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France

Two steps forward and one back -- Site permits in France

The number of applications for wind project siting permits increased in mainland France and Corsica last year and fewer were rejected, but the administrative process took longer than ever. These are the main conclusions to be drawn from the latest summary of wind project permitting activity issued by the French industry ministry for the year ending February 1, 2006.

On that date, the government survey reveals that 661 applications for a combined capacity of 4651 MW of wind development were in the processing system, as opposed to 566 applications representing 3198 MW a year earlier. Siting permits for 202 wind power projects totalling 1230 MW were granted, while 58 permits representing 346 MW were rejected, a failure rate of around 22%. This compares favourably with a rejection rate of 27% in 2004, although a total of 1557 MW still got the go-ahead that year (table).

Rates of refusal varied widely across the country. Worst offenders were the Centre region, which rejected nearly 60% of megawatts applied for, Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur with a 50% rejection rate and Corsica with 40%. Some regions have improved their record, however. Haute-Normandie and the Midi-Pyrénées, both of which had a high refusal rate in 2004, brought their rates down to just over 2% and 4%, respectively.

Landscape and noise considerations remained the most common grounds for rejection. While the ratio of contested decisions rose from 23% in 2004 to 27% in 2005, this is still below the peak of 33% registered in 2003. And the courts continued to reject the vast majority of appeals -- 90% in 2005.

On the other hand, in 2005 the administrative authorities took nine months on average to process applications compared to eight months in 2004; the legal limit is five months. In some regions, such as Nord-pas-de-Calais and Picardy, the authorities were simply overwhelmed by the number of applications. Questions concerning wind power development zones and other regulatory changes introduced by the new energy law in 2005 also slowed things down. The ministry expects this to improve following its circular issued to local authorities in June clarifying the new regulations (Windpower Monthly, July 2006).

Increase in applications

Wind power continued to spread into new areas in 2005. Developers submitted applications for the first time in 12 new départements, mostly in the centre and east of France, including the Cher, Maine-et-Loire, Var and Vienne. Other areas saw a sharp increase: in the Champagne-Ardenne region there were four times as many applications than in 2004.

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