Policy - 'Nasty amendments' to French bill threaten wind

FRANCE: The wind industry in France could be fighting for its life if three proposals recently adopted by the Economic Affairs Committee of the National Assembly, the lower house, make it in to the Grenelle 2 bill, now in its final parliamentary stages.

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Grenelle 2, the second law to come from Grenelle de l'Environnement, a national summit to formulate government environmental policy, is supposed to lay out how France will meet its environmental objectives, including 25GW of installed wind power by 2020. The committee's president is Patrick Ollier, a known opponent of wind power. As long as he is fully behind the proposals, there is very little chance the wind industry can avoid these "very, very nasty amendments", warns Andre Antolini, president of trade association Renewable Energy Syndicate (SER).

The most dangerous proposal for the industry is a ban on building projects of less than 15MW. This would mean almost 50% of projects in France would have to be abandoned, SER estimates. This is "absolutely stupid", says Antolini. Some landscapes are suitable for big projects while others are more suited for just one or two turbines, he points out.

Ironically, Ollier was one of the prime movers behind the 12MW maximum size limit that existed in France up until mid-2007, which critics say encouraged the very dispersal of turbines that he now condemns. The industry suspects that Ollier now wants to push for larger projects because they attract greater opposition. He is quoted in the French media as saying he wants to end the speculation around wind energy and put a stop to its "anarchic" development.

Equally alarming is the proposal that the regional wind power plans currently being drawn up should be made enforceable and binding. Up to now, the regional authorities were merely asked to identify where turbines could preferably be installed. If the amendment is passed, it would mean that turbines could only be built in areas identified on the maps, which is likely to be very limited on the basis of the plans issued so far.

There is no indication of what will happen if the regional authorities fail to produce a plan before their 2011 deadline. Will it mean no more projects can be built in the region?

Finally, the committee also adopted the proposal that wind turbines be subject to the strictest level of regulations covering "industries classified for the protection of the environment" (ICPE). This requires specific authorisation for each plant, lumping wind in with nuclear power and polluting and dangerous industries.

While the industry had been expecting ICPE regulations to be applied, it was hoping that turbines would be put into the recently introduced mid-level category, requiring a much less onerous registration process.

The three proposals were contained in a report on wind power commissioned by the committee and already the subject of controversy when the co-rapporteur, Philippe Plisson, resigned in late March, saying that the report was "fundamentally anti-wind".

They will now feed into the final debate on the bill, due to start on May 4 in the National Assembly. The bill is likely to then go to an inter-parliamentary committee to thrash out the differences between the assembly's bill and that adopted by the senate, or upper house, in October.

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