Nantes/Saint-Nazaire: what future for the fossil fuel port?

The port of Nantes/Saint-Nazaire (Loire-Atlantique) is at a crossroads ©NSNP

2021 will at least have had the merit of serving as a “stress test” for the port of Nantes/Saint-Nazaire (Loire-Atlantique).

A year marked by the shutdown of the Donges refinery due to overcapacity in the fuel market linked to the health crisis.

For the operator, it is a huge thorn in the side, the oil site representing 50% of the traffic.

Added to this is the leak at the gas terminal (30% of the total tonnage) which forced the installations to be put on hold for a month before the summer.

“Accelerate the change to a carbon-free model”

As a result, while the Grand Port Maritime (GPM) had succeeded in crossing the bar of 30 M tonnes of traffic before the pandemic, it will not reach 20 MT this year (18.2 M).

2022 will bring some color back with the resumption of activity at the refinery in March, but this “annus horribilis” points to the challenge that awaits management at a time of energy transition.

The “2021-2026” strategic project approved by the Supervisory Board defined the main orientations of a structure at a crossroads.

“GPM’s strategy must accelerate the change from an economic model that is currently very vulnerable, because it is based overwhelmingly on carbon energies, towards a carbon-free model, by ensuring the economic and social development of the Great West”, explains the document.

If a cross has been made on the coal activity, the closure of the Cordemais power plant being recorded for 2024, the port is still counting on the Donge manna “at least by 2030” with the construction of the new desulphurization unit led by Total.

And sees liquefied natural gas as “a major key to the success of the evolution of the model towards less dependence on oil”.

Expand the containers

The leading port on the Atlantic coast intends to position itself strongly on renewable energies, with offshore wind power as a bridgehead.

A market conditional on the responses to the next calls for tenders in France and on the “development of export activity”.

The right-of-way released from the coal terminal is signposted towards a “green” activity.

Hydrogen or biofuels from agricultural residues and plants are being studied.

Another major project, the improvement of logistics to finally boost container activity “identified as one of the main growth drivers”.

The construction of storage warehouses, and especially of a “cold pole”, is the sine qua non condition for recovering outlets captured by more distant ports.

Examples: the import service from Île-de-France in containerized agri-food products from West Africa, or the export of wines and spirits from Bordeaux to the United States and England.

With the post-Brexit transition, the idea of ​​a freight and passenger line between Ireland, Montoir-de-Bretagne and Spain has been tossed around.

Rent increases

The development of rail transport, now microscopic, favored by “the increase in road costs” could improve outlets while the port only affects a third of the potential of its hinterland.

Finally, the GPM is betting on a substantial increase in its state income, from €24.8 million in 2020 to €40.4 million in 2026.

For 2/3, it would be new establishments, for example the construction of office buildings on unused land, such as on the tip of Petit Maroc in Saint-Nazaire.

But also by rent increases. Which is already making the actors in place cringe.

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