberals have profited both as individuals and as a party by being gatekeepers to contract access.
I know farmers who want to see the end of nuclear. They see increased opportunity for wind/solar leases on their lands. The fact that 25 years ago we were heating chicken barns with cheap, low emissions electricity and now they are screaming for infrastructure for very finite N.G. to be built to keep them competitive, is lost on them.
Germany is a compact between coal interests, miriad FIT contract holders and the Greens. Emissions are very secondary concerns.
Nuclear (irrespective of gov’t wishes) must soon learn to make the case to the masses in democratic countries that it represents their best opportunity for survival. Otherwise the future looks grim in many ways.

8 years ago

Mixed messages from M. Hollande who has aslo been in the news in Canada this week:

8 years ago

Almost all of NW-Europe now starts to follow Germany:
1- Switzerland set closure dates for it’s nuclear plants;
2- Belgium did similar. It’s move out is accelerated as 2 of its 7 reactors showed similar cracks in the vessel wall, and a third one suffered sabotage. So they have a real electricity shortage this winter as ~half of their nuclear fleet is out. As repair is too costly those 3 will be decommissioned.
3- Sweden decided not to build new reactors and to concentrate on the development of more renewable (wind, hydro, biomass, etc).
4- France decided to lower the share of nuclear towards 50% in 2025 and started renewable stimulation program (again as the first was rejected by the EU as it falsified competition).
5- The national energy plan of Netherlands concentrates on renewable, excluding nuclear.

Austria, Denmark, Norway, Italy never had or closed all nuclear already.

Obscenely high electricity prices.
The average German household spends a lower share of its income for electricity than the average US household. So the continued high support (~90%) for the Energy transition is not strange; At last autumn the only skeptic party lost nearly 75% of its voters and is now out of parliament.