Market Status: Offshore - France - Channel project stalled by siting permit appeals

The future of offshore wind power in France is once again up in the air. It had been hoped that phase one of the country's first offshore installation, the 105MW Cote d'Albatre project in the English Channel, would start turning in 2010.

However, it is still on hold as developers Enertrag and Prokon Nord await a court ruling on three appeals contesting the siting permit issued in 2008 (Winpow Monthly, September 2009).

Philippe Gouverneur, director of Enertrag France, hopes that the court will decide before the end of the year and that there is not a further appeal. In the meantime, financiers are unwilling to close a deal and the budget has substantially overshot what was originally drawn up in 2004. "You have to question if it will ever be built," says Gouverneur. One option might be to convert it to a demonstration site for offshore wind and marine energy, along the lines of Germany's Alpha Ventus facility, he believes.

Cote d'Albatre was the only project selected following a tender call for 500MW of offshore capacity in 2004. Just two years later the government decided to replace competitive tendering with a guaranteed premium price, setting the tariff at EUR0.13/kWh for the first ten years. After that, it varies between EUR0.03/kWh for plants operating 3,900 hours or more and EUR0.13/kWh for 2,800 hours or less.

Tariff not high enough

However, this system has not yielded results, either. For one thing, developers say the tariff is too low. It needs to be at least EUR0.16/kWh if France is to meet its target of 6GW of offshore wind by 2020, argues the Renewable Energy Syndicate.

Another major problem is the lack of clear regulations for offshore wind. At present the sector is largely covered by the same rules as for onshore wind, not all of which are appropriate: urban planning regulations, for example, which govern siting permits; and wind power development zones (ZDEs), areas defined by local authorities within which plants must be built to benefit from the preferential tariff.

All being well, both those anomalies should be removed when the Grenelle 2 law is passed later this year. This is the second law to come from the Grenelle de l'Environnement, a national summit to formulate government environmental policy (Winpow Monthly, September 2007), and detail how those policies will be implemented.

Under one new measure, regional authorities around the coast have been asked to identify suitable areas for the development of offshore wind power, taking into account the state of the grid, the presence of radar, shipping routes and other constraints. These plans, which should be finalised this month, will provide the basic planning tool and, it is hoped, speed the process. Not everyone is sure, however.

Gouverneur fears that they have been drawn up in too much of a hurry and will not be sufficiently rigorous to avoid legal challenges. Once the plans are in place, it is anticipated that the government will revert to competitive tendering, despite its poor record. The idea is still under discussion, but first indications are that there will be calls for 2GW each in 2011, 2013 and 2015, with preference for projects over 300MW. While views on tenders are mixed, it is generally agreed that the timetable is unrealistic in view of France's 2020 renewables goal. "It will take a miracle to get these built in time," Gouverneur states.

But there is a general acknowledgement that, at the top at least, the government really is keen to get things moving, not only in order to meet its renewables targets, but also to develop new industries and stimulate jobs. In the meantime, developers continue to work on projects totalling around 10GW of installed capacity, according to SER. What happens next should become clearer in the coming weeks.

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