His remarks were warmly welcomed by the wind industry. "For the first time a government minister has made a clear public statement in support of wind power in France," says Jean-Marc Armitano of the French Wind Energy Association (FEE).
Calling for an urgent review of the 12 MW ceiling, Lepeltier argues that today's larger wind turbines mean the limit is no longer justified. Instead of small wind farms scattered over the landscape, they should be grouped more intelligently, he says, adding that the law on energy currently going through parliament provides an ideal opportunity to re-open the debate. A source close to the minister says it is unlikely the ceiling would be removed altogether -- because of the "huge" cost to the state utility Électricité de France (EDF). The recommendation will probably be for a 50 MW limit.
"Mr Lepeltier has had the courage to say what a lot of members of parliament now believe," says Armitano. But it is far from a done deal. As Antoine Saglio of the Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER) points out, a proposal to raise the ceiling during the bill's first reading has already been rejected. While this could happen again, Saglio remains fairly optimistic. "The new generation turbines show what a nonsense the ceiling is," he says.
Lepeltier confirms that a national wind power committee will be established in the near future. Its exact scope and powers are under discussion, but the aim is for it to help formulate and then oversee a "national vision" for wind energy. According to Lepeltier, development is being held back by the lack of a sufficiently ambitious and coherent national policy.
France has the second largest wind energy potential in Europe after Great Britain, but ranks eleventh in terms of installed power, way behind leaders Germany and Spain. The country has lost a lot of time, he says, and needed to catch up. Ministry sources say the committee will probably act in an advisory role to local authorities, who will still have the final say on projects. The committee will be made up of delegates from the ministries and administrations concerned, including local government representatives. It is not yet known if industry representatives will be invited, though SER has been involved in preliminary discussions.
One area the committee will almost certainly focus on is how to reduce the number of administrative hoops a wind power project has to pass through. At present at least 25 different administrations are involved. Armitano of FEE says it is perfectly possible to simplify the procedures while retaining sufficient safeguards. He also points out that there are wide variations in the way the system is applied, with some regions subjecting projects to much greater scrutiny than others.
The national wind power committee will, he hopes, ensure a more level playing field. Saglio feels the committee's most important role will be to support regional authorities in their efforts to comply with national wind energy policy. At the moment, too many cave in to the small but vociferous anti wind farm lobby, Saglio believes. This may change if a national committee has to be faced. At the very least, the committee will provide one central body to which wind project developers can take their concerns.