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France has been ready for Gazprom’s ‘pretext’ to switch off gas: Minister

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Gazprom is using a mere excuse to switch off natural gas deliveries to its French contractor, the energy minister in Paris said on Wednesday, adding that the country had anticipated the loss of supply.

“As we anticipated, Russia is using gas as a weapon of war and is using Engie’s way of applying the contracts as pretext to further reduce French supplies,” Agnes Pannier-Runacher said in an overnight statement.

The comments came hours after Russia’s Gazprom announced that from Thursday it would fully suspend gas deliveries to Engie, a French utility, citing a dispute over payments. The move will deepen concerns about Europe’s winter energy supply.

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“France has been preparing for this scenario since the spring ...,” Pannier-Runacher said, adding that the country had already reduced its exposure to Russian gas imports to 9 percent from roughly double that amount before the invasion of Ukraine.

Engie declined to comment.

Asked about Gazprom’s announcement, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne late on Tuesday said Engie had other sources of supply.

She gave no details.

Households would not be cut off from the gas grid in case of shortages, but businesses, which Paris is urging to help save energy amid the current crisis, could face such a risk, she said.

Separately, Russia halted gas supplies via the major Nord Stream 1 pipeline to European countries on Wednesday.

European governments fear that further restrictions to gas supplies would heighten an energy crunch that has already sent wholesale gas prices soaring more than 400 percent since last August.

French energy regulator CRE head Emmanuelle Wargon said on Wednesday that France will have sufficient gas supplies to get through the coming winter but added that due to lower nuclear power output it may have to import electricity at times.

“We are not too worried about our capacity to get sufficient gas, we are confident that we can get through this winter without Russian gas,” she said on LCI television.

She added that France will see its gas storage facilities filled to 100 percent by the end of September or early October.

“For gas, the price is a bigger worry than getting the volume we need,” she said.

Wargon said that due to the outages at several of France’s nuclear plants, the country - which traditionally has been a net exporter of power - may have to temporarily depend on imports.

“Current power prices reflect the worst-case scenario,” she said, adding that the most difficult situation would be high demand due to an exceptionally cold winter, combined with low supply of renewable energy output due to dark, windless days.

Wargon said it should be feasible to reduce French power consumption by about 10 percent by a general savings effort, as recommended by the government.

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