The commission was charged with thrashing out a compromise between the bill voted by the Senate, the upper house, in October 2009 and a more stringent version voted by the Assembly, the lower house, in May 2010.
Despite intense lobbying by the industry, the Assembly's bill largely prevailed. The resulting law, which will be ratified late June, could make it even more difficult for France to meet its target of 25GW of installed wind capacity by 2020.
The most troubling clause stipulates that all wind power plant must now comprise at least five turbines. According to the Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER), a trade association, this will affect over 25% of projects nationwide. The figure is far higher in west France, where houses are widely dispersed. In the Mayenne département, 81% of projects consist of fewer than five turbines. In nearby Calvados it is 75%.
However, the commission did yield one concession by amending a clause stating that turbines must be at least 500 meters from an area which could be "destined for habitation." It now simply says 500m from habitation. This is a threshold the industry has long respected.
In future, it will only be possible to install turbines in areas designated in the wind power plans currently being drawn up for each region. The plans must be in place by the end of 2013. If not, central government will intervene. In theory the industry is in favour of regional plans, but it argues that these should only be indicative. Some of the plans published so far exclude turbines from large areas of territory.
In addition, from now on wind turbines will be subject to regulations covering "industries classified for the protection of the environment" (ICPE), adding yet another regulatory layer on what is already a complex and time-consuming consenting process.
The bill's one saving grace is that the crucial amendment introduced by energy and environment minister Jean-Louis Borloo still stands. This states that at least 500 turbines must be installed in France each year, with a review after three years.
While it is not clear how that will be achieved given the other measures, the industry is pinning its hopes on that requirement -- and on Borloo's determination that it will be respected. To drive the message home, on 7 June the minister sent a circular to the prefects heading up the regional authorities, reminding them of the binding target 19GW of installed onshore capacity by 2020 and of the government's "determined and unambiguous support" for wind energy.
"The establishment of a new framework for wind energy should in no way lead to a slowdown in development," the minister told the prefects. He also gave a breakdown of the number of turbines to be installed in each region per year to reach the 500. The two regions with the highest targets are Picardie, with a minimum of 67 machines a year, and Champagne-Ardenne with 53.
At the same time, the prefects are asked to submit an assessment of the situation in their regions to the minister within a month. This must cover the number of projects under development, the short- and long-term perspectives, the state of the regional wind energy plans and what the prefect intends to do to "achieve a rate of development of wind energy consistent with the objectives of the Grenelle."
Which is all well and good, but there is no legal provision for forcing the prefects to install the required number of turbines. And the indications are that the market is already slowing down as permits are harder to come by. Some industry players estimate just 800MW of new capacity will be added this year, compared with over 1GW in 2009.