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France denies Italian reports on possible halt of energy export

France denied reports that state-controlled utility EDF had warned Italy it may halt power exports to the country and reaffirmed its commitment to “solidarity” with its neighbors as Europe grapples with an energy crisis.

Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported earlier on Saturday that Italy had received written notification from EDF regarding a potential two-year halt on power exports as part of France’s energy-saving plans.

A spokesperson for Italy’s ministry of ecological transition later confirmed the newspaper report.

“French authorities deny this information and reaffirm their commitment to reciprocal electricity and gas solidarity with all of our European neighbors,” the French Ministry of Energy Transition said in a statement.

An EDF spokesman also denied that the group had warned Italy of a possible suspension of its power exports to the country.

Earlier this week however, French network operator RTE said in its winter outlook report that in an extreme situation, it may need to halt an interconnector to Italy, as well as one to the UK, a move that would stop exports.

Asked about la Repubblica report, a spokesperson for the Italian Ecological Transition Ministry confirmed a communication to the ministry, adding that “the problem has been known for months due to France’s problems with its nuclear power plants”.

France has for years helped to underpin Europe’s electricity supply, providing about 15 percent of its total power generation and accounted for about 5 percent of Italy’s annual electricity consumption in 2019, according to Eurostat data.

But this year France has become a net power importer as its own production of nuclear energy hit a 30-year low due to a wave of repairs at the country’s nuclear plants. All the while European countries are in the grip of an energy crisis triggered by a plummet in Russian natural gas supplies in the wake of the Ukraine conflict.

State-controlled Electricite de France SA’s nuclear output is set to fall to the lowest in more than three decades as it grapples with maintenance for its aging plants. France, traditionally Europe’s biggest electricity exporting country, has become a net importer. Along with the squeeze on Russian gas flows, the EDF crisis is a major source of Europe’s energy deficit.

In an effort to increase gas savings, Italy’s government said it would aim to reduce heating by 1 degree Celsius in public and private residential buildings in the second half of 2022, while cutting heating duration by one hour a day.

As Europe heads into a difficult winter, policymakers are acutely aware that shortages risk testing solidarity between countries — and the system of interconnectors between nations.

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