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Britain threatens to cut France out of future electricity links

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Power cables near Nantes
Power cables near Nantes

Britain is set to review its energy links with France after the country threatened to cut off Jersey’s power supply in a row over fishing rights.

A senior Whitehall source described France’s actions as “outrageous” and said the UK would have to take a more cautious view of France as an energy partner.

It is understood that Britain could seek to route future giant undersea power cable projects towards the Netherlands, which it now views as a more reliable partner than France. A source said France had “weaponised” its electricity exports.

Jersey, the self-governing British crown dependency with about 110,000 residents, receives about 95pc of its electricity from France through three undersea cables.

It was thrown into turmoil as France responded to the UK’s decision to authorise 41 ships to fish in waters off Jersey. The French fisheries ministry claimed the permits came with demands that had not been discussed or authorised.

France’s seas minister, Annick Girardin, said she was “disgusted” by the move. She told France’s National Assembly: “In the [Brexit] deal there are retaliatory measures. Well, we’re ready to use them.

“Regarding Jersey, I remind you of the delivery of electricity along underwater cables ... even if it would be regrettable if we had to do it, we’ll do it if we have to.”

A government spokesman said: “To threaten Jersey like this is clearly unacceptable and disproportionate.”

Whitehall discussions over the future of energy links with France discussions could jeopardise a controversial project led by Tory donor Alexander Temerko to build a £1.1bn power cable between Hampshire and Le Havre that his company Aquind said will be able to provide enough electricity for about 5m homes.

However the row is not expected to affect the Government’s attitude towards EDF, the French state-owned utility which is in negotiations with Government about building a new nuclear power station, Sizewell C in Suffolk. EDF is already building Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, in Somerset.

Jersey Electricity, which runs the island’s electricity system, insisted it could meet the island’s power needs with its own generators, but the threat was met with outrage.

The row comes as Britain is looking to increase its power links to the continent through giant power cables, known as interconnectors. They can help balance power supply and demand now that more power is generated from intermittent renewable sources such as wind and solar power.

Last year, interconnectors between France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland and Ireland supplied 8pc of Britain’s electricity consumption. Britain imported 22.9TWh and exported 4.5TWh.

There are plans to build new cables meaning imports will be able to supply a quarter of electricity by 2024. As well as Mr Temerko’s project to France, there are plans for new links to Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium.

A new National Grid power cable between Hampshire and Normandy started running at full capacity in January, importing enough power for about 1m homes.

Plans for Aquind’s project have been examined by the UK’s planning inspectorate, which now has until June 8 to submit a recommendation to Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary.

Mr Temerko suggested a connection to Jersey could be added to his or other interconnectors, cutting the island’s reliance on its own undersea cables to France.

Commenting on France’s threat to Jersey, he said: “Today we have a problem with fish regulations, yesterday it was vaccines, tomorrow it will be something else.

“We cannot threaten each other and put at risk vital gas or electricity supplies. We need to avoid putting people under humanitarian risk. We need to de-escalate it, any escalation is bad for business.

“Making businesses responsible for political escalation is absolutely wrong. An awful situation, impossible between civilised countries.”

A government spokesman said: “We are working closely with the EU and Jersey on fisheries access provisions following the end of the Transition Period so trust the French will use the mechanisms of our new treaty to solve problems.”

National Grid ESO, the body that balances Britain’s electricity supply and demand, said: “As a prudent system operator we are continuously monitoring all elements of electricity in Great Britain, including transmission, generation and interconnector flows. We do not expect any issues continuing to ensure security of supply.

“The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement reaffirms the UK and the EU’s commitment to a mutually beneficial energy relationship, delivered through close co-operation between electricity transmission system operators.

“This includes the way in which the parties on both sides of the Channel trade electricity over interconnectors, work together on security of supply, safety of the interconnected system, support climate change objectives, integrate renewables into markets and cooperate to develop offshore renewable energy in the North Sea.”

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