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France

Precedent court ruling gives hope -- Radar barrier in France

In a landmark ruling, a court in France has upheld an appeal by wind developer InnoVent against the rejection of a 16 MW project because it allegedly interfered with Météo France's Abbeville radar. The tribunal ruled that the decision was illegal since "it had not been proved that the risk of interference was sufficiently serious to endanger public security" and that, "according to current scientific knowledge, only the installation of a turbine within five kilometres of such a radar is likely to produce major interference." InnoVent's project is proposed for a site between 18.7 and 19.7 kilometres from the radar.

Over 2000 MW of wind power projects remain blocked in France because of concerns that turbines might cause interference on radar systems that could prove dangerous to air traffic or national security, according to estimates by the Renewable Energy Syndicate, or SER. Unless the problem is solved, the country has no chance of adding the 13,500 MW of wind capacity by 2011 needed to meet its EU renewable energy commitments and national targets. Current capacity stands at 1590 MW.

Industry insiders say the court ruling in December has had a positive impact. In questioning the legality of the advice given to the local permitting authority by Météo France, a para-state organisation whose opinions carry significant weight, one developer argues it "has changed the political landscape" in a way that all the technical arguments put forward by the industry have not. There are signs that local authorities are less inclined to take Météo France advice at face value and are asking for evidence to justify its recommendations. There is more openness and more pressure on all parties to find a solution.

Survey

So far, civil or military authority recommendations on wind project proposals are not legally binding, but are used merely to advise permitting authorities. This means that some projects near radar go ahead while others are rejected or put on hold. To gauge the extent of the problem, SER carried out a survey among its members last year which showed that of 114 projects in the vicinity of radar, 90 (1412 MW) received negative assessments from Météo France or the defence forces. SER is currently conducting a further survey to see how many of these projects were approved, how many rejected and how many are still pending.

While the court ruling is welcome, without government action the radar barrier remains. At Abbeville in northern France, German wind developer Intervent applied for siting permits for 24 turbines (55 MW) 18 kilometres from a meteorological radar. Météo France advised against the project, but said it would be acceptable if the turbines were 20 kilometres away. Intervent demonstrated that by placing absorbers on the blades it was possible to reduce the interference to the same level as a project at 20 kilometres. Météo France then argued the problem was not just the intensity of the interference but also the location and the distance from another project. Negotiations are continuing.

In another case, French developer Valorem abandoned a project of 20-30 MW in the Aube because the defence forces advised that it should be limited to eight turbines and a hub height of 70 metres, which meant it was no longer financially viable. In a similar case in Vendée, Valorem complied with defence forces' advice by reducing the number of turbines in a project from 11 to eight and the hub height from 146 metres to 109 metres. It means the loss of up to 40% of potential production.

No one denies that turbines can cause interference, but whether it is serious enough to jeopardise radar performance and what, if any, compensatory measures can be made is still not known. The government is showing no signs of applying pressure for solutions to be found and its promised "technical wind power committee" has yet to appear. SER says that until all interested parties sit down and talk together there is little chance of any long lasting solution.

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