Schools, trains and hospitals: How France will handle possible electricity blackouts this winter

The French government has sent out detailed information regarding the possibility of power outages this winter as the country continues to grapple with securing energy supplies in the absence of Russian gas.

Schools, trains and hospitals: How France will handle possible electricity blackouts this winter
High voltage power lines at sunset in Wiwersheim, eastern France. (Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP)

The French government has sent out the detailed information to local authorities for use in the event of power outages – something that the government still says is unlikely to happen.

French government officials have already clarified that any power cuts would occur when the energy grid is overly strained, in the event of the combination of unusually cold weather, ongoing problems at French nuclear plants and the failure to buy in extra power supplies from European neighbours.

“We are not saying that there are going to be power cuts, but that it is not impossible,” Olivier Véran, the government spokesperson clarified to RMC on Thursday.

If power outages are likely, information will be available on the Ecowatt website and app, which can be accessed now. Three days in advance, you will be able to see if you are in a “red” zone (meaning energy is highly strained), and one day prior, at 3pm, you will be informed as to whether your département is to be affected by a power outage the next day. Later, at 5pm you will be able to enter your personal address to see if you will be personally impacted.

“The idea is for no one to be surprised”, a government source told regional newspaper Nice Matin.

It should be noted that Corsica is not at risk of blackouts because it is not on the same electrical grid as mainland France.

READ MORE: ‘Ecowatt’: How you should use France’s new energy forecasting website?

These power outages would not occur across the entire country – instead they would affect small segments of the grid, such as individual towns or localities.

Additionally, these power outages would only take place either in the morning (between the hours of 8am and 1pm) or in the evening between the hours of 6pm and 8pm and would not affect crucial buildings such as hospitals. 

Local authorities have now been tasked with preparing an emergency response solutions in the event of a power cut in their area.

A source told the regional newspaper that local authorities will be required to present “load-shedding (power outage) plans that would reduce consumption in the areas concerned by up to 38 percent.”

According to reporting by Nice Matin, France’s inter ministerial crisis unit is working with the assumption that six to ten load shedding operations (power cuts) will be necessary over the winter period, and that these two-hour operations could affect up to six million people at a time.

The documents also provided further detail regarding how people will be impacted during such an event, which is outlined below:

Cancelled trains

If a power outage occurs, trains will likely be cancelled in the affected area to prevent passengers from finding themselves stuck in the middle of a track with the signalling system cut off. Local authorities will be left to decide how to handle city public transport such as Metro systems.


The French government said it was working alongside the Ministry of Education to develop plans to close schools in the mornings if the area is to be impacted by rolling blackouts. Leaving schools open during power outages could have negative ramifications, considering a lack of heating, alarm systems and lighting. Schools would be open again in the afternoons, as power cuts are not set to take place between 1pm and 6pm. 

Emergency locations

The French government has said that these rolling blackouts could impact up to 60 percent of the French population. However, sensitive sites, such as hospitals, police stations, gendarmeries, and fire stations will not have their power turned off, according to reporting by BFMTV.

Some industrial sites have also been placed on the priority lists to not be impacted by blackouts.

For emergencies, people are still recommended to call the number 112.

READ MORE: Emergency in France: Who to call and what to say


Power cuts will reportedly not impact an entire region or départment, but instead will be concentrated to smaller areas. 

Up to 40 percent of people in France will not be impacted by power outages due to the fact that they might be connected to a “priority line.”

Additionally, in terms of who will be affected – it will never be the same area twice in a row and none of the more-than 3,800 high-risk patients who depend on at-home medical equipment will be impacted.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Fact-check: Are French unions cutting electricity to towns during strikes?

Striking energy sector workers in France have been hitting the headlines for cutting the power to certain towns - here's a look at what is going on, who is behind it and whether these actions will continue.

Fact-check: Are French unions cutting electricity to towns during strikes?

Across France, workers have been walking out in protest against proposed pension reform – which would include raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64. 

Employees in France’s energy sector have also staged strikes – but some have taken more drastic measures, including cutting off the electricity in certain areas.

Some striking workers have threatened to target the neighbourhoods and towns of politicians in favour of the pension reform, while others said they would engage in ‘Robin des bois‘ (robin hood) actions to restore free electricity to public places like hospitals or daycare centres. 

What has happened?

The power cuts have made headlines for obvious reasons, but in truth the actions have been relatively limited.

Most of the recorded power cuts have targeted a single town or city area and have lasted for a couple of hours – the actions are mostly performed by individual branches of unions representing energy workers and are not part of the overall strategy of the main union federations.

The first reported cuts were on January 19th, the first say of strike against pension reform and hit the towns of Massy (located in Essone) and Chaumont (located in Haute-Marne).

Claude Martin, the head of the FNME-CGT union said that the power cuts were meant to primarily affect companies and to “send a message that we have our hands on the [electrical] network”.

Since then, targeted power cuts by strikers have impacted many other parts of France, such as Nice, Marseille, Pas-de-Calais and Hauts-de-France. 

The area surrounding the Stade de France and what will be the Athlete’s village for the Paris 2024 Olympics was impacted by power cuts on March 9th, along with the surrounding area. About three hundred strikers were reportedly present for the action, with some setting off smoke bombs to shield the identities of others who cut the power.

Another well-publicised power cut was focused on the hometown of France’s Labour Minister, Olivier Dussopt, who has spearheaded much of the pension reform campaign. On Tuesday, March 7th, energy sector strikers reportedly targeted the town of Annonay in Ardèche, causing over 2,000 homes to be without power for several hours.

On the same day, in Pas-de-Calais in northern France some commercial areas, as well as the 5,000 inhabitants of Boulogne-sur-Mer were blacked out. In Périgueux in south-west France the CGT Energies 24 union claimed responsibility for a  “targeted” 30-minute cut that impacted more than 1,400 people. 

During the week of March 12th, power cuts have continued.

In Nice, striking workers with the CGT union temporarily cut power to the préfecture of Alpes-Maritimes and Cannes-Mandelieu airport. Both actions took place for about one hour. 

Finally, on March 15th, during the eighth day of mass demos and walkouts, power cuts hit the French Riviera, targeting the Fort of Brégançon, the official holiday residence of the French Presiden. Meanwhile, union representatives in Corsica claimed that they had temporarily shut off the power to 1,900 customers.

Is this legal?

Politicians including the French Environment Minister, Agnès Pannier-Runacher have called these actions “illegal and dangerous” while prime minister Elisabeth Borne has urged the grid operator Enedis to file criminal complaints.

In response, Enedis told Le Figaro that if it was able to verify acts of malice, then they would report those responsible to authorities who could move forward with prosecuting them. 

However, the legality of shutting off the power during a strike is a little more complicated. Legal expert Camille Mabi told the Journal du Dimanche newspaper that any action falling outside the “precise definition of the right to strike” can be considered illegal. 

Outside of strike periods, if an energy employee were to cut the power, then they could be subject to disciplinary action by their employer. However, during strike periods, there is a broader legal framework to protect employees and trade unions.

As employees cannot be sanctioned for exercising their right to strike, the employer would need to justify that gross misconduct or negligence has occurred. 

What about the ‘Robin Hood’ actions? 

In January, several union leaders called for ‘Robin Hood style actions’ – such as giving free electricity to hospitals and other public centres, reducing the electricity bills for some small business owners and bakeries, and restoring access to electricity or gas for certain households. 

According to Europe 1, such actions took place in cities like Nice, Lille and Paris during the month of January, but it is not clear how many establishments or people were directly impacted, while unions themselves have also been quite vague about what exactly they have done or intend to do.

Can we expect more power cuts?

During an interview with BFMTV on March 9th, Fabrice Coudour, the head of the CGT Energy union, said he hoped to bring power cuts “up a notch”. 

Coudour emphasised that the energy union had voted in favour of rolling strikes, and that the objective would be to “bring France to a standstill” in protest against pension reform.

The pension reform bill is currently into the final two weeks of its parliamentary journey before a legislative deadline of March 26th.

As such, more localised power cuts are quite likely at least until the end of the month.

READ MORE: Calendar: The latest French pension strike dates to remember