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Deep concern on the side of the Cher communities faced with soaring energy prices

To express concern, there are words. “Concerned”, “anxious”, even “anxious”. There are also gestures. Like the one that Laurence Renier, the mayor Les Républicains (LR) of Aubigny-sur-Nère, confides in repeating: that of checking the temperature of the radiators. “I realize that I watch them all the time…”, she says with a sigh. A way of illustrating the subject that haunts her on a daily basis: soaring energy prices, under the effect of geopolitical upheavals, the resumption of activity after the Covid crisis, and the maintenance of a part of the nuclear fleet in particular. A dizzying increase, which affects budgets and hits forecasts.

Laurence Renier

The surge observed in recent months is one of the elements that led his team to increase taxation, the tax on built land from 33.40 to 36.40%. Three points. “There had been no increase for twenty-two years. It haunted my nights for a while. We anticipated an increase in electricity, combustibles and fuel of nearly 150,000 euros. In Vierzon too, the rates have been revised upwards: from 43.06% to 45.21% on built land.

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“Without additional service. We have not increased the heating in the schools by one degree…”, deplores the PCF mayor, Nicolas Sansu, convinced that “those who have not touched the rates this year will have to do so later”. “We had to keep some leeway to act,” continues Jill Gaucher, PS (Energy Transition) assistant, who looks back on the difficult forecasting exercise: “We had registered an additional 300,000 euros at the start of the year for electricity, gas and fuel. Turns out we need to add another 600,000.”.

A survey carried out at the beginning of the year among 6,000 communities revealed increases in the price of electricity of +25% to +250%, and even +300% for certain drinking water authorities. The same applies more or less (+30% to +200%) for gas.

This vertigo in the face of figures and uncertainty about their fair estimate, all elected officials know it. “A survey carried out at the start of the year among 6,000 communities revealed increases in the price of electricity of +25% to +250%, and even +300% for certain drinking water authorities. The same applies more or less (+30% to +200%) for gas. These additional expenses are estimated at 11 billion euros”, underlines Lionel Guy, head of the renewable energy and energy management department at the national federation of licensing and governed communities (FNCCR), an association of local authorities specializing in public services. network premises.

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All communities are affected. But not necessarily to the same extent. ” Those who have reached the renewal period of their energy market in recent months are faced with offers whose prices have exploded and the scarcity of competition due to the withdrawal of many operators, who are no longer able to obtain supplies on the international market”, specifies Lionel Guy, who has seen concern among elected officials rise in recent months. The equation is of formidable complexity: how to make services work, invest, think far ahead even when the room for maneuver is reduced and the visibility on energy prices is almost zero?

“We must continue to invest, to move forward, to modernize the city, to redo the roads, it is essential. We owe it to the inhabitants, to the companies. Otherwise, we stop everything! It is unimaginable. We are not committed to that, ”insists Laurence Renier. And the elected to insist on a subject mentioned by all the mayors: the feeling of a loss of fiscal and financial autonomy, a consequence of the abolition of local taxes, replaced by grants and shared national taxes.

“This price increase is a real massacre. These bills have to be paid. And it is necessary to make the services work well, to assume the daily life. »

“There is a risk of limiting investments, or shifting them over time. And we already see, in the country, facilities that are closing, such as swimming pools, for example”, continues Lionel Guy. “This price increase is a real massacre. These bills have to be paid. And it is necessary to make the services work well, to assume the daily life. And it is money that we will not be able to invest. This crisis appears at the worst time. It offers us limited room for maneuver when we have to write the energy transition, to fully commit to it. We have never had so much need to invest” assures Laurent Pabiot, the DVD mayor of Sancerre, where taxation has not been affected. “We made sure not to ask more from the taxpayer, who is also already well affected by these price increases”.

This crisis appears at the worst time. It offers us limited room for maneuver when we have to write the energy transition, to fully commit to it. We have never had so much need to invest.Laurent Pabiot

Same choice in Dun-sur-Auron: “The increase in taxation, for me, is excluded”, advances Louis Cosyns, LR mayor of the town, who does not hide his concern for the months to come. “We are going to increase the budget lines, but will that be enough? Probably not…”.

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To cope, all municipalities are exploring the same paths. There are the extinction (or reduction) of public lighting, a major item of expenditure (see below). There is also the replacement of boilersas well as drop in heating. “We lowered the heating in municipal public buildings by one degree this winter. It has been off since April 8. With the renegotiation with our service provider on prices, this saves 165,000 euros over the year”, specifies Jill Gaucher, who also highlights the savings made on the vehicle fleet with conversions to bioethanol. In Saint-Amand-Montrond too, the heating was cut off on Monday, “two weeks earlier than usual. This winter, it has been lowered or even cut off at weekends, ”underlines Jean-Claude Launay, Finance and Sports Assistant. The elected official, who makes the awareness of agents and associations about energy savings a hobby horse, has already announced it: ” for subsidies to associations, the cost of fluid consumption will increasingly be taken into account “. Soaring prices are also giving more and more value to the energy renovation of buildings.

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt. If we must constantly pay attention to our expenses, we must also demonstrate our ability to innovate and adapt”

Ludo Coste (empty)

Integrate the energy dimension into all public policies. Think short and long term. Elected officials commit to new ways of acting on a daily basis. “Intelligence is the ability to adapt. If we must constantly pay attention to our expenses, we must also demonstrate our ability to innovate, to adapt, ”insists Ludo Coste, EELV mayor of Charost.

Requests for emergency measures

Beyond the efforts made on energy consumption, many elected officials plead for emergency measures.
The municipalities will not be able to absorb these increases in charges, except to save on the quality of the public service. Or to give up certain investments. Or else to increase local taxation, which would amount to taking back with one hand what has been given with the other. »

In a column published in February, the Association of Small Towns of France warned of an increase in energy prices which “threatens the financial balance of communities, already damaged by the Covid crisis”. Two demands being put on the table: an “energy endowment”, and, in the longer term, the “fight against thermal sieves”.Public lighting, a significant weight in budgets.

In a joint letter addressed to the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, at the end of January, the Association of Mayors of France and the FNCCR (the latter also sent a letter to the President of the Republic) also stepped up to the plate, formulating several requests for support measures : a energy allocation to the most affected communities and the possibility for those who wish to access the regulated sales price (only with less than 10 agents or with revenue of less than 2 million euros are entitled to it). For the longer term: change the regulations to facilitate the purchase of energyand work on direct contracts for the purchase of renewable energies.

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The FNCCR is, in any case, convinced of this: the measures announced by the government to contain the crisis – reduction in the internal tax on final electricity consumption and increase in the volume of electricity that EDF sells to its competitors within the framework of the Arenh system (regulated access to historical nuclear electricity) – will not be sufficient to limit the increase.

During a hearing before the delegation to local authorities in January, Olivier Dussopt, then Minister Delegate for Public Accounts, had expressed his opposition to any logic of compensation.

Renovating public lighting, a priority

This is one of the best ways to save money on energy-related expenses: the reduction or even the extinction of public lighting at night. For several months, the movement has been accelerating, and the nights of the Cher are darkening.
In its 2021 annual report including a section dedicated to the management of public lighting, “historic competence of the municipalities”, the Court of Auditors returned to the weight of public lighting in the budgets: it represents 41% of the electricity budget of the municipalities. This is the second item of energy expenditure for municipalities, after buildings. Difficult, in the moment of soaring electricity prices, not to invest in this field.

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The interest in the renovation of public lighting, the SDE18 (Departmental energy union of Cher), which supports communities in the replacement of lighting that consumes too much energy, observes it on a daily basis. ” Elected officials are increasingly sensitive to these issues. The question is partly financial. But we note a change in the approach to the challenges of energy transition and the protection of biodiversity.. Our role is to offer solutions that combine cost reduction, consideration of sustainable development and respect for accessibility and safety,” assures Philippe Moisson, also president of the association of mayors of Cher.

Night public lighting in Vierzon. Photo Benoit Morin.

If LED equipment is progressing and so-called intelligent devices are being deployed (such as detectors that trigger the light in the event of a passing vehicle or pedestrian), many municipalities are now opting for the total extinction of lights at night. Vierzon will thus turn off public lighting at night from June 1 to August 31 from 1 a.m., then from 11:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. from September. “This will save 80,000 euros over the year, while the increase in the bill over one year amounts to 168,000”, advances Jill Gaucher.

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Valerie Mazerolle

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