Introduced under the country's Grenelle 2 law of 2010, each region must produce a wind-power plan indicating specific areas where the development of wind is deemed acceptable. These plans will form an annex to each region's broader climate, air and energy plans, which are to be completed by 30 June 2012.
One of the objectives behind the regional wind-power plans is to prevent a proliferation of small projects scattered across the French countryside. The government also wants to reinforce the role of local authorities in the decision-making process. But critics within the industry point out that the plans add yet another layer to an already complex permitting procedure.
According to the decree, regional wind-power plans must take into account potential wind resource, environmental and landscape issues, national heritage sites, technical and operational constraints and national targets. They must also include any existing wind-power development zones (ZDEs). Only turbines located within a ZDE qualify for guaranteed power-purchase prices and any new ZDEs will have to fall within areas identified in regional plans as earmarked for wind power.
The regional plans are to be drawn up jointly by state-appointed regional prefects and the elected presidents of regional councils in consultation with local authorities and all interested parties. Public consultation is also a requirement. If a region has not published its plan by July 2012, its prefect is required to finalise the process in order to avoid a development moratorium.
Some regions, such as Picardie, Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Haute-Normandie, are expected to meet the deadline. Others have not yet begun work on their plans. The industry fears that in some cases wind turbines will be excluded from large swathes of territory.
"The plans are likely to be very varied, depending on the region," said Marion Lettry, deputy commissioner for wind, hydropower and maritime energies at renewable-energy trade association SER. If they identify large areas favourable to wind power, she added, it will be positive for the sector. If the plans are restrictive, it will put a brake on development. Much will depend on the attitudes of the people who draw up the plans, how strictly they interpret criteria and whether they treat their regional target as a floor or a ceiling.
The French wind industry is also waiting on a number of other texts that will enforce the Grenelle 2 law. These include a decree that will bring wind turbines under existing regulations governing industrial environmental impacts and a decree covering the decommissioning of plant.