Major work ahead on the French power grid

Rising demand for renewable energy and electricity, aging equipment: grid operator RTE will have to invest huge sums over the next few decades to upgrade the network
Growing demand for renewable energy and electricity, aging equipment: grid operator RTE will have to invest huge sums in network renewal in the coming decades (DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Archives)

Rising demand for renewable energy and electricity, aging equipment: grid operator RTE will have to invest huge sums over the next few decades to upgrade the network, and it intends to play the consultation card to get it accepted.

In Fleur-en-Escrebier (North), RTE has just opened its new Avelin-Gavrelle line, which runs from the outskirts of Lille to Arras, and wants to make it a symbol of the transformation of equipment and production methods. dialogue with residents.

“The landscape is still more beautiful, I think of the Millau Viaduct when I see the alignment of the pylons,” says Jean-Luc Florin, a farmer, as he watches the new pylons follow each other in his sugar beet and pea fields. .

After much consultation—eight years for just two entries—RTE has indeed adopted a new pylon for the region called “Equilibre,” which is reminiscent of a boat’s sail and fits more easily into the décor.

Forty-five were planted along this new 400,000 volt transmission line, redesigned on a budget of 215 million euros to triple its capacity, while the previous line was approaching saturation.

“We had the idea of ​​making a smooth line that blends with the landscape,” explains the pylon designer, Franco-British architect Hugh Dutton. They had to be “as thin as possible”.

“Not easy”

Jean-Luc Florin also welcomes their less traction: “It’s easier for us to work because there’s only one support in the middle that we can turn around.”

Rising demand for renewable energy and electricity, aging equipment: grid operator RTE will have to invest huge sums over the next few decades to upgrade the network
Rising demand for renewable energy and electricity, aging equipment: grid operator RTE will have to invest huge sums in the coming decades to upgrade the network (BORIS HORVAT / AFP / Archive)

The very high voltage electrical cables, now located higher, also calm him when riding a tractor. “Under the old line, there were times when you wondered if an arc was happening.”

However, the project has not always received good press in the region. “In the early years there were very strong divisions,” admits Xavier Pechaczyk, president of RTE. But the work in the end took place “generally in a serene atmosphere.”

“Installing the new pylons required some concessions, such as buying houses on the crossing,” recalls Jean-Jacques Peyrot, mayor of Fleur-en-Escrebieu.

“It was not easy, because the first house we had to demolish was inhabited by elderly people who lived there for a very, very long time,” he says, welcoming the work of the consultation.

It was absolutely essential for RTE to adopt this new line, which was considered necessary due to the great needs of a region that produces large amounts of renewable electricity and where factories are phasing out fossil fuels. The new line also strengthens the link with neighboring Belgium.

Large investments

If today in France it is not so common to remodel or build a 400,000 volt line, this work will soon multiply.

Rising demand for renewable energy and electricity, aging equipment: grid operator RTE will have to invest huge sums over the next few decades to upgrade the network
Growing demand for renewable energy and electricity, aging equipment: grid operator RTE will have to invest huge sums in network renewal in the coming decades (Pascal PAVANI/AFP/Archives)

“The French 400,000 volt network was designed when we were building the nuclear fleet, today this network will be about fifty years old. Therefore, in the coming years, we will start updating it,” explains Xavier Pechaczyk.

Needs are also changing with the advent of renewable energy sources. “When we build some (wind) power plants offshore, in the north and west of France, we will have to return all this energy to the megacities and to the east.”

“This opens up huge investment opportunities for us until 2050,” emphasizes the president of RTE.

Today, the company is investing 1.7 billion euros a year in the network, and this amount will gradually more than double by mid-century. There will be over 2 billion from 2024, then over 3 billion after 2030, and finally over 4 billion annually between 2035 and 2050.

The amount allocated for current transmission is about 10% of the electricity bill, a share that should remain stable in the future for the consumer, RTE promises, even if the total bill is likely to increase.