the increase in energy prices pushes the mayors to slow down

Multiply the installed solar energy by ten, start the deployment of fifty wind farms offshore by 2050 and organize the environmental transition in each territory. These are the main lines of the “ecological planning” promised by the candidate Emmanuel Macron in Marseille during the intermediate rounds of the presidential elections. Seven months later, his energy transition minister Agnès Pannier-Runacher presented a bill related to accelerating the production of renewable energy. Already adopted – and largely amended – by the Senate, it has just arrived in the Economic Affairs Commission and in the Planning and Sustainable Development Commission of the National Assembly.

The mayors are at the forefront», says Elisha

While the congress of mayors has just opened in Paris, the executive is counting on the mobilization of local elected officials to respond to the energy emergency of winter 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 and, in the longer term, to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050 And this, by producing or storing electricity, gas or hydrogen from renewable sources, manufacturing or assembling devices ad hoc or carrying out works on low-carbon public transport or energy distribution networks.

“The ecological and energy transition is an important issue that involves the whole of society. To plan the development of renewable energies it is necessary to work together with citizens, businesses and territories” we explain to Elysium.

“With their expertise in spatial planning, transport, housing, etc., mayors are at the forefront of this joint community-state-stakeholder work”, we continue towards the office of the Head of State who will receive almost 1,000 on the evening of November 23rd.

The double shock of inflation and rising energy prices

Except that since the beginning of 2022, even before the outbreak of war in Ukraine last February, city councilors have to collect at least a double shock: that of inflation and that of the increase in energy prices, despite the increase in VAT revenues and despite the shields on prices put in place by the government.

For example, in Montrouge (Hauts-de-Seine, 49,000 inhabitants), the gas bill will quadruple between the beginning of 2022 and the end of 2023, going from 400,000 to 1.6 million euros according to the forecasts of the Inter-municipal union for the Gas and Electricity of Île -de-France (Sigeif), which purchases gas for 189 communities and 5.6 million inhabitants of Ile-de-France.

“It eats up (sic) our self-financing and forces us to borrow at the worst possible time due to rising interest rates,” roughly dissolved the mayor (Udi) Etienne Lengereau.

“Renewable energies are therefore not at the top of the pile, because it is heavy and it is technically complicated! The urgency of emergencies is to renew the thermal colanders and green cities”. adds the first of the Montrougiens.

Local public companies to help renewable energy?

In addition to bank loans, municipalities can still count on private funds and funding from other local authorities through the creation of EPL (Local Public Companies). According to the director general of the EPL federation, Benjamin Gallèpe, there are almost 1,376, of which 75% are engaged in energy improvement initiatives.

Local public companies can take three forms: the mixed economy company (SEM) whose capital is majority owned by a public entity, the local public company (SPL) whose capital is 100% public and the mixed economy company single operation (SEMOP) where the majority shareholder is a private operator.

For example, in the Loire department, the agglomeration of Roanne (40 municipalities, 100,000 inhabitants), the regional council of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and the Caisse des Dépôts co-finance, among themselves, the management of wind farms within of the framework of a SEM called “the Roannaise of renewable energies”.

“The goal is to allow the population to benefit directly from the sale of electricity from wind turbines and to generate economic benefits. If it was very profitable in early 2022, it has been much less profitable since then due to energy costs,” he says. a spokesman for the Villes de France association which represents these medium-sized towns of between 10,000 and 100,000 inhabitants.

An explosion of costs that discourages players from pursuing

Exploding energy prices also discourage more than one private company from pursuing projects. More and more operators specializing in the production of renewable energy are informing local public decision-makers that their tariffs negotiated with the Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) no longer allow them to finance operations.

This is the situation encountered by Jean-François Débat, vice president of Villes de France and vice president of Amorce (Association of local authorities, waste management, heat networks, local energy management). In his town of Bourg-en-Bresse (Ain, population 40,000), an installer of photovoltaic sunscreens informed him that his investment was at a loss.

“Contracted before Covid, this 2.7-hectare convention center parking project had economic significance, but the operator is now refusing to start it in the name of its amortization. Except that the contract runs until March 2023. We are therefore looking with the agglomeration how to take it back … “, testifies Jean-François Débat.

Intercommunity, the right level of community to take up the challenge?

The agglomeration, the community of municipalities, the territorial public body or the metropolis remain to all intents and purposes the community of the local block which can take over the archives of the mayors in the absence of human and/or financial engineering.

“The role of the intercommunity consists in identifying the actors, putting them in contact to define a vision and finding human time before investing. This is critical to acceptability” we emphasize to Intercommunal of France.

“Installing renewables takes time. Nothing will be done by snapping your fingers! We must not go in random order, but consult each other “. says Bertrand Hauchecorne, mayor (without a label) of Mareau-aux-Prés (Loiret, 1,250 inhabitants), vice-president of the mayors of France (AMF) in charge of ecological transition and finance among rural mayors (AMRF).

Indeed, inter-municipality is establishing itself as the right level of authority to impose energy criteria, both in the local inter-municipal urban plan (PLUi) and in the territorial coherence system (SCoT). “An inter-municipal authority may require a private company to connect to the existing heating network or install EnR equipment”, we still say in the association of the elect.

PPA, a new Eldorado for local authorities?

With Urban France, which brings the voice of large cities and metropolises, Intercommunals of France also calls for the relaxation of the public order code and the possibility of using PPAs, like private companies (electricity purchase contract, direct electricity purchase contracts, editor’s note).

“It is a mechanism that ticks all the boxes because it allows both to accelerate the development of renewable energies and to acquire energy at a price below the market price”, we emphasize to Urban France.

“The ENR law aims to allow communities to enter into long-term direct purchase contracts, but the text refers to a future decree and maintains the constrained framework of public procurement”, nuance Arnaud Brunel, managing director of the Intermunicipal Syndicate of the Paris Suburbs for Energy and Communication Networks (Sipperec).

“It is antagonistic to want to accelerate renewable energies without allowing local authorities to benefit from the electricity price of the plants they invest in. It is a purely legal and administrative culture problem. We have to reinvent a picture and change the paradigm,” continues the energy consultant of 116 Ile-de-France communities (8 million inhabitants).

Sharing value, an issue that divides local elected officials?

Last but not least to please: value sharing. Since the 2010 Finance Act, all companies operating in the energy sector have paid the IFER, a flat coupon on the network companies, for the benefit of the community, but the government wants to go further and reward more mayors.

“Engaging local elected officials absolutely must be financially valued. That’s all the work we’re doing right now in Parliament.” says Jean-Marc Zulesi, MP (Renaissance) for the 8th constituency of the Bouches-du-Rhône and chairman of the committee for planning and sustainable development of the National Assembly.

Especially since the Senate, which has already adopted the bill, has already revised the system by including inter-municipalities and departments among the beneficiaries of the new mechanism. As for the rural mayors, they push for a balanced system: one third for the municipality, one third for the municipalities and one third for the departments.

One thing is certain: in the aftermath of the “flop 27” that has just ended in Sharm el-Sheikh, the debates are likely to be lively this week between the Palais-Bourbon and the congress of mayors… In both cases, the ministers dedicated and the Prime Minister will parade there.