Price appears to have played a major part in the selection process. The request for proposals was for 15 MW, but the jury apparently refused to consider any bid offering wind power for more than FRF 0.41/kWh. A total of 38 bidders had submitted projects for a total of 65 MW. The losers should get a new chance this month, however. A second request for proposals, this time for 35 MW of renewables capacity, is due under Eole 2005. The programme aims to support installation of 250-500 MW of wind power over the next ten years.
The first of the four wind projects selected was jointly proposed by France's huge Jeumont Industrie concern together with Danish wind turbine manufacturer Micon. It is for a wind plant of 4.5 MW at Widehem near Boulogne in the north of France. Jeumont seems set on using its new concept variable speed technology, which uses the same modular technique for increasing size originally developed for the French navy's nuclear attack submarines. The basic wind turbine design will be increased in size by adding "slices" of stators and permanent magnets. Traditional Micon technology, assembled in the north of France, will probably be used if the new concept is not ready by early next year.
The second project, also to be supplied with Danish wind turbine technology, this time from Bonus, is for 3 MW at Donzère in the Rhone River valley. It was presented by Spie Trindel together with Bonus. The third project for mainland France was proposed by Vergnet, a French manufacturer of small turbines. It has put together a 3.05 MW cluster using turbines from four manufacturers: Lagerwey from the Netherlands and German companies Nordex, DeWind and Enercon (in association with Dutch blade firm Aerpac). The machines are destined for a site at Lastours in Aude and will exploit the strong and turbulent Tramontane winds which average 8.5 m/s over a year.
The fourth project is for an unexpected destination: Guadeloupe in the French Caribbean. Vergnet, based near Orleans, will supply 40 of its recently developed 60 kW turbine for a wind plant at Petit-Canal with the backing of financial group SIIF. "This will be the first machine we have fully developed ourselves. It is more industrialised than our previous turbines based on Aerowatt technology," says Vergnet's Jean-Pierre Laurent. The turbulent clifftop site at 70 metres above sea level is the most remote on Guadeloupe.
In a market just getting off the ground, the low price expected by the selectors is concerning wind industry members. The Jeumont Industrie and the Spie Trindel projects were reportedly tendered for close to FRF 0.036/kWh. "They want to jump to NFFO three, four or even five before the industry has found the starting blocks," comments one observer of the selectors' decision, referring to Britain's system of competitive bidding for renewable energy contracts, the Non Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO), which has driven wind prices down to extremely low levels. "This price level leaves no room for smaller projects, especially anything proposed by a co-operative or association," regrets Jean-Yves Grandidier, a prospective wind power developer from Bègles near Bordeaux. "The barrier of 40 cents disallows experiments with unusual sites."
From EDF, Ali-Reza Laali, in charge of the technical assessment of the projects, says they were judged under a system which allotted different weighting to various criteria. This formula was strictly adhered too, he insists. According to Laali it is too early to judge the price level for wind power in France. The 35 MW round of Eole 2005, with selections to be announced in October, will give a fairer indication, he says.
Industry observers comment that strong financial backing behind each winning bid is one reason why all four of the selected projects were able to outbid their competitors. The Guadeloupe project is eligible for a five year tax break and the Widehem project in the Pas-de-Calais region can apply for low interest regional development loans. The other two projects are also able to spread their risk. Spie is a large electrical construction firm with access to its own financing, while the cluster project involves a series of wind companies.
The wind industry's concerns about price are matched by others in the renewables community. The Phébus association, which has campaigned for a grass roots and citizen dimension to Eole 2005 to encourage small scale photovoltaic projects, is furious at the way price seems to have controlled the selection process. The Eole 2005 soufflé fell sadly flat, according to the group. "Our German colleagues are getting closer to 50 cents a kilowatt hour. The choice is between having subsidies or going for cut price solutions with their associated economic, technical and environment failures," storms Phébus chairman, Marc Jedliczka. He fervently hopes that criteria other than price will play a more important role in the 35 MW tender this month.